French and German being dropped by cash-strapped colleges, report warns

Modern languages, science and engineering courses are being scrapped as a result of financial constraints, the National Audit Office warns

French and German courses are being dropped by cash-strapped colleges, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned. 

A report examining the financial sustainability of colleges and sixth forms in England found that 115 (48 per cent) were receiving extra help from the government in February this year owing to lack of money. 

Thirty four per cent of colleges reported an operating deficit last year, a slight reduction on the 37 per cent in 2014. 

The financial constraints have resulted in the reduction of subjects on offer to students, with modern languages, science, technology, and engineering courses being scrapped, as well as mental health support services. 

The curriculum changes are having “detrimental effects on students and skills development,” the NAO said, while the core funding for the college sector has fallen and its financial health "remains fragile". 

There are 242 further education colleges in England, including 192 further education colleges and 50 sixth-forms, and many suffer from unresolved “systemic long-term weaknesses” despite hundreds of millions of pounds of extra funding from the government. 

Between November 2014 and March 2019, the government gave £253 million to 36 colleges with serious cash flow problems, the report found. A further £431 million was paid to 45 colleges to help cover the costs of “structural changes” designed to improve colleges’ financial sustainability.

Between April 2019 and May 2020, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) spent £41.8 million dealing with colleges in, or close to, administration. The majority of this sum (£26.6 million) was spent on two insolvency cases - Hadlow College and West Kent and Ashford College - during the same period.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Colleges play a crucial role in many people’s lives and are vital in the development of the skills and knowledge the country needs. While there has been some progress in improving financial security in the sector, this has cost a lot of money, and systemic long-term weaknesses remain unresolved.

“DfE needs to seize the opportunity presented by its 10-year reform programme to set out what it wants from the college sector and ensure it is funded accordingly.”