The conversation surrounding funding for 16-18 year olds has hit both peaks and troughs in a matter of weeks. Widely covered announcements from The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), a timely press release from the Treasury and the Spring Budget that followed have served to highlight the ongoing need for investment in the education of this age group.
As we move into unchartered territory with the UK preparing to leave the European Union, the focus has shifted towards this age group and how the UK might prepare itself for a potential skills shortage.
Beginning the conversation, the IFS closed February with the release of its report which compared the disparities between spending per pupil, at different stages of their education. It stated, amongst other findings, that funding for 16-18 year olds has been ‘the relative loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years’. The report notes that the sector experienced the largest cuts during the 1990s, yet has seen the smallest increases in the subsequent years.
The outlook, according to the prognosis of the IFS, is not much better. It set out that ‘spending per student in 16-18 education is set to fall further between 2015-16 and 2019-20, leaving spending per student at a similar level in real terms to that 30 years previously’.
This will come as no surprise to those of us delivering provision to this age group, where budgets have been constrained year on year. Even with the government’s recent commitment to keep the national base rate for 16-18 year olds unchanged, in cash terms in 2017 to 2018 this represents approximately a 1.4% cut when inflation is taken into account. In the words of the IFS: ‘Spending on further education fell faster during the 1990s, grew more slowly in the 2000s, and has been the only major area of education spending to see cuts since 2010.’
Almost as if in response, on 5 March, the Treasury set out in a press release that the Chancellor was to announce ‘a series of reforms to [Post 16] technical education, backed by over £500 million per year’, in Phillip Hammond’s Budget.
The announcement set out an additional £100m that will be spent on 16-18 year olds on the teaching of the first routes in the Post-16 Skills Plan that will be rolled out from 2019.
This amount of funding would then be increased as more of the ‘routes’ are introduced, until there is teaching on all 15 routes in September 2022, when the extra funding will reach an annual figure of ‘over £500m’.
On 8March, the final Spring Budget set out that they’d also go ahead with the provision of maintenance loans, like those available to university students. This is another welcome move towards levelling the playing field between academic and non-academic routes in to work, as people will be able to support themselves as they undertake courses in technical education.
This relative U-turn by the government and the funding trends of the last 25 years is certainly not entirely altruistic, as indicated in the Budget itself. Not only will it provide more options – or more financially viable options – for young adults within technical education, it will also provide ‘UK businesses with the highly-skilled workers they need to succeed in global markets’. A foreboding message for choppy waters ahead or a strong statement of self-sufficiency – something which only time will be able to tell.
We’ll keep you up to date on these developments and as more detail emerges, but ’'s reassuring that after decades in the wilderness, it seems that the funding of post-16 education is finally receiving the attention it deserves.