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Spring Budget gives rare prominence to technical education

08 March 2017

We have a Conservative Government elected on a 2015 manifesto promise to eliminate the budget deficit so it is no surprise that the spending measures in today's Budget are fully funded from more taxation or saving elsewhere. After two downgrades to the official economic forecast in 2016 statements, the Office of Budget Responsibility report an upgrade this time. As predicted, the Chancellor plans to use any extra funds that reach the Treasury to reduce the deficit. ‎Today’s announcements repeat the briefing given in the last few days. The Chancellor described the new technical education routes as T-levels and promised that spending on those taking them will rise by £500 million a year once they are fully in place - some years away. He promised a 50% increase in teaching hours and three month work placements. This represents a Cabinet-level endorsement for the Sainsbury Review brief though, as we explain in this note, it assumes just 20% of the age group will benefit. The amounts allocated are: 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 16-19 technical education £60m £115m £250m £445m The Chancellor also promises a Schools White Paper in the next few weeks and earmarked capital funds for new free schools. The plan is still to expand a growth in selective, faith and sponsored schools with universities and private schools both expected to play their part. The Chancellor also name checked the two 16-19 maths free schools - one of them supported by Exeter College - and said he hoped to see more of them. A longer note discussing the schools announcements is available here. The third group of education announcements cover adults. Maintenance loans will be extended to part-time higher education and higher level technical courses but only for Level 4 or 5 courses taken in Institutes of Technology and National Colleges (not yet FE colleges). Added to this, there will be new £40 million Department for Education ‎pilot to test lifelong learning. Small steps but in the right direction. Overall the Spring Budget contained a set of modest‎ changes but gave rare prominence to technical education. The Chancellor described this as a strategy for the next generation to ensure that today's children do as well tomorrow as today's adults. Our Budget submission argued that the Government needs to go further in raising spending as a proportion of GDP which is currently at the lowest level for decades - barely above 4%. We'll have to wait another day to win this case but in the meantime there is much for colleges to do to move the technical, academic and apprenticeship reforms forward. Julian Gravatt is the Assistant Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges