Post-16 funding: An extra £570m needed just to tread water

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The unprecedented rise in student numbers caused by the pandemic combined with a decade of real-terms cuts to funding has left sixth forms and colleges needing an additional £570m just to tread water.

An additional £570m will be needed by 2022/23 just to maintain in real terms the current low levels of per-student funding, a new report concludes.

The pandemic has led to a record 85 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds staying in full-time education, with 68 per cent opting to study for A levels or equivalent – up by three percentage points on 2020 alone.

Meanwhile, Apprenticeships have been hit bard, with only three per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds taking them in 2020 – the lowest level since the 1980s.

And judging by the jump in GCSE results this year, this pattern can be expected to continue.

However, at the same time, colleges and sixth forms have seen the largest falls in per-student funding of any phase with an 11 per cent real-terms cut between 2010/11 and 2020/21.

In 2020/21, per-student funding stood at roughly £5,000 in school sixth forms, £4,800 in sixth form colleges and around £6,200 in further education colleges. This compares to an average per-pupil funding level of £6,280 and rising across primary and secondary schools.

The government stumped up an additional £400m in post-16 funding for the 2020/21 financial year, but the report, published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), says that at the very least, “an extra £570m will be required by 2022/23 just to maintain spending per student in real terms from 2020/21 onwards”. This figure accounts for the expected rise in inflation and a six per cent rise in student numbers.

Co-author of the report Imran Tahir, a research economist with the IFS, said: “Despite extra funding in 2020, colleges and sixth forms face immense resource challenges. The additional funding in 2020 only takes funding back to 2018 levels, leaving in place the vast majority of the cuts to funding per student over the previous decade. These institutions now also face a plethora of additional challenges created by fast rises in student numbers and the need to help pupils catch up on lost learning. The government will need to allocate at least an extra £570m in funding for the 2022/23 academic year as compared with 2020/21 just to keep per-pupil spending at existing levels.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the government has long undervalued the post-16 sector.

Commenting on the report, he added: “The funding rate for post-16 education is completely inadequate and has been for many years. The government completely undervalues a sector which is vital to the life chances of young people – many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“There is no rhyme or reason why the funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds is less than the minimum funding rate for secondary school pupils and nowhere near university tuition fees. All of this before the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic are factored in, with a profound need to catch up on lost learning. The government simply must provide a better deal for young people in post-16 education.”

  • Sibieta & Tahir: Further education and sixth form spending in England, IFS, August 2021:


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