The recent announcement about the successful applicants to the Further Education capital transformation fund was excellent news for the FE sector, bringing much needed investment to colleges.
It is now urgent that specialist FE colleges are prioritised for future investment. Despite being entirely state funded, specialist FE colleges are not in scope for the FE transformation fund and are also not eligible for school rebuilding programmes.
The SEND review and Green Paper published at the end of March included a reference to an investment of £2.6bn over the next three years for SEND capital programmes. Although this should be encouraging, since specialist colleges are technically in scope for both this and existing High Needs provision capital allocations, the guidance states that it is “predominantly intended for school aged children”. Local authorities, who administer the funds, have previously allocated less than 1% of these capital funds to FE.
The only other capital funding available to specialist colleges is an average of £20,000 per year per college through the annual devolved formula capital (DFC) and school condition allocations (SCA). These funds are intended to contribute to the improvement of building condition, and are not nearly enough to fund significant and much needed capital improvement works or new builds. Also, unlike schools, SPIs are not able to top this up via bids to the school condition improvement fund.
There is therefore a major gap in policy which needs to be filled: specialist colleges, despite being 100% publicly funded as further education providers, are excluded from FE programmes, and also cannot access SEND funding programmes which prioritise schools. The need for upgraded facilities for these settings is now acute.
A recent survey of Natspec colleges identified that:
- Over half (53%) of college buildings need repair, either urgently (18%) or within the next two years (35%).
- Only 4% of college buildings do not need repair within 10 years
Colleges reported serious issues to ageing buildings, with many struggling to find the funding to address single glazed windows, old boilers, leaks to roofing and gutters, and poor configuration of teaching spaces.
All the colleges that responded to the survey reported that the funding received from the School Conditions Allowance and the Devolved Formula Capital was not enough to cover maintenance of ageing or modular buildings, mechanical and electrical upkeep, asbestos removal, heating systems and fire safety measures.
This means that colleges have had to raise money from donations, private fundraising and reserves. Colleges have invested over £15m in 29 projects funded since 2012, with one college raising over £2m.
With some investment, specialist colleges could create the high-quality learning facilities that the government wants every young person to access. Projects planned by colleges include the development of specialist resources such as hydrotherapy pools, new teaching spaces, music and media centres, and outdoor adventure equipment. Many colleges would like to develop their vocational offer with the addition of new kitchens, cafes, catering facilities, car maintenance garages, or horticulture buildings.
A new fund is required
There have been no capital programmes for specialist colleges since the ‘ISP £15m 2013-2015 Building Improvement Fund’, and at that time only a handful of colleges benefited from this very small fund.
Natspec calls for a new capital improvement fund dedicated to ESFA funded SPIs, followed by integrating them into the list of eligible institutions for future FE capital funding rounds. FE students with SEND deserve the same opportunity as their mainstream peers to be educated in high quality buildings.
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