Celebrities including actor Colin Firth have lent their support to a campaign urging the government to drop “a learning tax” on sixth-form colleges. Unlike schools and academies, sixth-form colleges in England are unable to claim back their VAT costs. The government says they are liable for VAT because they were categorised as private-sector organisations by the Office of National Statistics.
The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association called the anomaly “a clear injustice”. It argues that failure to refund VAT to sixth-form colleges amounts to a tax that leaves the average sixth-form college with £335,000 less to spend on students’ education each year.
“The government should drop the learning tax to ensure sixth-form colleges can continue to provide students with the high quality education they need to succeed and prosper,” said SFCA deputy chief executive James Kewin. An e-petition urging the government to rectify the situation has attracted more than 11,000 signatures since it was set up late last month. Colleges approached former pupils to sign the petition. Colin Firth, a former student at Barton Peveril sixth-form college in Hampshire, and broadcaster Dermot O’Leary were among those who did so.
“My experience of sixth-form college was extremely positive,” said Mr O’Leary, who studied at Colchester sixth-form college.
“The teachers took a real interest in my education and encouraged me to get involved in a range of extra-curricular activities.
“I’m supporting the drop-the-learning-tax campaign because I want future sixth-form college students to benefit from the sort of education that has served me so well over the years.”
The SFCA argues that allowing sixth forms to claim back their VAT would go some way towards plugging the funding gap left by cuts since 2010. The association says research last year found more than two-thirds of colleges had axed courses due to cuts and almost three-quarters had reduced extra curricular activities such as drama. music and sport. A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have ended the historic and unfair funding difference between post-16 schools and colleges by funding them per student, rather than discriminating between qualifications.
“This ensures young people are studying high quality courses that will help them get on in their lives.
“The funding is sufficient for each full-time student to undertake a full timetable of courses to suit their needs, be it A-levels or other post-16 qualifications.
“It is for individual institutions to decide on what they provide to best suit the needs of their students.”
Dr Esther Maughan
Principal and Chief Executive