English and maths tolerance announcement

12 Oct 2017

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has announced that 16 to 18 funding allocations to colleges and schools will include a 5% tolerance with regards to the English and Maths condition of funding. This new rule will apply in the next round of allocations "until further notice".

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “It’s good news that the Government has extended the tolerance on the condition of funding until further notice.  This addresses the uncertainty that annual announcements have had on planning in colleges.  This is what we have asked for in our submission to the Autumn Budget.

“However we still need a proper strategy from DfE about English and maths. We all share the ambition that every young person should reach a good standard of functional literacy, numeracy and digital skills so that they are ready to enter work and carry out further study. More discretion about the best qualification for each student, curriculum changes, new qualifications, designing a new transition year, investment in teachers, realistic success measures for colleges, building understanding of what works and so on can all help build a more constructive atmosphere for colleges to be able to meet the policy ambition.”

The ESFA announcement has been made in recognition of the continued efforts of post-16 providers to deliver the 16 to 19 maths and English policy. Although this latest announcement is retrospective (in that the next set of calculations will be based on a year that has already finished), the new rule is also fixed for the future. This means there is increased certainty on which colleges and schools can plan.

AoC has been arguing that there should be this sort of tolerance ever since the policy was introduced in 2014. In our Autumn Budget submission, we noted that 155,000 of 16 year olds missed the maths threshold and 159,000 missed the English target. The average FE college has more than a thousand resit students. In some colleges, more than 90% of the students they recruit did not achieve English or maths to the acceptable standard by age 16. The overwhelming majority of sixth formers who do not have right level of Maths or English take course but it was wrong to impose penalties on the expectation of 100% compliance because this took no account of the fact that some students start midway through the year or have health problems which make full attendance difficult.

There has been insufficient research on what works in this area. In his official review of post-16 maths for the DfE, Sir Adrian Smith suggested that the condition of funding has acted as an obstacle to the longer term aim of getting all young people to Level 3 standard. We believe that DfE should commission this research, should consider what curriiculum would best prepare young people for the future and should trust professionals to make decisions in the interests of their students