Latest Public Sector News


MPs see ‘looming education crisis’ for colleges

Local economies are facing “potentially serious consequences” from the declining financial health of further education (FE) colleges as a result of confused oversight, the Commons Public Account Committee (PAC) has said.

The committee warned that the government’s funding and oversight bodies have been “desperately slow off the mark” to tackle emerging economic and educational risks.

Current oversight arrangements are leading to confusion over who should intervene and when, it said. They are complex, sometimes overlapping, and too focused on intervening when financial problems are already too serious, rather than tackling them preventatively.

It blasted the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Skills Funding Agency (the SFA, which funds adult learners) and the Department for Education (the DfE, which funds learners aged 16 to 19) for “not doing enough” to help colleges address risks at an early stage.

But both the BIS and the DfE “appear to see area-based review of post-16 education as a fix-all solution” to existing problems, PAC said – yet these reviews do not cover all types of providers, and it is unclear how the departments will deliver a “robust and financially sustainable” sector as a result.

Its chair, Meg Hillier MP, said the current situation is “deeply worrying” given that the sector is responsible for equipping people with the skills and qualification vital to transforming their life prospects.

“College principals told our committee of the difficulties they face in recruiting quality staff, of courses being cancelled, and of stalled investment plans,” she added.

“There is no doubt further education is under significant pressure and it is both frustrating and sad to think of the potential going unfulfilled – particularly in cases where earlier intervention could have prevented problems from escalating.”

Hillier argued that if issues at the top aren’t address, there is “a real danger” of substantial further deterioration in the sector.

But skills minister Nick Bowles MP said funding for FE had in fact been protected, with real-term spending set to increase by more than one-third in the next five years to make colleges more financially resilient.

“We recognise the important contribution the sector makes to increasing opportunity for young people and businesses, and ensuring our long-term economic security,” he said.

“With early intervention from the funding agencies, the FE commissioner and locally-led area reviews, colleges will become more efficient and financially resilient while ensuring the best return on investment for public funding.”

Yet Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that while the outcome of last month’s Spending Review had been “better than feared”, there are still significant financial pressures on the sector – such as the costs of recruiting and retaining specialist staff.

“The committee has recognised the damage funding cuts have already done to colleges across England, as well as how these are exacerbated by late funding decisions,” he said.

“[It] has rightly found that reviews must take into account the education and training provision of a local area as a whole, including school sixth forms, rather than singling colleges out.

“The committee has raised the issues about early intervention. For this to be effective, there must access to resources which will support the outcome of area reviews and support colleges in difficulty.”

PSE has an in-depth look at area-based reviews and the state of 16-19 education in our December/January 2016 edition. Public sector professionals can subscribe for free here.

(Top image c. David Davies/PA Wire)


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >