The government will reconfirm its commitment to a “skills revolution” with a spending package to be unveiled by the chancellor on Wednesday.
Rishi Sunak will announce £1.6bn to roll out new T-levels for 16 to 19-year-olds, and £550m for adult skills in his autumn statement.
In addition, £830 million has been confirmed to continue a five-year plan to renovate and modernise colleges.
College presidents said the funding was welcome but insufficient.
For many years, the finances of sixth form colleges and 16-19 education have been strained.
According to a report published last year by the IPPR think tank, colleges in England would have needed an extra £2.7 billion per year since 2010 just to catch up with investment levels at the time.
The £1.6 billion cash investment for colleges over three years, from 2024-25, will primarily be used to provide additional classroom hours for up to 100,000 young people taking T-levels. Currently, approximately 2,000 students are enrolled in T-level courses.
These are the government’s new vocational qualifications, which are equivalent to three A-levels and were developed in collaboration with businesses to meet the needs of industry.
There are currently three T-levels available: design, surveying, and construction planning; digital production, design, and development; and education and childcare. However, the government hopes to expand the list in the future to include training for many more professions.
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The funding will also cover inflationary pressures and accommodate the increased population of teenagers.
By 2024-25, an additional £550 million will be invested in adult skills through the Skills Fund. This fund provides short courses and “skills boot camps” for adults with no qualifications beyond the GCSE level.
A further £170 million is set aside for apprenticeships and training.
“Our future economic success depends not only on the education we provide for our children, but also on the lifelong learning we provide for adults,” said Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
He claimed that his £3 billion investment would spark a “skills revolution,” expanding on the government’s job-creation plans and spreading opportunity across the UK by transforming post-secondary education.
The Technical or T-Level qualification, which few have heard of, is at the heart of the government’s plan for 16 to 19-year-olds in England.
One T-level is intended to be the equivalent of three A-levels or up to three BTecs.
T-Levels are intended to be substantial and demanding courses that include at least 45 days of work experience.
Only about 2,000 students in England are currently enrolled in the first T-levels, which they will complete next summer.
The government hopes to rapidly increase the number of T-levels as more are introduced, in part due to a contentious decision to remove funding from popular BTecs in similar subjects.
‘A good start’
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said it was encouraging to see the prime minister’s rhetoric about “levelling up” backed up with money.
“”We always expected that the increased funding would not go far enough, but in the circumstances, we see this as a good start in a tough spending round.” “That the chancellor is leading with this announcement ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review shows just how far we’ve come in convincing the government of the importance of investing in people to close the skills gap.”
“I am hopeful that the lack of mention of education recovery is due to a significant announcement at the dispatch box on Wednesday,” he added.
He stated that his organisation calculated that it would take at least £300 million per year to support education recovery for 16 to 19-year-olds.
“They have had the most disruption at a critical time in their lives and studies, but now have the shortest amount of time remaining in education and training to catch up,” Mr Hughes said.
The Sixth Form Colleges Association’s chief executive, Bill Watkins, stated: “The announcement made today focuses on the small minority of 16 to 18-year-olds who pursue a technical course.
“That is encouraging, but all students deserve adequate funding for their education, and we hope that Wednesday’s spending review will include a focus on the vast majority of young people who study A-level or BTec qualifications.”