College Funding (Westminster Hall)
I thank the Petitions Committee for facilitating this important debate and thank my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner for introducing it. I apologise for my intermittent coughing; I am afraid I have Brexit fever—it has affected us all in different ways. I shall persevere and press on regardless.
I will highlight some particular points that apply to my own college, East Durham College. I thank its excellent principal, Suzanne Duncan, and all the staff, for their hard work and dedication to the students in my constituency, and for giving me an insight into the funding issues that East Durham and other FE colleges face. I agree with many of the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber about the unfair nature of funding. I hope that the Minister will address those points in her response.
The funding cuts for East Durham College, like many other colleges, have meant real term cuts in staff pay, fewer teaching hours for students, bigger class sizes and less choice. The Department for Education has demanded more from teachers for the same funding, which has resulted in substantial additional workloads on top of delivering work experience, maths and English GCSE re-sits, and the careers strategy obligations. I am told that adult education funding is being cut by 45%.
Clearly, further education colleges are an essential part of England’s education system. Whether through top-class technical education, basic skills or lifelong learning, colleges help people of all ages and backgrounds to make the most of their talents and abilities. My college, based in Peterlee, is rooted in the local communities. It previously served the mining industry. It has developed and moved on, and is crucial in driving social mobility and providing the skills boost to the local and regional economy.
It is fundamental—indeed, it is essential in constituencies such as mine—that colleges are properly funded. We heard that college funding was cut by around 30% between 2009 and 2019. I listened to the contributions by Mr Fysh and Sir John Hayes. I do not know whether they have experienced the same problems, but we have fewer hours of teaching and less support for young people, and we have seen a drastic reduction in learning opportunities for adults. We know the value of staff pay has fallen by more than 25%, and many Members have pointed out that college teachers earn £7,000 a year less than their colleagues who teach in schools. This situation simply is not sustainable, and it ultimately impacts college students, staff, businesses and the wider community.
I met the lobby group from Love Our Colleges, a coalition of trade unions, students, college leaders and people with a particular interest in colleges. As time is short, I will not go through its manifesto, but I hope the Minister studies it. As a result of this Government’s austerity policies, every part of the public sector is asking for more money. Many have good cases, but the case for funding post-16 education is simply that if we as a nation are going to fill our yawning and ever-widening skills gap, there is only so much we can do with what little colleges currently receive. Last year’s IFS report confirmed that the FE sector has been hit worse by austerity than any other part of the education sector. Spending on FE and adult education has fallen by almost £3.5 billion since 2010.
Several hundred of my constituents are among the signatories to the petition, which indicates the value we place on our college. I thank the students who launched the petition, and I hope the Minister can provide them with some comfort that FE providers will be properly funded and protected. I do not want her to be remembered as the Minister responsible for kicking away the ladders of opportunity that many in the Chamber took for granted when they were students. Education is an investment. I hope the Government commit to ensuring that every student receives a high-quality and comprehensive education.