Cuts could affect students

THE HEAD of Sussex Coast College Hastings fears impending Government cuts aimed at students aged 18 and over could have huge implications on hundreds of local learners.

Coalition plans to slash funding for older pupils would see Sussex Coast College Hastings (SCCH) lose around £340,000 because it has 450 students who fall into the 18 plus age bracket.

That represents a five per cent drop in funding – compared to an average of around three per cent being swallowed elsewhere and has angered principal Clive Cooke who says it will hit teenagers who opt for vocational courses over A-levels.

He said: “The college has a huge vocational course take up, and has invested years promoting vocational courses as an alternative option to A-levels. Vocational courses are typically 16-year-olds leaving school and starting on a level two course for a year. Learners typically move on to complete a two year, level three course. This would see the learner being 18 on the second year of the level three and not receiving funding, which could have a huge impact on those learners who chose to study a vocational course instead of A-levels.

“Many students need three years of vocational specialist provision as they have had little access to the equipment and specialist teaching resources required to produce talented craftspeople and technicians. This funding cut will mean that the college has to absorb the cost of this provision.

“We will adapt to this unwelcome news and I am confident that these funding cuts will not affect any student’s access to a course at the college or to the quality of their teaching and learning while with us.

“We are more concerned that the local area is being more greatly affected than other parts of the country and would urge the Government to rethink this particular cut to enable young people to get the best start in life possible.”

It was a sentiment shared by local Labour Parliamentary candidate Sarah Owen, who said the town’s young people were already suffering after the Observer recently revealed one in three children currently live in poverty locally.

She said: “This is a massive blow for the hard-working college staff, students and our town. With the highest unemployment levels in the south east, we need greater access to learning, not less. This is a retrograde and short-sighted Government cut.”

Hastings MP Amber Rudd said: “The Government has said that it will put in place some protection until 2016 to make sure schools and colleges can plan ahead.

“When the reforms do come into full effect in 2016, the most vulnerable will not be affected.

“Any reductions will not apply to the flat rates for disadvantaged students without GCSE grade C or above in English or mathematics. Students with a learning difficulty assessment or a statement of special educational needs will also not be affected by this change.

“The schools budget has been ring fenced and there is more money going into apprenticeships with good results locally. This affects the third year of further education colleges after GCSEs.”

And she said there were genuine signs things were improving in Hastings.

“Youth unemployment is falling, and it is now at its lowest point since 2008 in Hastings. Unemployment fell 20 per cent in 2013. The number of NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) is also at its lowest level for a decade.”