Skip to main content

Further Education

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015

I beg to move,

That this House believes that a 21st century economy cannot be built on falling investment in education; notes that the 16-19 education budget fell by 14 per cent in real terms over the last Parliament, and that many colleges are reporting severe financial difficulties, including no longer offering courses in subjects key to our country’s competitiveness; further notes that over 100 chairs of further education colleges have warned that further cuts to 16-19 funding will tip their colleges over the precipice, and risk the nation’s productivity; believes that, given that the participation age has now risen to 18 years old, it makes no sense for the post-16 education budget to be treated with less importance than the 5-16 schools budget; further believes there should be a joined-up approach to education across departments; and calls on the Government to protect the education budget in real terms, from the early years through to 19 years old.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

“A good education shouldn’t be a luxury—the preserve of those living within a certain postcode or those who can afford it. It should be something everyone in this country can get…if we don’t educate the next generation properly, we will not secure Britain’s future.”

Those are not my words; they are the words of the Prime Minister just before the election, and I wholeheartedly agree with them. Indeed, I am sure that every parent and member of the public would agree that the route to success for a country lies in ensuring the best possible education for our children. Education is a down payment on the future success of our economy. I do not doubt that the Secretary of State for Education agrees with me, too. Yet as we approach the comprehensive spending review next week, I am concerned that she is losing the argument with her Treasury colleagues. That is why we have called this debate: to give her a bit of moral support in her battle to stop further, damaging wrong-headed cuts to the education budget.

In all honesty, I am perplexed that we are having to have this debate at all today. Conservative rhetoric at the election may have fooled many parents that the whole education budget was being protected, when we all know that the reality is far from that. If the principle exists that education is so important that we should shield schools’ budgets—and we absolutely should—why does the principle stop at GCSEs and not extend to A-levels and other post-16 qualifications? That is the central question, and I hope that we shall hear a real answer from the Secretary of State today. Why do the Government ascribe less value to the education of 16 to 19-year-olds?

Why does the hon. Lady think that, during a period of economic growth, her party presided over rising numbers of people who were not in education, employment or training and rising levels of youth unemployment? By contrast, the number of NEETs under this Government, both in my constituency and throughout the country, is the lowest for 15 years.

Well, we are not seeing the biggest investment in post-16 education; and we shall see what happens to those budgets in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

Let us look at the context. Over the last Parliament, 16-to-19 funding fell by 14% in real terms, and many efficiencies have already been delivered. Moreover, children must now remain in education or training until they are 18. We want young people to go on to study A-levels or take up high-quality apprenticeships, we want to raise attainment in literacy and numeracy, and we want to deliver a new curriculum. In that context, how does the Secretary of State imagine that school sixth forms, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges will be able to make further cuts of between 25% and 40% over the current Parliament?

Earlier this month, I was delighted to visit Central Sussex College, which is expanding its STEM subjects facility. Its new building will enable it to provide many more courses for local people. Does the hon. Lady not welcome that?

Absolutely, but it sounds like an exception to what is happening in many other parts of the country.

Like my hon. Friend, I have received a letter from more than 120 chairs of further education colleges. As well as presenting the picture of funding cuts and increased responsibilities that my hon. Friend is painting, the letter laments sudden funding reductions which have taken place not once but twice this year, and which have made it impossible to plan. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is no way to run a whelk stall, let alone a further education sector?

I entirely agree with that very well-made point. Not just FE colleges but sixth-form colleges—some excellent institutions in this country—would say the same.

The scale of these cuts is huge. Two FE colleges in Coventry have written to me in the wake of the letter to the Secretary of State from, I think, 147 colleges. They speak of cuts of up to 40% in their budgets, 1,000 redundancies, and the elimination of whole courses—important courses for apprentices and courses in English for non-English-speaking students, which we desperately need. It is the scale of the cuts that is unprecedented and unmanageable.

I shall make some progress before I give way again.

Cuts of between 25% and 40% over this Parliament would have a devastating impact on the opportunities that sixth forms and colleges offer young people, and on our ability to build a high-wage, highly skilled, productive economy. If the principle that education spending is critical to the future prospects of the country is right, that principle should reflect the whole education journey. All the evidence shows not only that investment in 16-to-19 education is right, but that it reaps economic dividends.

No. I am going to make some progress.

High-wage, highly skilled and more productive economies have high levels of attainment and investment in 16-to-19 education. International evidence tells us that investing in the literacy and numeracy of students in post-16 education is directly linked to higher productivity, and research shows that the economic returns from investing in 16-to-19 education exceed £20 for every £1 spent.

What did the hon. Lady learn from the very high levels of youth unemployment that we saw in 2009-10, when Labour left office, and why were people unable to secure apprenticeships then? [Interruption.]

Give me a chance!

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) will remember that when Labour left office, we were in the middle of a very difficult global recession, but for the vast majority of our time in office, our record on youth attainment and educational achievement was excellent.

I am sure my hon. Friend will remember the landmark future jobs fund that was set up by Labour in government, in stark contrast to the Conservatives who when they came in in 2010 cut it off and cut off access to technician training, as they are doing for another generation of young people in 2015.


I know we will hear from the Conservatives that these spending decisions are all necessary to deliver what they like to refer to—I hope this will get me some brownie points—as their long-term economic plan—[Hon. Members: “Hooray.”]—and a strong economy, but, as the Prime Minister agrees, investing in education and skills helps our economy to grow and reduces the deficit. Indeed, the reverse is also true: slashing and burning education, whether in schools, sixth-forms or further education, will lead to greater reliance on the state for unqualified young people and lower tax returns for those in lower paid jobs. Cutting education spending at the altar of deficit reduction is a false choice, and it is economic stupidity.

My hon. Friend is making some very important points about the impact on the economy of short-sighted cuts to the post-16 education budget. In the north, of course, we have our part to play in delivering the Chancellor’s northern powerhouse—[Hon. Members: “Hooray.”]—brownie points, again. What does my hon. Friend think the impact will be on progressing the northern powerhouse if we cut back significantly on the investments we need to see in productivity in places like Barnsley in south Yorkshire?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. If we speak to anybody overseeing some of the big infrastructure projects under way at the moment, they will say their biggest problem is bridging the skills gap they face in delivering those infrastructure projects, so this is a very serious issue.

If the Conservative party, from the Prime Minister down, truly believes in the principle that education is a public good, it is baffling why provision for 16 to 19-year-olds is wholly unprotected and facing further massive reductions.

Let us look now in more detail at what is really happening on the ground and the potential impact of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

Will the hon. Lady join me in condemning the Labour Welsh Government’s 6% cuts in this year’s 2015-16 Welsh FE budgets— I speak as a former director of an FE college—and the likely loss of 1,000 jobs, which is leading to industrial action this week in Wales? This is no way to run a whelk stall, let alone a country.

Well, there are going to be devastating things coming further down the track, as the Barnett formula will have impacts for Wales, and for Scotland as well.

Let us look at the context. First, with the budget for provision for 16 to 19-year-olds down by 14% in real terms over the last Parliament, post-16 education is at breaking point. Principals are desperate to maintain provision and parents are worried about the narrowing opportunities for their children, and this is filtering down to our young people who feel this Government do not value their education. This is not scaremongering. As has already been said, 139 chairs of FE institutions wrote to the Chancellor recently warning that further Government cuts threaten the viability of their colleges.

Already we are hearing that sixth-form colleges and FE colleges are dropping courses and reducing classes and teaching hours, and it is not beauty courses or fashion courses that are going first, as many Conservative Members want to think; it is the expensive A-level courses such as science, maths and modern foreign languages. Let us repeat that for Conservative Members: we have a Government who are overseeing the loss of A-level courses in science and modern foreign languages. What modern-day Government have ever done that?

Secondly, the raising of the participation age to 18, which we legislated for and continue to support, comes with extra pressure on institutions, with an increase in student numbers. New requirements on compulsory resits and a new A-level curriculum also further increase expectations on sixth-forms and FE colleges. During a period of such significant change, we would expect the Government to support teachers in the transition to a new system. In New South Wales and Ontario, where the minimum school leaving age was increased recently, additional resources were provided to deal effectively with the extra numbers; instead, changes in our country are taking place in the context of significant reductions, with more severe cuts on the way. That will lead to poorer outcomes through fewer teaching hours and less support.

A recent report has found that, from next year, A-level students face the prospect of being taught for 15 hours a week—just three hours a day—because of the fall in funding since 2011. And that is before we have heard the announcements in next week’s comprehensive spending review. In Shanghai, Singapore and other high-performing education systems that the Secretary of State likes to talk about, sixth-formers are taught for more than 30 hours a week. This Government are downgrading our education system to part time, leaving our young people behind their counterparts abroad in the global economic race. I think I get brownie points for mentioning the global economic race, too.

