Inadequate funding that is sending colleges towards failure

Strapped for cash: Croydon College has been running up budget deficits over the past decade due to under-funding from the government

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Lack of adequate funding from central government has not been confined to local authorities, as GENE BRODIE, education correspondent, reports

Anyone who wanted a warning of the “Inadequate” rating applied to Croydon College last week by Ofsted need only to have checked Google and gone to a 2019 article in the Financial Times.

The FT has a way of delivering its reports which are dry and unsensational, yet have an unerring way of cutting to the heart of a problem.

In the case of Croydon College, and many other further education institutions across England, the conclusion from this piece is simple, and familiar: lack of adequate funding.

The story’s all there in the headline and standfirst: “Further education colleges struggle to cope with UK funding squeeze”.

And “Experts demand urgent action to reverse years of enrolment declines amid skills gap fears”.

Principal: Caireen Mitchell

And the article quotes Croydon College CEO Caireen Mitchell extensively.

The piece begins: “The glass and metal rotunda at Croydon College gives the impression of a well-funded training institution, but the nearby paving stones are cracked and the ageing windows of the surrounding classrooms let in the cold and nearby construction noise.”

Ahhh. The “construction noise”.

The FT continues by stating that what it calls “dilapidation” at Croydon College “encapsulates the crumbling state of England’s vocational and technical training sector”.

This was four years ago, when a government-commissioned review said that the further education sector needed an injection of £1billion to reverse years of funding and enrolment declines. Mitchell was among more than 160 college leaders who signed a letter supporting the findings.

“When I read the review, I thought it was my birthday,” Mitchell told the FT. “We’re jumping through hoops to get young people a proper education. It’s becoming tighter and tighter.”

The review highlighted how further education had become neglected, a kind of forgotten child of the education and training system in this country. While English universities received £8billion in government funding towards 1.2million undergraduates in 2018, just £2.3billion was allocated for the 2.2million full- and part-time students aged over 18 in further education.

England has around 200 further education colleges. Just 37per cent of men and 34per cent of women undertake post-secondary non-tertiary education in the UK, compared with 49per cent and 44per cent respectively on average across the industrialised nations of the OECD.

And this government has failed to work out why it doesn’t have skilled workers to take up skilled job vacancies.

The FT piece continued: “Croydon College’s rotunda, finished in 2011, is a monument to the last round of significant public sector investment, when ministers encouraged institutions to take on extra borrowing for infrastructure. Since then, cuts in government funding have resulted in colleges’ income dropping sharply. Croydon’s revenue has fallen by one-third, forcing it to sell buildings to service £10million of debt while costs have risen and funding for staff and students has plummeted.”

The report alludes to the merger with Coulsdon Sixth Form College, the campus where the Ofsted inspectors earlier this year found so many problems with “radicalisation”, poor attendance, homophobic hate and women learners feeling unsafe in public spaces.

Charting decline: the numbers don’t lie, from this Financial Times graphic with their 2019 article on FE funding

In 2019, according to the FT, Coulsdon College had been in a worse financial state than Croydon College. With a budget of £25.5million, Croydon College was even then operating at a significant, six-figure annual deficit.

“We can’t afford to open in the evening, so we offer very few enrichment activities, although students really need them for a happy life,” Mitchell said.

Other principals of colleges in London related that their income had been flat since 2013 – not long after the Conservatives and LibDems established their coalition government.

One FE college principal told the newspaper that he struggled to recruit teachers because he was only able to offer a salary on average £7,000 a year less than in secondary schools. Those with technical skills are particularly difficult to hire.

“You are trying to attract individuals in skilled professions like electricians and engineers. At the top of our scale, we can pay £42,000. You need £80,000 to £100,000 to get people off their tools,” said the principal from a group of colleges in east London.

Smaller class sizes than in secondaries and changes in pension scheme arrangements also add to the FE colleges’ financial burdens.

The government played its part in making an already bad situation worse, with a 17per cent cut in funding for each student aged over 18 staying for a third year at college. The elimination of maintenance grants and other support services has proved to be a significant deterrent to study for people on lower incomes.

Another staff member at Croydon College was quoted as saying that the costs of study deterred many from applying for courses, while the drop-out rate because of costs was noticeable. And this was costing the country in other, significant ways. “A lot of students have anxiety and depression,” the senior staffer said.

