The government’s ability to deliver its skills agenda could be severely damaged if it goes ahead with a planned ‘clawback’ of adult education funding, after colleges have been unable to deliver practical courses face-to-face during the pandemic. The clawbacks, announced late in the academic year, could amount to cuts of around £50 million, which the education and training sector have described as ‘damaging’ and ‘self-defeating’ risking reducing the government's ability to train and retrain adults, just as furlough ends and the risks of mass unemployment are sky high.
In a letter to the Education Secretary, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes has warned that if the cuts go ahead, colleges may have to scrap courses - including delivery of the government’s flagship T Levels, as well as finding themselves at risk of being plunged into financial intervention, or being forced to make large numbers of redundancies.
Below is an overview of three colleges which illustrate the severe impacts the clawback decision will have on their ability to deliver adult learning and training:
Furness College has seen a striking reduction in adult participation in further education due to the pandemic. It is currently forecasting delivery at only 50% of its full Adult Education Budget allocation. This will result in a £640,000 clawback and the college returning a budget deficit at the end of July. Should the decision not be revisited, the college will not be able to offer the same volume of training in future years.
The decision to reconcile AEB grant contracts at 90% means they will have to pay back around £4 million. Multiple lockdowns and restrictions in Leicester since March 2020 has meant it has been a difficult year. Returning such a significant sum will have severe implications for education in Leicester. Likely impacts will be to capital programmes and future plans for 2021/ 22, including for new T Level accommodation and facilities, and for expanded student numbers, which are all now at risk.
The ability for Gateshead College to deliver its adult education allocation has been severely curtailed. In addition, the procured North of Tyne contract requires eligible candidates to be employed, and with the number of businesses closed, workers furloughed and the restrictions in place since September 2020 in the North East, the impact of Covid-19 has been more severe.