Sixth form funds shock
Hundreds of East Anglian teenagers could be denied a sixth-form place next year after colleges were hit with a shock funding cut.All but two of Norfolk's 26 school-based sixth-form centres are getting less cash than planned from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), raising fears that thousands of students will not be able to study the course they want.
Hundreds of East Anglian teenagers could be denied a sixth-form place next year after colleges were hit with a shock funding cut.
All but two of Norfolk's 26 school-based sixth-form centres are getting less cash than planned from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), raising fears that thousands of students will not be able to study the course they want.
The �1,298,905 reduction is equal to around 289 sixth-form places - an average of 4.99pc less than forecast. Suffolk sixth forms are facing a �1.7m cut.
Sixth-form heads are still digesting the impact of the cuts and may be forced to cut back in areas like teaching staff and building maintenance to protect places.
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Nationally it is thought 35,000 places could be at risk.
The LSC said higher than expected demand for places was behind the shortfall, but has since been forced to apologise for the “confusion and concern” caused after it wrote to schools in March announcing higher figures.
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It is the second gaffe by the quango in less than a month - after it emerged that a �500m building programme had been “shot to pieces” by a national funding shortage - and means ambitious plans to upgrade every college have had to be put on hold for three years.
Councils are set to take over the LSC's role in overseeing sixth-form and college funding next year, but there are fears that the government, while saying it is committed to boosting student numbers, will not stump up the funds to pay for courses.
Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services at Norfolk County Council, yesterday urged councillors from all parties to unite and lobby the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to find the extra cash.
“The schools and colleges are absolutely devastated by this reduction,” she said. “They all feel totally misled by the LSC.”
Patricia O'Brien, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, said the authority was also lobbying the government to restore the funding.
“In many cases this will make it very difficult for schools and colleges to change their plans, including staffing budgets, at this short notice, and may have an impact on the number of places for post-16 learners,” she said.
Figures for Norfolk show that on average schools will be nearly �50,000 worse off.
In cash terms, Hellesdon Sixth Form, near Norwich, which is getting �141,564 or 11.64pc less, is the biggest loser.
But two sixth-form centres, Sewell Park in Norwich and Wymondham College, will get more than planned.
Lisa Christensen, director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, said the authority was seeking further clarification from schools minister Jim Knight.
“It's really bad news as it stands,” she said. “When you break it down school by school, there are some very significant reductions.”
She added: “We are engaging with schools so they don't take any precipitous action. We don't want to rush into anything. We hope the funding gap will be made good. If it's not, they will have to look at how they manage their budgets.
“They will be trying to avoid things that impact directly on students, but when you are facing funding cuts of �135,000, it's going to be difficult to see how you can do that without having an impact.”
Dick Palmer, principal of City College Norwich, said that while funding was not going to be cut, the LSC wanted it to fund more student places.
“We are not in the same position, but they are asking us to deliver more students for the same money,” he said. “We are going to have to look at our cost base and it's going to be very difficult for us next year.”
The LSC said its letter to schools set out totals based on ongoing discussions, and further checks with the department needed to be done.
“The number of young people who wish to study in school sixth forms and colleges this year is even higher than the growth we originally forecast in our annual statement of priorities,” it said. “While that is good news, we continue to work with the department to make sure we are able to fund the additional growth.
“We also said in our 31 March letter that we would write again to schools and colleges when cross- government discussions have concluded. We can confirm that we will be writing to schools and colleges by the end of April.”