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NE college principals to march on Parliament to demand fairer funding

Principals, staff and students from further education colleges across the North East will next week march on Parliament to demand increased funding after a decade of decline.

The unprecedented joint action will see college CEOs protest alongside colleagues, learners and education unions in a rally at Parliament Square next Wednesday.

The demo is part of a coordinated national campaign by the Association of Colleges, National Union of Students, Association of College and School Leaders, University and Colleges Union, Unison, GMB, TUC and National Education Union.

‘Love Our Colleges’ is calling on the Government to increase 16-19 funding by five per cent a year for five years and provide additional ring-fenced funding for pay, reversing cuts over the past decade which have seen college funding cut by 30 per cent.

The campaign, part of the Colleges Week celebration from October 15 to 19, follows a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which shows funding for students in school sixth forms and FE colleges has been “severely squeezed” since 2010.

Its inaugural annual report on education spending found that while funding for early years has gone from almost nil to £3bn since the early 1990s, and spending per student in higher education has risen by nearly 60 per cent since 1997, there has been an “almost complete lack of growth in spending on further education”.

The IFS report found:

  1. Funding per student in sixth forms is now at its lowest level since 2002-03.
  2. By 2019-20 funding per FE student will be at about the same level as in 2006-07 – only 10 per cent higher than it was 30 years ago.
  3. There has been a 45 per cent drop in spending on adult learning since 2009-10.
  4. The number of adult learners almost halved between 2004 and 2016, from four million to 2.2 million.

The Association of Colleges says the impact of the cuts has included fewer hours of teaching and support for young people, a drastic reduction in the number of learning opportunities for adults, and the value of staff pay falling by over 25% since 2009 – with college teachers earning £7,000 less on average than school teachers.

It is calling on the Government to:

  1. Increase the 16-19 funding rate by five per cent a year for the next five years.
  2. Extend the pupil premium to cover post-16 students.
  3. Fully fund a National Retraining Scheme to support Level 3 to 5 skills.
  4. Introduce a lifetime learning entitlement to fund skills training for all adults who have not previously achieved a Level 3 qualification.
  5. Provide immediate exceptional funding, ring-fenced for pay, to cover the costs of a fair pay deal for college staff from 2018-19 onwards.

Further education and sixth form colleges from across the North-East are supporting the campaign: Bishop Auckland College; Darlington College; Derwentside College; East Durham College; Hartlepool College of Further Education; Middlesbrough College; New College Durham; Newcastle College; Newcastle Sixth Form College; Northumberland College; Redcar & Cleveland College; Stockton Riverside College; SRC Bede Sixth Form College; Sunderland College and Tyne Coast College (South Tyneside College and Tyne Met College).

Ellen Thinnesen, Principal of Sunderland College, said: “We have taken huge steps to support efficiency models through merger with Hartlepool Sixth Form College in August 2018 and our proposed merger with Northumberland College in 2019.

“We have responded to the needs of government to create larger and more resilient organisations. However, this alone is not enough. For the sector to continue to be a driving force in the development of a higher skilled workforce, colleges need to be able to invest in their people, resources and facilities. This is only possible through a more realistic funding mechanism that better supports colleges.

“We are fully in support of the Association of College’s campaign that reminds communities and those political influence of the vibrant, innovative and creative learning environment we create and the continued success in ensuring the skills of today and tomorrow are met.”

Dr Lindsey Whiterod CBE, Chief Executive of Tyne Coast College (South Tyneside College and Tyne Met College), said: “Funding cuts continue to impact on colleges, undermining the ambition we all share to give the best possible education and training to learners.

“It is essential that post-16 education is adequately funded so that colleges can deliver the skills that are so crucial to driving this country’s economic growth and prosperity,

“Only through better funding and wider access to qualifications do young people and adults have the opportunity to improve their skills and life chances. Colleges Week and its day of lobbying can send a forceful message to the government that it must invest in post-16 education, for the good of all.”

One of the many thousands of employers in the region who benefit from the support of their local college is the Copthorne Hotel Newcastle.

General Manager Ken Ellington said: “At Copthorne Hotel Newcastle we have worked directly with Newcastle College for the past six years, through a combination of student placements across the hotel, student familiarisation visits, Christmas event student participation in the kitchen and restaurant, and in particular our annual takeover events.

“This sees around 40 students participate in a hotel-wide two-day shadowing event, covering housekeeping, reception, kitchen, restaurant, sales, accounts and my own role as General Manager. Through the various joint initiatives, we have identified and employed a number of Newcastle College students in key positions, and find the interaction between the two organisations a highly useful means of spotting future talent, working to address our industry’s greatest challenge – bringing in the next generation of hospitality professionals.”

Caroline Rowley, Area Director (North East) at the Association of Colleges, said: “It’s great to see so many colleges in the North East coming together and campaigning for a common goal. Colleges are critical to economic prosperity and do so much to improve the skills of the 2.2 million people learning in these institutions every day. But for colleges to continue to be able to provide outstanding provision, they need to be funded adequately.

“Government funding has been cut by an average of 30 per cent in the last decade, teacher pay has dropped by a third and the average amount of teaching hours students get is much less than their OECD counterparts. We need to stop short-changing our students if we’re to have the economy we need, especially with Brexit looming.

“This week we are encouraging college staff, students, parents and the wider community to showcase why a lack of investment is hampering this great sector. Colleges are great vehicles for change and success, but to have that, they need the right level of funding.”

UCU regional official Iain Owens added: “For too long the fantastic work done by colleges and their staff has been overlooked and undervalued. Cuts to college budgets have led to cuts in opportunity for local people. If the government really wants to boost the nation’s skills it must prioritise proper investment in our further education institutions and their staff.”

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