Successive governments have let the next generation of voters down, and badly. The current crop of late teens should remember this when they make their first mark at the ballot box.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies last week released a report into schools funding in the UK (revealing while there will be overall increases in spending for early learning, primary, and secondary education) there is expected to be a 6.5 percent fall in per pupil spending between 2015-16 and 2019-2020 – the biggest drop in more than a generation. This is because of the increasing number of school-age children outpacing the percentage rise in spending overall.
But for me, while an attention-grabbing stat, that’s not the main story. Instead, it’s the terrible state of Further Education in England and what that means not only for students caught in its cash-drought environment, but for the next General Election too.
The IFS report revealed that the real losers let down by successive governments over the past generation, from 1990 onwards, are teens aged between 16 and 18 years old in Further Education. Such has been the level of spending cuts in the FE sector in England over the past 27 years, that by 2020 real-term spending per student will be at a similar level to that in 1990. In its executive summary, the IFS states total public spending is expected to be approximately 93 percent higher at the end of the decade compared to 1990, with national income 77 percent higher, and yet it’s virtually zero for the FE sector.
This sustained tightening of investment in Further Education poses major challenges over the coming years as more and more children attend FE colleges or school sixth forms, leaving an even greater strain on resources. Colleges and school sixth forms are already making the tough decisions in a valiant attempt at balancing the books, and reducing the choice of courses available for students.
So why have Conservative and Labour governments alike supported massive increases in earlier stages of state education, while leaving young adults floundering? Even the IFS isn’t quite sure! Luke Sibieta, an author of the report, and IFS Associate Director, said that while there is “a strong case for the increased spending on early year’s education,” the rationale behind the cuts in further education for 16-18 year olds, “is much less obvious” and that successive Conservative and Labour governments since 1990 saw it as a low priority area for spending.
It’s too late for Further Education students from the 90s and 00s, and even the early 10s. We’ve already been let down by governments of days gone by: We’re already in the workplace. The real tragedy will strike those young adults sitting their GCSEs this year, that are sitting their A Levels or Highers this year, that are starting the early modules of their Batchelor degrees this year, and all for one reason: Brexit.
Put simply, as the country heads towards the uncertain tides of a post-Brexit United Kingdom and Mrs May courts future trading allies in the USA and Commonwealth to shore up the inevitable economic rough seas ahead, the tragic shortcomings in FE funding is the equivalent of the good ship Britannia taking on water, and fast. These young people, and those following them, will be entering the workplace during the first years of that post-Brexit UK and will be striving to carve a life for themselves. However, will their fiscally-constrained further education hold them, and ultimately, the country back?
We will need our young adults to hit the ground running, more so in the coming years than possibly at any point since 1945. However, they will find many obstacles in their way. They’ll find a reduced NHS provision, deflated wages, ongoing house price rises, increased private rents and more, all waiting for them. It’s at that point, when they’re in the polling booth for the very first time, that they need to remember who was behind those obstacles – as well as behind the nonsensical strangulation of their Further Education. Woe betide the parties, both past and present, if the disillusioned young adults of today turn out on Election Day.