Post-16: Delivering the additional 40 hours

Written by: Kevin Gilmartin | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Sixth forms and further education must deliver an additional 40 hours of teaching from September, but the guidance is vague. Post-16 specialist Kevin Gilmartin offers some reassurance

For a decade, most of us involved in 16 to 19 further education have voiced a common plea – we desperately need more money for sixth-formers in schools and colleges.

In simple terms, while funding for secondary school pupils stood at about £5,500 per pupil and universities received up to £9,250, state sixth-formers in schools and colleges have been the poor relation over the last 10 years or so, getting closer to £4,500.

And as year-on-year class sizes in school and college sixth forms have gotten bigger, less popular subjects like arts and languages have been cancelled and all the “basic extras” – university visits, theatre trips, sports programmes, and holiday revision classes – have become luxuries for too many.

But then, back in November, we had what we thought was our Eureka moment – the government was finally listening! Maybe it was because of the #RaiseTheRate campaign, which collated support from the education sector and cross-party MPs. Or maybe it was just government embarrassment over how few hours our young people were actually studying for each week compared to their peers in countries like Canada, Finland and Singapore.

Half-full to half-empty

Whatever the reason, the government announced it was going to increase 16 to 19 funding by an extra 8% per-student from September 2022.

And despite the extra 8% being below the likely rate of inflation at the start of the next academic year, the 16 to 19 sector has accepted the offer as a glass half-full situation.

Of course, the more eagle-eyed immediately noticed the small print. In return for this extra 8% funding, we must deliver an extra 7% more hours. Suddenly the glass felt less full.

To be fair to the Department for Education (DfE), it sympathised with our plight, but the pesky Treasury was insisting on this because it didn’t want to be seen to be giving government departments “something for nothing”.

So, when the dust settled, and we realised we were going to have to put more hours on for our students, we needed to be clear on what these new requirements actually were.

Unfortunately, the “guidance” (DfE, 2021; 2022a; 2022b) is at best opaque and illogical, at worst contradictory and divisive.

The problem starts in that, currently, full-time students must receive a minimum of 540 hours of study (any less than this and the school or college will only receive part-time funding). And while many schools and colleges deliver this minimum 540 hours, many others deliver more – say 560, 580 or even 600-plus.

Crucially, for schools with sixth forms the number of actual hours delivered depends on either the extent that school leaders decide to cross-subsidise from their 11 to 16 budget or, if they have a large sixth form, they may be able to put on more hours from having achieved some economies of scale.

Sixth form colleges and further education colleges are obviously unable to cross-subsidise from 11 to 16 budgets but, as they typically have many more 16 to 19 students than school sixth forms, they may well achieve some economies of scale. So, the problem is one that is shared by all 16 to 19 providers.

A provider-by-provider policy

A fair assumption would be that all 16 to 19 education providers would interpret the extra hours policy as meaning a new minimum of 580 hours per student.

Those delivering 540 today would increase their delivery to the new minimum of 580, while those currently delivering substantially more than 580 might fall back to the new minimum or stay as they are.

But in fact, the DfE wants every school or college to put on an extra 40 hours from September, no matter what they are doing now. So, the DfE would expect that where a 16 to 19 provider is currently delivering 580 hours per-student they must now deliver 620 instead.

Its guidance states: “We expect all T Levels and students funded in band 5, to receive an additional 40 hours (and other students to receive a proportional increase) and we will monitor this. If a provider already delivers more hours to the students than the new minimum required for their funding band, we still expect them to proportionately increase hours for students in future years to provide them with this additional time in education.”

Audit requirements

Whenever there is a confusing set of arrangements such as these, it is usually sensible to look at the audit requirements. They determine what is required in order to get the extra money and not get in trouble with the authorities – in this case, the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA).

It is a relief that the guidance on audit stipulates that money will not be reclaimed from schools and colleges as long as they are delivering over the new minimum of 580 hours.

However, there is the thinly veiled threat that any 16 to 19 providers which already deliver 580 hours and which then don’t deliver much more can be reported to the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). Quite what the RSCs will then do is anybody’s guess.

Perhaps non-compliance cases will be passed over to Ofsted? We have seen something similar recently with the messy situation of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) “league tables” and Ofsted’s involvement in looking at the NTP data on take-up.

The two-page report

What we also know is that all schools and colleges will have to produce a “two-page report” (DfE, 2022a) outlining what extra curriculum they have put on in the extra hours, for example Covid tuition “catch-up”, targeted mental health support, or encouraging more maths courses.

However, perhaps we should have some sympathy for the hard-pressed DfE official, tasked with reading through the thousands of reports that will be cluttering up their inbox, and then having to evaluate them and recommend a course of action (maybe education secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s plans for culling the DfE workforce may need to be put on ice for a while!).

Let’s be sensible

Many of us hope that the extra audit requirements and the insistence on all providers having to put on an extra 40 hours – even when they are already over the minimum – will be quietly dropped in a year or so.

The Treasury will see that across the sixth-form and 16 to 19 landscape there are more hours being delivered on aggregate – and that all students will receive at least 580 hours. Maybe that will satisfy them amid other more pressing issues.

The DfE should just let the new minimum be 580 hours. If 16 to 19 providers can deliver more, then good for them and good for their students. But I fear that this would be far too sensible, especially when schools and colleges are confronting a cost-of-living crisis and desperately need the extra funding just to try to stand still.

So, the simple message to school and college leaders should be: follow the guidance, make sure each student has at least 580 hours, make sure that every enrichment activity is logged on the school census (individualised learner records), and be creative with the flexibility within the guidance for the allowable types of activity.

Ultimately, we must hope that common sense will prevail next year – with 580 hours as the only criteria and a removal of the nonsensical two-page reports or other unnecessary bureaucratic stipulation.

  • Kevin Gilmartin is 16 to 19 specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders.

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