Overall the total AEB spend in colleges over the past four years decreased by about -10% or £5m, from £51.2 million in 2017/18 to £46.3 million in 2020/21.

After increasing to £58.9 million in 2018/19, the spend dropped sharply to £49.2 in 2019/20 and fell by a further almost £3 million in 2020/21.

Over the period 2019/20 and 2020/21:

Spend on Level 2 or below learning aims decreased in real terms by -19% in the year 2019/20 to 2020/21. The proportion of AEB funds spent on Level 2 over the last four years remained relatively stable at 32-34%, but of note is the drop in the proportion of AEB spent on Level 1 or below from 58% in 2017/18 to 43% in2020/21.

Spend on Level 3 or above increased by 69% in real terms last year, and the proportion of spend on Level 3+ rose from 9% in 2017/18 to 18% in 2020/21, with the main jump over the last year.

Over the last year, decreases were evident in relation to Essential skills (-22%) but spend on Professional and Technical skills increased by 18%.

Over the four year period, the proportion of spend on Professional and Technical skills rose from 39% in 2017/18 to 49% in 2020/21 and the actual spend rose by almost £3m.

Against the backdrop of an overall decline in spend on AEB between 2019/20 and 2020/21, Sandwell and Walsall saw a slight increase in their proportion of AEB spend, and Birmingham and Coventry saw a slight decline.

Geographical patterns of change in spend over the whole period 2017/18 to 2020/21 were not even, with increases between 2017/18 and 2018/19 followed by decreases between 2018/19 to 2020/21 evident in Birmingham, Dudley, Solihull and Coventry.

Over the four-year period, both Walsall and Wolverhampton had an increase in AEB funding in real terms and also in proportion of spend.

Over the period 2019/20 to 2020/21, while spend on those in work decreased by -2% and for those unemployed by -9%, spend on those out of work and not looking for work/not available for work increased by +3%.

Over the four years between 2017/19 and 2020/21, against the total fall of -10% in AEB spend, the spend on unemployed rose by 9% and on those employed by 18% and there was a sharp decline of -55% in those not working and not looking for work.

The number of AEB learners increased by almost 2,800 (+8%) over the period 2017/18 to 2018/19 but decreased by almost -9,000 (-22%) over the period 2018/19 to 2020/21 and by about 5,500 (-16.5%) over the period 2019-20 to 2020/21.

Although the scale of change differed, over the four years, this broad trend was evident in relation to all learner groups with the two notable exceptions: the proportion of ‘White’ decreased from 46% to 40% and the proportion of female learners increased from 59% to 63%.

Between 2017/18 and 2020/21 the number of learners in priority sectors grew by 16%, at a time when overall all AEB learner numbers declined by -16.5%. Trends varied by priority sector. In Construction the number of learners increased year-on-year over the four-year period. Engineering saw an initial decline in numbers with strong growth in 2020/21 bringing numbers back to 2017/18 levels. In the case of Business, Professional and Financial Services, initial increases were followed by a fall and then some recovery in 2020/21. Digital and Creative also had an initial increase in leaner numbers, followed by two years of declining numbers.