This month I took part in a Westminster hall debate on the funding of 16-19 education in general which has recently seen funding cuts across the board. I wanted to highlight the plight of 6th form colleges in particular of which there are around 90 dotted across the UK.
6th forms like Richard Taunton’s in Southampton strive to offer a first class education to all students, often from diverse backgrounds who are under-represented in further education.They don’t refuse students who don’t match up to an ideal profile, nor do they put them out on their ear when they find themselves struggling. In fact Richard Taunton’s goes above and beyond achieving outstanding results with over twice the estimated levels of their students from under-represented groups getting University places.
However 6th Form Colleges are at a disadvantage even compared to other 16-19 institutions because they are not classed as technical education nor as continuing education in the more traditional sense. They won’t be helped by the proposals to increase funding for technical courses as most students who attend study academic qualifications such as A-Levels. To add to this because of the diverse student body, many students stay for an extra year so that they can leave with the qualifications that will set them up to do well in life. 6th Form Colleges receive less money for students who stay an extra year.
On top of this 6th form colleges can’t claim any VAT on their operations as school 6th forms can. This costs Richard Taunton’s somewhere in the region of 300,000 per year, I’ve been lobbying for VAT relief for some time but the government don’t seem to be listening. They have said that if 6th Form Colleges convert to academies they can have the VAT relief but this comes at a cost of a bout half a million to the college.
The staff at Richard Tauntons and its redoubtable principal are in my view miracle workers who cheerfully battle on with trying to make a deeply flawed system work for the benefit of students in Southampton. If 6th Form Colleges continue to suffer under the current funding arrangements there will be no place in the further education system for the sorts of students that Richard Taunton’s simply refuse to give up on.
I am calling on the government to immediately uplift per capita spending on 16-19 education and provide VAT relief for 6th Form Colleges we need to secure their future in the education system or our young people will be the ones to suffer.