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What will become of Further Education? FE in crisis

UCUThere have been further concerns this week regards the financial sustainability and future over our FE provision, with a recent report by the NAO (National Audit Office) showing that just over a half of colleges are in deficit. The head of NAO Amyas Morse stated that, “The further education college sector is experiencing rapidly declining financial health, and lacks a clear process to inform decisions about local provision.” Last month economist and author of the Wolf Review, Professor Baroness Alison Wolf stated that the further education sector, that provides the majority of the UK’s post-secondary training, faces possible collapse.

These concerns were further echoed by Association of Colleges (AoC) Chief Executive Martin Doel, who in response to NAO report stated that “Colleges have been battered by a swathe of funding cuts over recent years and it is no surprise that their financial health has suffered as a result.” The importance of FE cannot be underestimated, around 4 million people learn within the sector each year and there are over 1,100 education and training providers including 240 FE colleges in England.

Most of us recognise that one size does not fit all in education and FE provides a range of pathways for different learners, from those that are seeking to gain basic numeracy and literacy skills to those who are looking to train in vocational subjects, not to mention those that use it as a route to higher education. In April of last year, the University and College Union (UCU) organised a mass lobby of parliament in response to the reduction in the adult skills budget.

Since then, the campaign has continue to grow in light of further cuts with the UCU organising a national demonstration in London, a Love FE day of action, thousands signing an online petition to save FE funding and a second lobby of parliament this year with around 500 students. In a letter sent out in February of this year from then Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable and the current Minister for Skills and Equalities Innovation Nick Boles clearly stated that whilst the budget for apprenticeships would be ring-fenced, the Skills Funding Agency budget would be hit with a cut of 11%.

This has meant that actual funding for non-apprenticeship adult learning in 2015/16 could fall by around 24%. If this was not bad enough, FE was dealt further devastating blows earlier this week, with the announcement of an additional 3.9 % of cuts as well as a reduction in the budget for the teaching of English to speakers of other languages (ESOL). According to the UCU around 1 million adult learners have been lost since 2010 and these cuts will only lead to further losses.

The UCU believes that those most likely to be affected will be those needing courses to get back into unemployment and those that have missed out on obtaining qualifications at school. It is worth noting all this is coming at a time when there is a massive skills shortages within the UK. The reduction in those attending courses, has sadly led to redundancies, with the AoC stating that the average college has made 105 redundancies since 2009/10 with fears of more redundancies to come.

If the cuts weren’t worrying enough, the AoC in a briefing response to the skills funding letter estimated that if the spending cuts at this rate the actual budget outside of apprenticeships will be reduced to zero by 2020 with no public funding remaining for any courses outside higher education and the student loan scheme. As a result, this would leave only privately funded courses for those able to pay fees therefore cutting off access for those unable to pay and further limiting social mobility.

With the FE sector in crisis, The Association of Teachers and Lectures union (ATL) have condemned the cuts and are calling for a new model of FE funding freeing it from centralised control and enabling colleges to work collaboratively with local employers however, these savage cuts paint an extremely gloomy picture and it is clear that without a halt to the cuts we could be witnessing the tragic demise of our much needed FE provision.

8 Comments

  1. Mervyn Hyde says:

    I will just provide a link to Margaret Thatcher’s 1982 cabinet papers which show what the real agenda has been over the last forty years.

    In addition I would add that Blair and Brown invited Thatcher as their first guest to downing street, sending a clear message to the establishment that it would all be business as usual. Noting also that Thatcher herself said Blair was her greatest achievement in politics.

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C13318082

    As I have said before, please click on the blue writing SHOW IMAGE to access the document.

    We must reverse everything this government and New Labour are doing.

    We have the money for our public expenditure, the proof is, we found it for the banks, just like the EU are doing for the European banks (QE) but are prepared to see the Greek people starve, we are being denied the money for our public expenditure.

    Lets stop being fooled and start taking action.

  2. swatantra says:

    Having worked in the FE Sector this article states the absolute truth, its probably the most neglected sector in the whole Education System and yet it provides an essential service to the whole community no matter what your ability age or aptitude Failure to address the problem of adequate funding will be denying 705 of the population the right to an education at whatever level the student is ready to enter education, and acquire skills to enhance their careers or simply to continue life long learning which is rewarding in itself.

