Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, has led a debate in Parliament this afternoon on behalf of the Petitions Committee on college funding, asking the Government why, for them, is an 18 year old worth less than a 16 year old? He highlighted issues facing Cambridge Regional College and local sixth form colleges. The petition, signed by almost 70,000 people, calls on Parliament to “ Increase college funding to sustainable levels – all students deserve equality”. Mr Zeichner urged the Government to reverse the “near invisibility of Further Education” in policy and Parliament.

Daniel Zeichner said:

“The petition notes that funding for colleges has been cut by almost 30% over the last decade, stretching resources, support and staff available. This is a picture that is all too recognisable across the nation. I represent Cambridge, a place rightly associated with excellent education, and where Higher Education often dominates much of the agenda and the discourse. However, this makes the contrast all the more stark between the focus on higher education policy, and frankly the resource, and that which is lent to further education.“

“Our friends at the Sixth Form Colleges Association have been tirelessly campaigning on this, with their “Raise the Rate” campaign attracting the support of many MPs. They are calling for the national funding rate, (the rate of funding per student for 16-18 year olds), to be raised to at least £4760 per student, including 18 year olds, and to ensure that this is kept line with inflation year on year.“

“let’s look at the effect of this under-funding. It has significant, and damaging consequences in sixth forms. In total, 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages as a result of funding pressures, with A Levels in German, French and Spanish the main casualties. This is completely counter-intuitive for a country which is trying to present itself as “Global Britain”. Over a third of sixth forms have dropped STEM courses, while two thirds have reduced student support services such as mental health support, and careers advice.“

“Across all 16-19 provision, it seems quite incredible that a country that (quite rightly) requires its young people to participate in education or training until the age of 18, reduces investment in education so sharply at the age of 16, from £5341 for a 15-year old, to £4000 for a 16-year old.“

“Mark Robertson, the head of Cambridge Regional College, tells me that colleges train 2.2 million people annually, and that further education students aged over 19 generate an additional £70 billion for the economy over their lifetime. However, colleges and schools are facing increased pension costs and colleges have not yet had assurance that this increased cost – of around 2% of all income – will be funded.”

This makes no economic sense. With colleges adding such huge value to the economy, why are we restricting them?”

“A similar situation can be found at the fantastic sixth form colleges in Cambridge, Hills Road and Long Road, and the sixth form provision at Parkside and Netherhall. All their teachers tell me the same thing – they have brilliant, hard-working and energetic young people, but they fear that the system is stacked against them.  Hills Road Sixth Form College, often cited as one of the best state sixth forms in the country, have told me of the impact of cuts on their provision: they have 100,000 fewer pounds to spend on additional learning support for students who need it today than in 2010. If we are constraining flourishing colleges in this way, reducing time in class for students through a lack of resource, what sense does this make when building a generation for the future?”

“And Yolanda Botham, the Principal of Long Road Sixth Form College, another excellent college in Cambridge has told me that “The current level of funding has meant for Long Road that we have had to reduce our curriculum offer – we no longer provide A level German for example. We’ve had to reduce the broader opportunities (enrichment) we can provide, limiting the number of trips and experiences we can offer. This really matters for social mobility; visits and trips show what’s possible and enable students to see beyond their immediate horizons.”

Mr Zeichner comments “I was very glad to be able to raise the issue of college education funding in Parliament today as it is too often ignored. The Government must act to sort out this mess. To be competitive in a global marketplace, the UK must adequately resource the education of future generations. Labour is offering a real change: a National Education Service to upskill and retrain our communities from cradle to grave. We must stop undervaluing our 16-18 year olds and properly resource their education.“

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