For a decade, most of us involved in 16-19 further education have voiced a common plea – we desperately need more money for sixth form school and college students.  

In simple terms, whilst funding for secondary school pupils was about £5,500 per pupil, and university students was up to £9,250, funding for state sixth form school and college students was only £4,500.  

And year-on-year, as class sizes in the school and college sixth forms got bigger, less popular subjects like arts and languages got cancelled and all the 'basic extras' - university visits, theatre trips, sports programmes and holiday revision classes – became luxuries. 

Listening in November  

But then, back in November, we had what we thought was our Eureka moment – the government was finally listening!  

Maybe it was because of the #RaiseTheRate campaign, which collated cross-sector support from the education sector and cross-party MPs.  

Or maybe it was just government embarrassment over how few hours our young people were actually studying for each week compared to countries like Canada, Finland and Singapore.  

From half full to half empty 

Whatever the reason, the government announced they were going to increase 16-19 funding by an extra 8% per student from September 2022. And despite the extra 8% being below the likely rate of inflation at the start of the next academic year, the 16-19 sector accepted the offer as a glass half full situation.  

Of course, the more eagle-eyed noticed the small print. In return for this extra 8% funding, we had to deliver 7% more hours.  Suddenly the glass felt less full.  

To be fair to the DfE, they sympathised with our plight – it was just the pesky Treasury were insisting on this.  

The guidance 

So, when the dust settled, and we realised we were going to have to put more hours on for our students, what actually were the new requirements? Well unfortunately the “guidance” from the DfE is at best opaque and illogical, at worst contradictory and divisive.  

The problem starts in that full-time students must receive a minimum of 540 hours (any less than this and the school or college will only receive part-time funding). And whilst many schools and colleges deliver this minimum 540 hours, many others deliver more, say 560, 580 or even 600+.  

Crucially, for schools with sixth forms the number of actual hours delivered depends on either the extent that school leaders decide to cross-subsidise from their 11-16 budget, or if they have a large sixth form, they can achieve economies of scale. 

Of course, these options are not open to general FE colleges who do not have an 11-16 cohort and are unable to cross-subsidise from funding for adult students given the continued under-resourcing of post-19 education and training. 

A provider-by-provider policy 

A fair assumption would be that all 16-19 education providers would interpret the extra hours policy as meaning a new minimum of 580 hours per student. Those delivering 540 today would increase their delivery to the new minimum of 580, whilst those currently delivering substantially more than 580 might fall back to the new minimum or stay as they are.  

In fact, the DfE wants every school or college to put on an extra 40 hours from September no matter what they are doing up to now. So, the DFE assumes that where a 16-19 provider is currently delivering 580 hours per student, they must deliver 620 instead. 

Audit requirements 

Whenever there is a confusing set of arrangements, however, it is usually best to look at the audit requirements. They determine what is required in order to get the extra money and not get in trouble with the authorities. 

It is a relief that the guidance on audit stipulates that money will not be reclaimed from schools and colleges if they do not deliver the new minimum of 580 hours.  

However, 16-19 providers already delivering 580 hours and then not delivering the full extra 40, can be reported to the Regional Schools Commissioners.  

Quite what this may mean is anybody’s guess.  

The two page report 

What we also know is that all schools and colleges will be required to produce a ‘two-page report’ outlining what they have put on in the extra hours, for instance Covid tuition catch-up, mental health support or encouraging more maths courses.  

But have some sympathy for the DfE official tasked with reading through thousands of reports cluttering up their inbox, let alone evaluating them and recommending policy going forward. 

Let’s be sensible 

Many of us hope that the extra audit requirements and the insistence on all providers having to put on an extra 40 hours even when they are already over the minimum, will be quietly dropped in a year or so.  

DfE should just let the new minimum be 580 hours. If 16-19 providers can deliver more, then good for them and good for their students.  

But that would be far too sensible, especially when schools and colleges are confronting a cost of living crisis – for many schools and colleges the extra 8% funding is going to be swallowed up in increased utility costs alone, never mind any extra hours.  

Kevin Gilmartin is the Post-16 and Colleges Specialist at ASCL