Students Need Truly Local Sixth Form Education

In My View… by Thomas Chauhan, Youth Officer, South East Cornwall Labour

ctphotoI attend one of the few remaining local sixth forms, and I’d like to talk to you about my experiences as a student in our current education system.

Locally and across Cornwall as a whole, our further education colleges and sixth forms are in the midst of a funding crisis, with many in the county likely to face closure in the next few years if funding levels stay where they are. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that funding levels will soon fall to the same levels as in 1989, nearly three decades ago.

Speaking to a sixth form head teacher, they have seen funding fall per pupil from £6,000 down to £4,200 since 2012 – that’s a real term fall of over 30% snatched from talented young people hoping to achieve. Some schools have even resorted to taking money out of their secondary education budget just to fund their post-16 education students because current levels of funding doesn’t cover the basics. It is to no surprise that this year A-level pass grades have hit an eight-year low.

What does this all mean for students like me and the next cohort to join us? A narrowing down of the choices available to students, with no more arts subjects, no more social sciences, just the core subjects of English, Maths and Science. This will exclude so many of students’ interests and doesn’t encourage them to continue with further education, simply because it has become unaffordable for many sixth forms to run.

Many extra enrichment activities that provided so much for students have been wiped from the agenda. I know personally of students who were forced to study subjects they didn’t want, purely because funding constraints meant that all sixth forms in the area could no longer provide them. Some have chosen to travel all the way to Exeter to receive an education they want, but for others it’s just simply unaffordable to do so.

This is not to mention the future of the 16-19 bursary for some of the most disadvantaged students, which is under threat from more Tory austerity. This bursary provides up to £1,200 a year for students who may not be able to afford even transport into their place of education; they may now be excluded from post-16 education purely based on the wealth of their parents.

Recently a new sixth form college has been constructed in Bodmin, paid for by £25 million of taxpayers’ money and given to a private provider to run. This was despite the concern of many other sixth forms in the area. The sixth form I attend, as well as many others in Cornwall, have seen their cohort drop significantly, and as a result, their futures are at risk. This could mean there will be no other sixth form colleges students can attend, forcing students from all over the county to travel for hours each day all the way to Bodmin – something we don’t want to do, nor should we have to do.

Cornwall is already one of the most deprived areas of the country and Europe. A lack of truly local education will only discourage students from getting a higher education, making it harder for Cornwall to break out of its cycle of deprivation. Is this really the example we should be providing our next generation with?

First published in The Cornish Times, 28/12/18

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