Create the Capital
The number of 16 to 18 year olds in England will increase sharply over the next eight years. We estimate that the number of 16 to 18 year olds participating in full time education will rise from 1,127,000 in 2019/20 to 1,387,585 in 2028/29 - an increase of 260,585. In some parts of the country it will make sense to establish new institutions to meet this demographic increase. But as a general principle, we believe that expanding existing, high performing institutions, offers better value for money (it is a lot cheaper to do) at lower risk (they already have a proven track record) than opening brand new ones.
We estimate that it costs around £2.5 million to expand an existing sixth form institution to accommodate an additional 200 students - around £12,500 per student. Analysis of data published by the Department of Education indicates that the average 16 to 19 free school costs around £11.5 million to build (including land purchase) and currently educates 397 students – around £29,000 per student.
The absence of a dedicated capital fund for sixth form providers means that expansion is simply not an option for many institutions. Sixth form colleges and academies must bid from a single Condition Improvement Fund for all phases of education and the vast majority of funding is directed to capital improvement rather than capital expansion projects. This is why we need to #CreatetheCapital.
The creation of a dedicated capital expansion fund for high performing sixth form providers should be a major priority in the comprehensive spending review and could be modelled on the existing expansion fund for grammar schools (but with non-selective institutions eligible to apply).
A dedicated capital expansion fund for sixth form providers would enable high performing, oversubscribed, institutions to expand their estate in order to accommodate more students. The fund would help to cater for the immediate, acute need for additional sixth form places in many parts of the country and form a key part of the longer term strategy to addressing the demographic boom in 16 to 18 year olds. We know from our own members that high performing sixth form colleges and 16 to 19 academies are having to squeeze more and more students into already overcrowded classrooms, or in some cases having to turn students away. COVID-19 has added additional pressure with places in high performing institutions now in even greater demand (even without the added challenge of social distancing) and signs that more 16 year olds are continuing in full time education rather than starting an apprenticeship or another form of work based learning.
Three quarters of our members report that they have enrolled more students this year than last year. Although this was largely a result of the national improvement in GCSE grades, it does form part of a longer term trend. We have over-subscribed members with shovel-ready expansion projects that remain on ice due to the lack of an expansion fund. In the meantime, young people are being turned away from high performing institutions. This has to change.
In addition, a separate capital maintenance fund for dedicated 16 to 18 institutions would help to address the ongoing challenges many institutions have with their estate. One practical commitment the government could make is to extend eligibility for school condition allocations (currently limited to MATs with 5 or more academies and at least 3,000 pupils) to sixth form colleges and 16 to 19 academies, either individually or as part of a consortium. This would provide funding for institutions to deploy strategically across their estate to address priority maintenance needs. Consideration should also be given to expanding the scope of capital funding to cover IT infrastructure – serious investment is needed in this area if we are to keep pace with our international competitors.
We need the support of school and college leaders, governors, students, parents, teachers and support staff to make the campaign a success. There are lots of ways to get involved, for example:
- Write to your local MP to secure their support for the campaign (a full list of MPs is here)
- Invite local MPs to your school or college
- School and college leaders can write to parents to secure their support for the campaign
- Use the #CreatetheCapital hashtag on social media
A template letter to MPs for all four of our campaigns can be found here – please feel free to adapt the text and add specific examples from your own college or school.
Campaign in the news
Conservatives announce manifesto pledge of £3bn over 5 years for a ‘new National Skills Fund’, FE Week