  3. Barry Ewart says:

    It’s hearbreaking what the Tories are doing to FE following their cruel abolition of the excellent Educational Maintenance Alowance which gave working class kids a better chance in life.
    I say cruel but the Tories aren’t bothered, they are taught to do everything to keep their class in power – the infantile little Tory human beings know no better.
    I have fond memories of FE, on day release many years ago I did what was then called an ‘O’ Level in Sociology and it opened my mind to critical thinking.
    Later on in life as a mature student in Higher Education whilst on placement at an adult education centre, the wonderful centre Manager there gave me a copy of a book by Paulo Freire and it changed my life.
    Cutting FE fits in nicely with the Tories 19thcC Neo-Liberal Cheap Labour Agenda.
    Apparently as the railways developed in the 19thC I think it was the Duke of Marlborough (who was against them) said because, “It encourages the working class to travel.”
    Perhaps from the Tories are against FE because “It ecourages the working class to be aspirational.”
    We on the other hand need to offer opportunities to working class kids and all and to try to build a society (and World) of critical thinkers.
    It’s time for 21stC Democratic Socialists & Economics! Yours in solidarity.

  4. James Martin says:

    Post-16 and adult education is at a tipping point due to the massive cuts in per student funding colleges get. The result has been huge numbers of redundancies and attacks on pay and conditions of service (including the increasing casualisation of lecturers contracts).

    But given the unfolding education cuts tragedy that is ending second-chance adult learning and destroying jobs for college workers and course options for young people, the scandal is where is our shadow education minister Tristram Hunt? The only time you ever hear from the useless picket line crossing tosser is when he is either supporting privatisation of English state schools via academies or attacking those not supporting Cuts Kendall.

  5. David Pavett says:

    It is good to have an update on the difficulties of the FE sector which expose the hypocrisy of the government’s stance on training.

    Having said that the position of the ATL seems rather weak.

    We want a new funding model for FE which frees it from centralised control and allows colleges to collaborate with local employers and plan its curriculum, education and training strategies to meet the needs of its students and local companies.

    What does this mean? If FE is to be freed from central control then we need to have an idea what alternative sort if control is being proposed. None is given in the ATL statement.

    It is also important to report on the reactions of the other unions working in FE (UCU, UNISON, NASUWT).

    Also where is the Labour in all this. My guess is nowhere – for all its posturing about the importance of vocational education. Labour’s manifesto proposals for FE were highly questionable but never received any attention.

    1. James Martin says:

      Good point. It’s been just over 20 years since FE colleges were ‘freed’ from local authority control. Before this, and when there was still nationally binding collective bargaining the pay and working hours of lecturers tended to be on average better than that of teachers. Now it lags behind by 20% or more together with far more job insecurity.

      I would argue that like academies (that will go the same way if not stopped) we need a combination of local democratic oversight and accountability (by reviving LEAs) and statutory national pay and conditions of service rather than the ‘recommended’ ones under the AoC that most colleges ignore.

      As to the unions, the only 3 that really count and have any weight are UCU, ATL and Unison.

      UCU appears to be in something of a crisis, being both financially crippled (staff not being replaced etc.) and large amounts of internal tension and friction between the FE and HE sides of the union (FE activists often complain that the leadership under Sally Hunt is only interested in HE). UCU has also lost a lot of members due to a failed industrial action strategy that continually loses members pay for no gains.

      ATL is growing at UCUs expense in many areas, but is also failing to mount any sort of realistic defence of members pay and conditions.

      Unison has some good activists in some colleges, but they are in turn hampered by the generally utterly useless ‘NALGO nature’ of the union under its current leadership.

      The solution is an education-wide cross-union non-sectarian rank and file organisation that can unite members of the different unions on the ground in schools, colleges and universities and by-pass the union bureaucracy where necessary, but there are little signs of this happening. Even the largest left group in the NUT, the Socialist Teachers Alliance, is completely inward looking and functions only as a electoral machine for their NEC elections which ultimately reveals its own sectarian nature.

      1. swatantra says:

        Agree largely with all you say. NATFHE should never have merged with the University sector, because that led to the FE sector’s voice being drowned. ‘Bigger’ Unions are not always the best option, but having said that, there are just too many Unions in the Teaching Sector, which in fact lessens their negotiating strength.

  6. Tim Barlow says:

    In Chester funding at the FE College has got so bad they’re at the level thought ripe by the DWP for hosting back-to-forced-work courses for the long-term unemployed. Well, when I say coursES, there appears to be just one, in Manufacturing & Logistics (an area quite removed from my skills and experience, but that appears to be irrelevant. It’s “Go on it or we take your money away!”) and the teachers keep dropping heavy hints about getting fixed up with a certain nearby car-manufacturing plant (which you need your own car to reach for the shift start times and who on the dole can afford to run a car?). Wow, will ya look at all those options!

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