Steve speaks out to protect Croydon College

 In Croydon, Speeches

Steve delivered this speech in a Westminister Hall debate on the 28th January 2014. You can see the Hansard here. 

The proposal to cut further education funding for 18-year-olds disproportionately will have a major impact on disadvantaged young people in Croydon North. I spent some time last week at Croydon college so that I could better understand the impact of the decision, and was alarmed to learn that the college believes that it will be the worst-hit general further education institution in the country if the cuts are imposed as the Government intend.

Many incorrect assumptions underlie the Government’s decision. The assumption that 18-year-olds require fewer taught hours is simply wrong. At Croydon college, as at many other FE colleges, students with a range of ages are taught together, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) described. Eighteen-year olds cannot be separated out from their classmates and put on to different programmes with fewer hours’ teaching time, so the cuts will affect students of all ages—something that the Government have said they want to avoid. Further, 18-year-old students are often the ones with the most risk of not being in education, employment or training, as a result of failure to achieve in education at an earlier age. They are often returning to make up for past failure and they need additional support, not less, to achieve. The Government have often stated that they want to reduce the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training. Yet the proposal will have the opposite effect.

Croydon North has a higher rate of unemployment than any neighbouring constituency and high levels of poverty and disadvantage. Many of my younger constituents attend Croydon college, trying to better themselves and make themselves more employable, but the cuts are particularly acute for the college. Nationally, 22% of learners in the 16 to 18 group are aged 18, but at Croydon college the figure is 35%; students in that age group are more likely than 16 or 17-year-olds to be from deprived backgrounds or minority ethnic groups, and are the least likely to have achieved level 2 by the time they enter college.

The financial impact on Croydon college will be upwards of £511,000. That is a higher percentage of the college’s total budget than elsewhere because of the higher proportion of students that will be affected. The college informs me that that is the highest percentage reduction in funding for any college in the sector. Given the level of deprivation that many of the students live with, and how hard they are trying to turn their fortunes around, cuts on that scale are a bitter blow that will severely damage our community as a whole. The cut, which comes without consultation, runs contrary to the Government’s policy on raising the participation age and supporting young people to stay longer in education and training, to develop the higher-level skills that the economy needs. That is vital if we want to improve our competitiveness globally.

The young people affected are not, as the Secretary of State imagines, in need only of a short period of study to resit their A-levels. They may, for instance, need a longer programme of study to improve their maths and English so that they can secure a traineeship or make themselves employable. I urge the Minister to reconsider the proposal and to minimise the impact on the most disadvantaged young people by adopting a different funding formula that recognises the needs and aspirations of young people from the most deprived communities, instead of cutting their future off at the knees.