By education workers

It is already well known that cuts to education funding will result in massive increases in university tuition fees, cuts to the Educational Maintenance Grant (EMA), and an effective privatisation programme for many schools under the academies and ‘free school’ plans.

Government ministers insist that their plans are fair and will not harm the less well off but this is clearly not the case. Cutting EMA alone will make it either impossible or very difficult for many young people to continue their education past age 16. Official figures state that 643,000 young people received EMA in 2009/10 representing around 32% of all 16-18 year olds in England, or 47% of those in full-time education.

This measure alone is a recipe for a generation of young people being denied access to training for a whole range of vocations and professions. It risks consigning a whole generation to low pay or unemployment. However, the cuts are biting at the point of provision also.

Cuts to the FE budget means that educational programmes across the board are under threat. Barnet is one of the decreasing number of FE Colleges that still offers A Levels. While funding for 14-19s will probably stay flat (this is still a ‘real’ 5% cut after inflation) there is likely to be a sizeable cut in adult provision as the government plans to axe fee remission except in the case of ‘active’ benefits i.e. students will only be eligible for free tuition if they are on Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance.

Claimants on income support become ineligible for funding e.g. lone parents, those on parental or paternity leave, carers and refugees learning English who arrived less than a year ago. JSA and ESA benefits are paid to one member in a family so dependants are not in receipt of benefit and would therefore not be eligible for free tuition. Women with child caring responsibilities will not now be able to claim JSA until their child is 7 years old. Well over 50% of adult learners who currently claim fee remission will now have to pay and most simply won’t be able to. The impact on course provision, notably English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and jobs is potentially catastrophic.

At Barnet College predicted funding cuts for 2011/12 threaten many courses and jobs. The proposed merger with Southgate College would cut yet another £4.2m staffing costs over two years.

Merger

The Times Educational Supplement predicted as far back as January 2010 that cuts to the FE budget would result in yet another round of restructuring and mergers between colleges. Across the country previous rounds of such changes have meant that courses were cut, whole departments closed, and class sizes increased still further. Eleven years after the merger of the former Barnet and Hendon Colleges, Barnet College is now engaged in a further merger, this time with Southgate College in the borough of Enfield.

The official consultation document makes grand claims for the ways in which this will improve provision, access, learning and staff benefits. However, many feel that this is an exercise in damage limitation for FE in the area. It is certain to be just another pressure on college staff to do more with less.

Already at Barnet College the popular Montague Road site has been sold, Stanhope Road is closing this summer. The press has reported that even Grahame Park is under threat. If true, where would the rump of vocational education in the west of the borough be located? A Levels are no longer offered in the west of the borough. Government funding cuts and other factors have led to the closure of the full time GCSE programme, first at Grahame Park and then at Wood Street.

The traditional ‘second chance’ that FE provided for young people and adults is disappearing at an alarming rate (particularly for adults). It is the disadvantaged who are most likely to need that second chance; current provision cuts are relentlessly driving them towards fewer and less desirable options.

Concentration of provision cannot possibly improve education for young people when it means that most students will have further to travel. From being local, community organisations, colleges are becoming central hubs to which students must commute to access their education. This discriminates against (for example) mothers with young children attempting to resume their education. Longer journeys mean more expense, stress, and time spent travelling as opposed to studying.

The current merger proposals are a direct response to government cuts but the experience of college mergers over the last 15 years is of increased pressure on remaining resources and narrowing of access to education and training.

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