Sixth Form college funding from government has “systemic long-term weaknesses” according to the watchdog that holds the Department for Education to account.

According to Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, the National Audit Office report published on Wednesday 16 September, shines a spotlight on “Government incompetence in a sector that is often forgotten.”

The report finds that the Department for Education has spent significant sums of money propping up individual colleges once they have got into financial difficulty, but that they have failed to increase core funding so the whole sector remains financially fragile.

In recent years, core funding to colleges has fallen. DfE funding per student aged 16 to 19 fell by 7% in real terms between 2013/14 and 2018/19.

This has led to colleges including Hills Road now offering fewer subjects and average class sizes  growing, meanwhile at Long Road certain modern language A levels have been dropped from the curriculum.

Daniel Zeichner MP said:

“Our excellent school sixth forms and colleges in Cambridge need more funding so they can deliver a world class education to our young people.  The DfE is currently drawing up a 10-year reform programme for further education sector and sustainable funding needs to be at the heart of it.

Lack of cash has meant colleges have been forced to drop subjects and reduce support such as careers advice and mental health services. This is likely to have detrimental effects on students and the development of skills.

At our fantastic sixth form colleges in Cambridge, Hills Road and Long Road, and the sixth form provision at Parkside, Netherhall and CAST, all the 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.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“Colleges play a crucial role in many people’s lives and are vital in the development of the skills and knowledge the country needs. While there has been some progress in improving financial security in the sector, this has cost a lot of money, and systemic long-term weaknesses remain unresolved.

“DfE needs to seize the opportunity presented by its 10-year reform programme to set out what it wants from the college sector and ensure it is funded accordingly.”

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