It’s barely a week since the ‘spending review’ and already the discussion has moved on, overtaken by other momentous events. So, not unnaturally, some of the more obscure details – beyond ‘the cuts that didn’t happen’ – in Child Tax Credits and the police – never got a mention at the time and now probably will only surface on specialist blogs like this one.
For a number of years, there has been an anomaly in education funding, whereby schools were exempt from VAT, with the exception of Sixth Form Colleges. On the face of it, it would seem a simple ‘mistake’ for a chancellor to put right, but we have to understand that successive governments wanted to bolster school sixth forms, which have often been too small to be properly viable but nonetheless a badge of prestige for the school, especially in middle-class areas. Sixth Form students also attract a larger per capita funding.
Being part of an 11-18 school, continuing with teachers who already know you, being part of a smaller entity, has an appeal to some students; for others, a move to a bigger institution, akin almost to a small university, where the teachers only teach post-16 courses, is a more attractive option.
George Osborne could have responded easily to those who have been campaigning for the removal of the VAT anomaly from Sixth Form Colleges by, well, simply removing it. Instead, he has chosen a cynical course to push more institutions down the academisation route: Sixth Form Colleges are now permitted to become academies, and thus, save themselves paying VAT. Cash-strapped college principals will find themselves with little alternative.
We are bound to ask why, if, as this government frequently claims, academies are the best way forward for all, they have to practise this kind of financial arm-twisting to bring it about?