Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Association of Colleges (BUS 62)

—  The Association of Colleges (AoC) represents and promotes the interests of Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges and their students. Colleges provide a rich mix of academic and vocational education. As publicly funded, autonomous institutions established under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, they have the freedom to innovate and respond flexibly to the needs of individuals, business and communities.

—  The following key facts illustrate Colleges' contribution to education and training in England:

—  Every year Colleges educate and train three million people.

—  831,000 of these students are aged 16 to 18 which compares to 423,000 in schools.

—  74,000 14 to 15 year olds are enrolled at a College.

—  One-third of A-level students study at a College.

—  44% of those achieving a level 3 qualification by age 19 do so at a College.

—  69% of those receiving an Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) study in a College.

—  Colleges are centres of excellence and quality. The average A-level or equivalent point score for Sixth Form Colleges is 800.1, compared with 761.6 for school sixth forms. 96% of Colleges inspected in 2008-09 were judged satisfactory or better by Ofsted for the quality of their provision.


In December 2010 the Association of Colleges commissioned a survey of its members detailing the accessibility of transport for people aged 16-19 attending Colleges.

The survey found that:

—  94% of Colleges believe that the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) will affect students' ability to travel to and from College.

—  Local Authority support for 16-19 transport is extremely varied with 29% providing transport, 20% providing financial support, 18% providing both and 27% providing neither.

—  The majority of Colleges provide some form of financial assistance (78%) for transport with an average spend of £140,662, either financial or provision of services.
This figure rises significantly for land-based[49] Colleges with an average spend of £339,143.

—  72% of students travel to College by bus:

"Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that no young person in their area is prevented from attending education post-16 because of a lack of transport, or support for it."

Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, Hansard 21 December 2010: Column 1367

The Education Act 1996 originally set out Local Authorities' duty to provide transport for young people attending further education institutions and has subsequently been added to and amended by further legislation requiring Local Authorities to produce annual transport policies, ensure that young people are consulted when these policies are drawn up and also have the right to complain if the Local Authority is not performing its duty.

Colleges in the survey were very concerned that where some Local Authorities provided subsidised schemes, the subsidies may be at risk or were still out of reach for some of the poorest students. A College told us:

"Nottinghamshire County Council offer students the option to purchase a Half Fare pass at a cost of £99 for the year which then entitles students to travel at half the adult daily fare on the route between home and College—including different bus companies. For some students there is a benefit to be had from purchasing one of these passes as they can save over the year on their daily fares, but for most students it's raising the initial £99 that causes problems."

The level of subsidy varies across local authorities, with some charging over £500 per annum for a student travel pass.

The survey found that the average distance travelled to College was nine miles, with some Colleges reporting that students travel over 50 miles each way to College. In rural areas if young people want to stay in education or training they usually have to travel further.

We believe that students should have the choice of which institution to attend based on the course that they wish to take and the quality of the institution they wish to attend. For some particularly specialised courses, a student may only have a choice of a few institutions.

The travel to learn problems faced by young people in rural areas was a key issue raised in our survey. For example, a College told us:

"Cumbria County Council provide assistance for under 19's providing they are attending their nearest provider. Most students are issued with a bus pass to use on scheduled bus services, however a few receive financial re-imbursement as there is no bus service available."

Another told us:

"We are a rural college and transport is a major factor. The population of the Forest of Dean is approximately 80,000 but it is widespread. Transport within the Forest is poor, with some areas only having one service per day. There is a cost to our College through non-participation due to transport."

The "formula grant" from Whitehall to Local Authorities is set to be reduced by 9.9% in 2011-12 and by 7.3% in 2012-13.

Local Authorities are expected to make use of their core funding to meet their duties and it is clear in a context of limited resources that difficult decisions are being made.

Students at City College Norwich say that the local council will no longer provide a transport subsidy at all in light of the strain on its budget and they are worried that this, combined with abolishing the EMA will result in young people being unable to afford to attend College at all.

Colleges are concerned that even where Local Authorities are providing assistance, it will simply not be enough with the abolition of EMA. This needs to be understood in the context not just of constrained budgets in local authorities, but also of fuel cost increases and the VAT rises that will inevitably push up the cost of transport.

In particular the problem of transport in rural areas needs to be addressed, not just in terms of cost, but availability.

There are problems with the inconsistency of assistance across local authority boundaries, with some authorities not funding students travelling out of boundary.

Restrictions within some Transport Policies do not reflect the realities of a College day, with some stating that only one journey may be made per day, some stating that journeys must be completed by 9am.

As one College concluded:

"The Government needs to recognise that travel costs are a key, and in some cases such as land based specialised colleges the prime, barrier to access to a quality specialised vocational education especially in rural counties. Learner Support Funds need to be able to be used for 16-18 years olds for transport costs and the guidance changed. This definitely needs to be done if EMAS are being withdrawn or else the number of NEETs a key government priority will just increase as learners will not be able to access financial support for transport costs."

February 2011

49   Colleges which specialise in agriculture and horticulture courses Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 11 August 2011