Up to four in 10 further education and sixth-form colleges in England are at risk of closure under Tory cuts worth at least £1.6bn, says the party.
Labour commissioned researchers at the House of Commons library to model the effect of a 25 per cent cut on college budgets. According to the calculations this could mean the closure of 80 FE colleges and 56 sixth-form colleges — a total of 136 or 40 per cent of the 335 colleges., says the party.
Dr Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “The Labour Party is right to draw attention to the impact of the Government’s cuts on the opportunities for the 63 per cent of 16-18 year olds who choose to study in sixth form and further education colleges rather than schools.
“The projected cuts represent around 25 per cent of the total FE budget and suggest the Government does not value further education and skills. Such cuts would put vocational education at risk and turn colleges into places where students only go to re-take GCSE English and maths.
“The Government’s answer will be that 16-18 year olds should earn and learn on apprenticeship programmes. But currently only 6% of young people are on apprenticeship programmes because the Government has not yet developed a strategy to encourage employers to provide good quality programmes in the quantity it keeps promising. And many so-called apprenticeships do not provide high level vocational education and training and professional development.”
This follows the government’s review of post-16 education by the departments for education and Business, Innovation & Skills, which will result in colleges either closing or merging, which is “critical to our strategy of raising productivity and economic growth.”
College budgets are not protected and might be vulnerable to huge funding cuts in George Osborne’s 2015 Spending Review, says Labour.
Six form college leaders previously said they feared for the future of their students and their institutions – 70 per cent do not believe the amount of funding they are likely to receive in 2016 will be sufficient to provide students with a high quality education. While 83 per cent do not believe it will enable them to provide the support required by students that are educationally or economically disadvantaged.
Bousted added: “Government spending on tertiary education was below the OECD averages at the start of the decade (1.3 per cent of GDP versus the 1.6 per cent average) and further cuts will make it harder for young people to learn the skills they need and for support to be provided for employer ‘training’ in the UK which is already one of the lowest in Europe.
“The Government’s austerity measures jeopardise opportunities for young people and adults who need new skills to improve their job prospects and contribute to the economy of this country. When the UK needs a workforce with excellent technical skills to improve productivity, any further cuts would be hugely damaging.”