Sunday, 25 August 2019

College's plans for more cuts

College's plans for more cuts

THE equivalent of 13 full-time teaching posts and up to eight subjects could be axed at The Henley College in a bid to “streamline and improve” its service.

The college announced the proposed redundancies, which also affect two management positions and 10 administrative roles, as part of a staff consultation which began on Monday.

It says the threatened courses aren’t financially viable because they no longer attract enough students to justify the running costs.

This year, the college suffered a shortfall of 166 students so it lost about £800,000, or 10 per cent of its expected income, which had a “serious detrimental impact” on its finances.

However, it launched two new subjects in September which have proved popular and it wants to add more in years to come so new jobs could eventually be created. The college has agreed to drop A-level music technology, the subsidiary diploma in travel and tourism and the national extended diploma in children’s play, learning and development. It could also get rid of
A-level French, German and textile art and the BTEC first certificate in sport. Its classical civilisation A-level is also at risk although this could be merged with A-level ancient history to create a new syllabus covering both.

The former has only 14 students and the college says the ideal figure for academic subjects is 20 or more. Students and parents have been told about the consultation, which closes on April 12.

If the proposed cuts go ahead, the courses will continue for one more year to allow current students to finish. The college says the number of redundancies will depend on staff feedback but it hopes they will all be voluntary and support will be given to anyone affected.

It says the threatened subjects attract fewer applicants because the Government is urging secondary schools to promote science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects so fewer pupils now choose arts, languages and the humanities as a GCSE.

Under recent changes, an
AS-level result no longer counts towards an A-level in the same subject or a vocational qualification so demand for less popular courses has dropped even further.

Competition has also increased as grammar schools are now getting money to expand their sixth forms.

Meanwhile, government funding for further education has dropped by about 30 per cent since 2010.

Funding for students aged 16 and 17 has been frozen at £4,000 per head since 2013 and was cut to £3,000 for each 18-year-old in 2014. The college is supporting a national campaign to increase this to £4,760 for all youngsters.

There is also a “demographic dip” in which the number of 16- to 19-year-olds nationally has fallen due to the birth rate. This started two years ago but is having an effect for the first time as the college’s intake was higher than expected last year and in 2017.

Principal Satwant Deol said: “As a college, we pride ourselves in the breadth of provision, which is reflected in how widely we recruit students from Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, but we have to look at how that offering is constructed because fewer students are now coming up through the system in certain subjects as a result of reforms.

“Modern languages have seen a 30 per cent decline nationally over the past three years, as have many arts subjects. We’ve kept French and German going despite that but we can’t do so any longer as they’re being subsidised by other subjects.

“There’s a huge emphasis on STEM and that’s fine but it does mean other things are being pushed aside.

“The AS-levels were good for students because they weren’t always sure which subjects to take but by the end of their first year they had more experience and maturity to make that decision.

“Arts and languages have been worst hit because they previously felt safe to experiment and take on a ‘niche’ subject they could drop, although in some cases they discovered a love for it and it became their primary subject.

“With the return to the linear
A-level syllabus, that decision is a bigger commitment from the outset. Up and down the country, the government funding issue is almost crippling everybody, particularly secondaries and colleges and now even universities are starting to feel it.

“We’re also losing about £500 per head, or £1million a year, for students from Oxfordshire because they get a seven per cent uplift in funding as opposed to 12 per cent in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

“All these external threats are beyond our control, which is why we’re supporting campaigns for an increase.”

The latest announcement comes a year after the college warned staff that up to 66 jobs were at risk as part of a drive to reverse a £1.5 million budget deficit by 2020 under a two-year “early intervention strategy” overseen by the Government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency.

However, just nine people were made redundant, all voluntarily, while eight new tutoring and mentoring roles were created to free up teaching time. Further savings were made through staff choosing to reduce their hours.

The German A-level course was threatened but continued for one more year under a partnership with the Goethe Institute, the German embassy’s educational arm, which provided logistical support but no additional funding. Music technology was dropped but there were hopes that it would come back this year.

Mrs Deol said: “We don’t want to make irreversible changes, which is why we’re looking to create new subjects through mergers where possible.

“It’s about maintaining variety but without overlap or duplication. We’ve taken three months to consider this because we don’t want to do it in a crude and mechanistic way.

“We’re well aware that the national situation could change and want to preserve our capacity in case it is needed again. For example, we’re still keeping our music facilities even though we don’t currently teach it and we’ve also invested in a suite of Apple Macs, which will benefit various creative media subjects but could be used for music in future.”

The college is launching new courses in criminology and applied psychology, which it says has attracted more applicants than expected, although it is unlikely to create any new jobs this year.

It hopes to run more courses in partnership with local businesses, which would be asked to set assignments so that students understand the expectations of the workplace, and will also revise the timetable so that lectures are not spread thinly across the week.

There will be no cut in teaching hours but students may spend fewer days on campus as a result and there could also be supervised study sessions and discussion groups.

The college still intends to open a new £3million STEM centre at its campus in Deanfield Avenue by 2021 and has secured at least £1million in funding for this.

Mrs Deol said: “We feel we can do more with STEM, especially the digital and creative subjects, as well as the financial services.

“The demographic dip will turn in two years’ time and we want to be well placed to meet local students’ needs.

“The traditional academic subjects teach valuable transferable skills and we don’t want to discount them but want to achieve a balance between that and equipping students for the modern world. We set out to continually evolve rather than radically transform.

“This process has not been easy but we’re responding both to feedback from our students and challenges in the wider economy.”

In a letter to parents, Mrs Deol said: “Our students’ education is at the centre of everything we do and there will be minimal disruption. We still offer a broader range of subjects than other colleges while our pastoral care and careers guidance are very important. We will also continue with our dedicated tutorial system, which has proven very effective.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “There are things the college could do to help itself, much of which it has not done. An example of that is trying to obtain funding from companies that offer apprenticeships. I did ask the principal what they had been doing in this area and she said they hadn’t been doing much.

“This would make a big difference to what they were able to do and give them a lot more money. I would be happy to put them in touch with the apprenticeships minister to discuss this.

“They have to look at whether they can go against the market trends and if fewer people are taking certain subjects they’ll have to be flexible in their approach but within those limitations it’s always worth looking at whether they can become sustainable with additional funds coming in.

“I also talked about the Government’s comprehensive spending review, which is taking place this year and next, and we need to make sure that we make a good case on funding.

“It is at an early stage and there have been no indications as to how this might affect colleges but it is important to get in now.

“I am very keen to support the college and make sure it comes out of this process successfully.”

A report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in September said that funding per student in sixth forms is now at its lowest since 2002-3.

The Department for Education says it accepts there are “pressures across the system” but it has protected sixth form funding from cuts until 2020 and is putting more money into primary and secondary schools than ever before.

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