THE PRINCIPAL of Sunderland College has thrown her backing behind a Whitehall call for increased funding for further education.
Ellen Thinnesen has added a supportive voice to a Parliamentary Debate on the current low level of funding for 16 to 19 year-olds. Nic Dakin MP (Labour, Scunthorpe) secured the debate to address low levels of funding for this age group despite Department of Education underspends in the last two years, and Ellen fielded a visit from Sharon Hodgson MP and Julie Elliott MP to discuss the impact it was having on the FE sector.
Colleges currently get £4,000 funding for 16 to 18-year-old students each year, which covers around 15 hours teaching time each week. An extra £200 per student would cost £244 million a year, but for two years there’s been an DfE underspend in 16-19 education – £135 million in 2014/15 and £312 million in 2015/16.
Ellen, principal and chief executive at Sunderland College, said a relatively small rise in investment will have a significant impact on students’ learning experience and attainment.
She said: “This Parliamentary Debate is important for the future of education for 16-19 year olds and to build on the success we, and colleges and sixth form centres up and down the country, have achieved in recent years.
“We accomplish a great deal with relatively modest funding, but we are an unrealised asset. We want the Government to provide us with a fair deal so we can demonstrate the great things we and our learners are capable of. It may sound clichéd but the next generation is the future and we have to invest in young people today to ensure that everyone reaps the benefits tomorrow.”
“We have an excellent relationship with our local MPs, who are vocal advocates for the college and have been incredibly supportive of our efforts to improve the overall experience for our learners, particularly with the development of our £20m City Campus in the heart of Sunderland,” added Ellen.
“To have their backing on this incredibly important issue is very welcome, as they provide a powerful voice for the city and wider area in Parliament.”
Nic Dakin MP tabled a number of questions in recent months, highlighting the underspend in the Department for Education (DfE) budget for 16 to 19-year-olds. He has received backing from educational bodies, Sixth Form College Association (SFCA), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Association of Colleges (AoC). Each organisation has written to the Secretary of State for Education, calling for more investment in 16-19 education.
The national funding formula for this age group has been in place since 2013, but has not been adjusted to account for inflationary pressures or cost increases. Ellen, along with Sunderland’s three MPs claim that, as a result, there’s a constantly widening gap between the funding available to educate sixth formers and the actual cost of delivering a high-quality curriculum.
Julie Elliott MP for Sunderland Central said: “Further Education has faced unprecedented scrutiny under this Government, yet, in spite of that – continues to make a vital difference to young people’s lives, even in the context of the absolutely crippling financial limitations they face.
“Meeting with Ellen and the senior team at the college today, to discuss the impact that funding has on Sunderland College, was eye-opening to say the least, and I look forward to supporting my colleague Nic Daken MP as he continues to fight for a fair deal for this sector.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, who also met with leaders from the college, said: “Education is something I am particularly passionate about, because I truly believe that young people deserve the best opportunities in life.
“The only way to secure the best education for our young people is for Government to invest in it. Sunderland’s young people, and those up and down the country deserve better and, in working with Sunderland College and its leadership team, alongside colleagues in Parliament, these are questions we will be asking of Government.”