Dr Sam Parrett OBE, Group Principal and CEO of London & South East Education Group
In the dramatic and unsettled political climate we are currently operating, this week’s spending review offers some slightly brighter news for education and FE. I say slightly brighter…as let’s face it, with year on year cuts in real terms since 2010, the only way is up.
As we within the sector well know, Further Education enables people to upskill, retrain and improve their career prospects. It offers a second chance to many, as well as being an effective first choice option for others. FE has been undervalued for many years and during this time the sector has lost some excellent provision and talented staff due to chronic lack of funding.
I am therefore cautiously optimistic about the Chancellor’s announcement. The fact that £400m has been earmarked for Further Education is good news and even though we all know that this is nowhere near enough, it will hopefully help pave the way for further investment and recognition.
Schools have been promised a funding rise over three years, rather than a one-off increase. This is what we need for FE – sustained investment reflecting confidence in our hardworking sector.
The promised £400m is being divided up, with the bulk (£190 million) being used to increase the funding base rate by £200 per student. A further £120 million will be used to deliver more expensive STEM subjects, £25 million for delivering T Levels and £20 million to retain teachers and leaders.
These are undoubtedly the right areas for investment; the Treasury certainly seems to have taken notice of the sector’s pleas for more support. For the more cynically-minded, you could argue that this is well-timed, pre-election activity but I think it’s important to focus on positives and move forward.
Yes, £400 million is a drop in the ocean, particularly when you compare it to the £2.1bn pot allocated to the planning for a no-deal Brexit. However let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is the first meaningful investment in FE for almost a decade.
Let’s continue to fight for our sector and our students with the knowledge that perhaps, finally, the value of FE is being recognised.