Budget cuts ‘put success story of colleges at risk’

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
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IN most education league tables Yorkshire finds itself at the bottom nationally with fewer children mastering the three Rs at primary, achieving the GCSE benchmarks at secondary or attending schools rated as good than anywhere else in England.

However, the region’s colleges are bucking this trend.

It has England’s highest proportion of further education, sixth form or specialist colleges that are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Of the 38 colleges in Yorkshire, 10 are rated as outstanding, another 27 are good and only
one is rated as requiring improvement.

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For the Association of College’s regional director for Yorkshire Caroline Rowley this is the source of both pride and frustration as these providers of adult education do not get greater recognition or funding.

She said: “Collectively our colleges make a significant contribution to the region’s economy, with an annual turnover of £764m and employing more than 18,000 people.

“Colleges serve a range of people in a cost-effective way. The average general further education college teaches more than 2,000 16-18 year olds, trains more than 1,000 apprentices and educates more than 5,000 adults, around 500 of whom take higher education courses.

“In Yorkshire, colleges have been working hard to drive and maintain high standards and student provision against a background of funding cuts and qualification reforms.

“The fact that more and more further education colleges are achieving good or outstanding Ofsted reports reflects their on-going commitment to their students and the local community.”

She said there was a college in every major community in Yorkshire. These range from large colleges like Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield to ones specialising in particular career areas such as Leeds College of Building or Askham Bryan College for land- based studies in York.

Earlier this year Ms Rowley was asked to speak at a summit on how Yorkshire schools can improve their position.

But now she fears the work of the sector is being undermined by the prospect of funding cuts. The 24 per cent reduction in adult skills budgets affects vocational courses in a range of 
subjects for people aged 19 and over.

She said: “The potential loss of provision threatens the future prospects of the millions of people who may need to retrain as they continue to work beyond retirement age as well as unemployed people who need support to train for a new role.

“Adult education and training in Yorkshire is too important to be lost, to both individuals and the wider economy.”

John Giddins, a Yorkshire branch organiser of the University and College Union, said further education colleges had been “under the Government cosh for ages in terms of funding” ever since they were removed from local council control with incorporation in 1993.

He said: “Today more young adults choose further education (2.9 million) than university ( 2.4 million) yet they receive a seventh of the funding – £4bn against £30bn. Further education has been a lifeline for working people ever since they were set up as tech colleges and night schools and were made a statutory local authority provision by the 1944 Education Act. This was dismantled by the last full Tory government in 1993.

“There is a complete indifference to further education from people governing the country and running education who have never understood it, as they, their children and their circle of acquaintances have never set foot in a further education college or ever needed one.”