Further Education Under Attack – Defend Our Skills Base

Further Education has always been the Cinderella within the education sector, but now there will be no fairytale ending if the government has its way.

£770m of adult skills funding in 2015-16 is be set aside for apprenticeships. This means that the bulk of the overall 11% cut to the Adult Skills Budget will fall on non-apprenticeship provision. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has estimated that this could amount to cuts of up to 24% for non-apprenticeship learning in 2015-16.

The outcry would be enormous if the same cut was applied to schools or universities. Yet cuts to a sector which provides key workers in the economy and helps those who need to develop skills goes almost unnoticed by those who aren’t lecturers or students.

Professor Alison Wolf, author of the Wolf review of vocational education, and a report backed by the Gatsby Foundation has said that we should be very alarmed. The sector that provides the bulk of the UK’s post-secondary training faces possible collapse and the loss of a valuable source of technicians and mechanics.

“It damages and affects the nature of the industrial structure of this country. If you create a system in which vocational training can’t be funded, that is going to have a knock-on effect on which parts of the economy flourish and which don’t.”

Hardest hit are likely to be small companies in manufacturing areas such as the West Midlands, which will be unable to compete with larger companies that can fund their own in-house training.

The attack has recently gone further. The SFA has now announced the complete withdrawal of funding for Esol Plus Mandation funding (English for speakers of other languages). Forty-seven colleges in England offered the course in 2014-15 helping around 16,000 learners and helped to provide a useful route into work, especially for women.

But the Times Educational Supplement has found out that despite the funding being removed, colleges will still have a duty to provide the courses out of their general adult skills allocation. Given the cuts already being made colleges have said they will not be able to meet demand. This will especially hit ethnic minority learners and almost certainly cause redundancies.

There have been petitions about the funding of FE, but all the stakeholders – colleges, students and industry – need to be taking stronger action to prevent the destruction of our skills base.

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