Targeted by the “aspiration tax”

The government’s proposed 17.5% cut to funding for 18 year olds in full-time education has caused outrage across the sixth form and college sector. In a previous post I describe this as an “aspiration tax” which will target those very students who have worked the hardest to realise their ambitions, often from a low starting point at 16.

At Newham sixth form college (NewVIc) in East London, we decided to investigate which of our university progressors from 2013 would have been targeted by the aspiration tax. We found a large group of successful students, most of whom had progressed from level 2 vocational or GCSE courses at NewVIc on to advanced courses, spending three years in post-16 education and hitting their 18th birthday before their third year in college.

Out of our 767 university progressors at least 130 came into this category. These young people are now first year undergraduates at British universities. The vast majority are from deprived backgrounds and of black and ethnic minority heritage. Under the new system these students in their final year would have only attracted 82.5% of the funding available to their younger classmates studying exactly the same courses and requiring the same number of taught hours.

These 130 got good results, including one who achieved 2 A’s and 2 B’s at A-level, 2 who achieved grade B in their childcare diploma and 36 who obtained at least a triple distinction in their BTEC extended diploma. 3 of these students are now studying at Russell group universities; 2 at Queen Mary University of London and 1 at University College London. The others progressed to a wide range of universities including 33 to the University of East London, 18 to London South Bank University, 14 to Middlesex University, 13 to the University of Greenwich, 11 to the University of Westminster, 6 to London Metropolitan University, 4 to City University, 4 to Ravensbourne, 2 each to the University of the Arts London, Sheffield Hallam and Anglia Ruskin and 1 each to Kingston, Canterbury, Dundee and Nottingham Trent.

These 130 undergraduates include:

  • 32 studying business, accountancy or economics
  • 18 studying nursing or early childhood studies
  • 15 studying art, graphics, fashion, textiles, media or photography
  • 15 studying tourism, sport, fitness or event management
  • 14 studying engineering
  • 11 studying law or criminology
  • 9 studying computing or information technology
  • 3 studying architecture
  • 3 studying biomedical or forensic science
  • 3 studying performing arts, music or dance
  • 3 studying psychology, sociology or English literature

So these are the sort of students who would be targeted by the “aspiration tax”; successful and hard working young people who have committed to at least 3 years of full-time study in order to progress to university and pursue a variety of degree courses and start making their way in a wide range of useful and important . Their only offence is to have celebrated their 18th birthday.

We have over 500 students aged 18 or over which means the college could lose over £400,000 of funding next year. This loss is well above the often-quoted basic £700 per student as our students also attract disadvantage funding and inner London weighting.

The Education Funding Agency, which funds post-16 education along with academies and free schools, neglected to consult colleges and sixth forms about this cut but is now proposing to consult us about possible ways to mitigate its impact. All we can say in response is: There is no possible rationale for such a harsh measure. Please withdraw this tax on aspiration and hard work before it damages the very students we want to keep in learning as well as those colleges most committed to their success. Reconsider the distribution of resources for 2014/15 and review your expenditure on new sixth forms.

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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3 Responses to Targeted by the “aspiration tax”

  1. Joan says:

    What I find most distressing about all of this is the sense of people not being allowed second chances, especially in teenage years when life can be rocky. My partner and I are both classic examples of people who made educational choices in our teens (having parents who knew nothing about higher education) that we regretted. We were lucky to be in the educational system at a time when these things could be remedied – not without some difficulties but at least without incurring major financial penalties. So that by the time that we met (in our mid/late 20s) thanks to access courses, extra mural classes and supportive tutors we were both being fully funded for PhD studies in areas that interested us. Now as parents of teenagers (all, incidentally, at Newham schools) we see that they do not have the luxury of getting things wrong, or getting ill or having some sort of difficult life event. It’s a worry.


    • Joan, thanks for this. Your experience makes a strong case that we need an open and inclusive system that meets the full range of students’ needs and allows for fresh starts and changes of direction. Sadly, we seem to be moving towards a narrower and more divided system where assumptions are being made about students’ innate ability and possibilities are closed down. NewVIc aims to be a comprehensive college in what feels like an increasingly selective environment a bit like trying to be a comprehensive school surrounded by grammar shools! I do hope your teenagers thrive and flourish. Best wishes, Eddie


  2. Joan says:

    Thanks, Eddie. Enjoyed your Open Day on Saturday – some impressive staff and young people.
    Best wishes, Joan


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