In My View… by Thomas Chauhan, Youth Officer, South-East Cornwall Labour
Locally and across the country post 16 education is in crisis. Many local post 16 education centres like sixth forms have seen sharp falls in funding and many face closures within the next few years. As a result, the few remaining sixth forms have bigger classes, with fewer resources and some students are now having to travel for hours just to get to their place of study each day
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, significant cuts to funding for post 16 education are worse than any cuts to secondary education. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has stated that funding will fall to the same level as in 1989, nearly three decades ago. The National Union of Teachers NUT has reported that post 16 education has seen a 13% cut in spending since 2013 with funding for students already aged 18 cut by 17.5% in 2014 alone. It is to no surprise that this year A-level pass grades have hit an 8-year low.
All these cuts mean the student’s choices are limited, many of the more creative subjects like the Arts, Dance and Drama as well more academic subjects like Politics and Economics will no longer be heard off as it’s unaffordable for sixth forms to run. Many Colleges and sixth forms are now having to narrow down the subjects they offer to just the core subjects like the Sciences, English and Maths. This narrowing of the curriculum excludes many teenagers’ interests.
The second reason why local sixth forms are under threat is the rise of county hubs for post 16 education, which has appealed to many students as they are able to offer more subjects due to the larger number of students on roll. In Cornwall, the private provider Callywith College in Bodmin has recently been constructed as a hub for 16-19-year olds despite the concern of many local sixth forms in the area. As a result, the number of students in sixth forms in Cornwall, like the one I attend, has fallen sharply. This means that they will soon become unviable to run and face closure, forcing students to travel for hours each day from all over the county to receive their education.
With the current government’s austerity, cuts have become the norm. Recently I was informed that the 16-19 Bursary fund was under threat. This fund provides up to £1,200 a year to some of the most vulnerable students from poorer backgrounds and often pays for their transport to and from their place of education, which can be well in excess of £500 a year. Without this bursary, post 16 education would be unaffordable for many students. This means that some students will be excluded from an education and the chance of heading off to university purely based on wealth, something that should be unimaginable in a country like ours.
The Labour party have plans to stop this. Labour are proposing to create a National Education Service (NES) which will ensure that everyone has a right to education at all levels. It will also include an education for post 16 education making sure funding is fairly distributed, as well as reintroducing the Education maintenance allowance for low and middle-income households giving students form a level playing field with their much wealthier counterparts.
First published in the Cornish Times, 21/09/2018