“Further education is a second chance for people. These are the nurses, teachers, social workers we need.”

The funding review for further education, which was commissioned when Theresa May was Prime Minister? That’s pretty much been gathering dust ever since, leaving the likes of Mitchell and college principals across the country, under-funded, their staff under-paid and our further education system struggling ever more to make ends meet.

Now there’s a proper use for the word “inadequate”.

Read more: Croydon College given ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted rating
Read more: ‘We feel strongly that it does not fairly reflect the evidence’

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11 Responses to Inadequate funding that is sending colleges towards failure

  1. For the record, Caireen Mitchell’s salary is £201,927 including a generous ‘performance bonus’. Given the state of the college, what was that ‘bonus’ for?

    • derekthrower says:

      The usual straw man or woman approach of the right whinger. One person’s income is high and therefore it is acceptable to underinvest in the tens of millions over a period of a decade. A comparable private sector post would see an income and benefits of three times this income for an organisation of this size. Why can you never face up to the mess your form of politics has reduced us to.

      • What’s ‘right wing’ about my comment? Jeremy Corbyn, whom I admire, has long campaigned against excessive executive salaries. He says they’re unfair and I agree. Especially when the ‘performance’ bonus cannot be justified as, I suspect, is the case here

  2. derekthrower says:

    The destruction of publicly funded education is one of the results of a governance which only views the world from the view of that oft repeated phrase “private affluence and public squalor”. Supposedly austerity should have reset the economy to expect some form of compensatory meaningful public investment in the long run, but as we have seen in the long run it makes things only worse and is now by reducing incomes and productivity in the long run creating deep seated private squalor too amongst so many. This is the background to where I expect the Schools Head Teachers Union to announce their first strike in the hundred year of their existence in the next few weeks. It has gone this far.

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    Thank you Gene for a very good article on some of the root causes of a problem. I liked the article in the FT also.

    However the malaise at the College goes back further that that even when I was doing a post grduate in he 90s I avoided Croydon were I lived as the flaws and inconsistencies were there then.
    Don’t get me wrong – I think there are many good areas and some outstanding areas within the College and some very talented lecturers, but there are also the problems.
    Ms Mitchell hs worked very hard on those and that ofsted report was unable to recognise appropriately the gains and the challanges of the integrations and advancements along with Covid and what became in effect distance learning.

    I personally believe that for many like in the Council £200k would be an overpayment and waste of Public Funds. But here it is being earned the hard way even if performance results are lagging.
    The faults lie with the structures not the people. You get decent structures and reasonable envionmental working conditions with a strong team ethic and people development and that College will not be just outstanding but a beacon to all in London.

    Sometimes some senior people need to stand up and say to Government ”sorry not doing that” it is wrong and does not fit the purpose or raison d’etre of Local administration. Not unlike some recent high level Public administrators who resigned from unworkable political idiotic imposed decisions.

    Very few have the courage and strength to resign those high salaries on principle and are therefore not good advocates of Public administration.
    Ms Mitchell argues for the College with feeling and passion that display a dedication and duty of care about both staff and students. Like her or not or the results – that commands respect and to be listened to along with some support from Croydonions, irrespective of her remuneration.

    If only the same could be said for Perry, Kerswell, Cheesebrough, Townsend dear me the list does go on…..

  4. moyagordon says:

    It’s too simplistic to blame everything on the government. More money isn’t the answer to every problem.

    • 13 years in power and they are responsible for nothing.
      Sheer genius.

      • moyagordon says:

        I just think we’ve got too much Punch and Judy politics going on. Where it’s just, ‘oh my party could do better than yours’. Everyone wants the country to thrive. People working in the public sector need to take the initiative and make improvements and ask for financial support for specific initiatives that will improve the service they’re providing. Work to whatever budget they’re allocated and flag up to government where help is needed before things get to breaking point.

        • Moya: our schools and colleges, libraries, local councils, public transport and the NHS have been flagging up their concerns, usually stemming from deliberate defunding by this government, for 10 years or more.
          That you’ve failed to notice this is staggering

          • moyagordon says:

            I like to think I keep myself abreast of the goings on in our country. My lived experience in the UK does make me think parts of the public sector don’t do a good enough job at managing their organisations.

  5. Nick Davies says:

    My lived experience in the UK is that thanks to savage funding cuts most parts of the public sector haven’t a hope in hell of managing their organisations properly.

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