Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'We Are Being Allowed to Wither on the Vine'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'We Are Being Allowed to Wither on the Vine'

Article excerpt

Sixth-form colleges claim unfair funding is putting them at risk

Sixth-form colleges in England could soon be "consigned to history" because of overwhelming financial pressures and growing competition from schools, it has been claimed.

David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said that colleges were at a "significant" financial disadvantage compared with other institutions because of additional costs and lower per-pupil funding. As a result, they were being left to "wither on the vine" by the government, he said.

The association is carrying out a survey to assess the full extent of the problem, but Mr Igoe told TES that about 30 of England's 93 remaining sixth-form colleges could find themselves with budget deficits within the next two years.

This is because, unlike schools, academies and free schools, sixth-form colleges do not get a rebate on the VAT they pay on purchases, something which costs the average college an estimated £300,000 a year. In addition to this, post-16 students attract less government funding than 11-16 students but schools are able to subsidise them from their overall budgets.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum conference in London last week, Mr Igoe told delegates that the future of sixth-form colleges was at risk.

"Our fear is that we are writing the last chapter of a story that could soon be confined to the history section of English educational provision," he said. The association had stepped up its lobbying efforts to persuade the government to create a "fair and equitable" funding system, he added.

"Sixth-form colleges are being squeezed financially more than any other provider," he told TES. "We need a level playing field. We have got a really high-performing, highly efficient system - 89.1 per cent of sixth-form colleges are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted - yet for whatever reason we are going to be allowed to wither on the vine."

Colleges that found themselves in the red could be issued with notice to improve from the Education Funding Agency, but they were given no help to draw up or implement a recovery plan, Mr Igoe added.

Unlike academies and maintained schools, colleges have no financial safety net. Some 32 sixth-form colleges have been forced to close in the past 20 years, most of which were small institutions that folded under financial pressure. …

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