The Government’s area reviews also threaten the viability of some high-performing institutions in a sector that the Education Secretary herself has described as fragile. Yes, there are opportunities for joint working and efficiencies, but it is impossible for the area reviews not to be seen in the context of cuts to the sector, which further undermines the viability of those institutions. What is more, it is simply ridiculous to look at only half the provision and to ignore the many institutions that are in the greatest peril. Studio schools, school sixth forms, new free school sixth forms and university technical colleges are not included in the area reviews. They are the institutions that are most likely to be in danger of losing their viability, yet they are out of the mix. At the same time, the Government are content to put many high-performing and excellent colleges at risk. Our sixth-form colleges are outstanding providers of 16-to-19 education. They offer fantastic value for money by delivering strong outcomes for young people at a lower cost to the public purse than school and academy sixth forms.

The question we should be asking is: what will be the cost of these cuts? People will be getting lower-paid, lower-skilled jobs and drawing down on the state for longer periods of time.

There is excellent sixth-form provision in Greater Manchester, my own area, which is currently undergoing an area review. Winstanley College in Wigan and Loreto College in Manchester provide some of the best value-added in the country, and they outperform schools in getting kids from all backgrounds the highest grades in A-levels. I am sure that Conservative Members would be appalled to think their local sixth-form colleges could be under threat, but this is the reality in other parts of the country. Further massive reductions in funding will result in good sixth-form colleges and good school sixth forms closing. The 25% cut that the Chancellor has asked the Secretary of State’s Department to find is equivalent to the loss of half of all sixth-form colleges and one third of FE colleges.

Does my hon. Friend agree that FE colleges are further disadvantaged in that they have to pay VAT, whereas free schools and sixth forms do not?

South Devon College in my constituency is just such an example of a fantastic sixth-form college doing amazing work in the further education sector. Everyone in the House hopes that the Chancellor will be as generous as possible to further education, but another challenge that these institutions face is that they need multi-annual settlements so that they can make forward plans. Will the hon. Lady join me in asking for such a measure to be introduced?

Absolutely. That is a very sensible suggestion, and I hope that those on the hon. Lady’s Front Bench will listen to it. The problem is not just the nature of the cuts but the fact that they are coming so late in the cycle.

On the figures that I have just outlined, sixth forms will no longer be the proud beacons of success that they are now, and Conservative Members will need to get their heads out of the sand if they do not want to see some of these valued institutions go to the wall.

I thank the hon. Lady, my near neighbour, for her generosity. It is much appreciated. She has talked repeatedly about the importance of budgets, and of course they make a contribution, but does she agree that more innovative practices need to be adopted, including forging stronger links with businesses and the community, to ensure relevance and the best possible outcomes for young people? Will she talk about that, too?

Absolutely. There is some really good best practice in this area, but as was suggested in previous comments, it is hard to innovate with such short budget settlement timelines—for only a few months later—in a difficult funding climate. We need to look at how we can ensure that innovation happens in the sector.

My hon. Friend has referred to international experience. I am sure she is aware that investing in the literacy and numeracy of students post-16 is linked to higher productivity in their working lives. Does she therefore agree that the wrong-headed policy of the Government towards further education is threatening our economic success?

Absolutely. Raising productivity is the key challenge that our economy faces, and I do not understand a Government who say that the principle is right on protecting education spending up to 16, but not on doing so up to 18 and 19, given that such attendance is now compulsory. I do not understand that logic, and I hope that the Secretary of State can explain it to us today.

I am not giving way as I want to make some progress.

In conclusion, I think we can all agree that investment in education is a good thing. I hope the Secretary of State can explain how further education and sixth-form colleges are to deal with further significant reductions, on top of the efficiencies they have already delivered. I hope she is fighting a rearguard action against the Treasury, and in that she has my full support. I hope she will join us in supporting this motion, which recognises that an education journey for every child now continues up to 19. Good and outstanding sixth forms and FE colleges are under threat. Expensive courses such as A-levels in science and languages are being dropped. Teaching hours are half of those in our competitor countries. That is the reality of 16-to-19 education today. As a parent, it gives me a huge cause for concern, but as a politician I believe that cuts on this scale are a false economy which will damage our productivity, our economy and our ability to pay down the deficit. I commend the motion to the House.

I thought at one point in the speech made by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) that we were in danger of having cross-party consensus break out, but she veered away from that when confronted by good news stories about the post-16 sector. I also liked the way she mentioned the long-term economic plan, even though she probably did so through gritted teeth.

It is a pleasure to respond to this debate on such an important area—we can genuinely all agree on that. A vibrant post-16 education sector gives young people the skills they need to succeed in life, and it is a key part of this Government’s commitment to governing as one nation and extending opportunity throughout the country. I am sad to say, however, that it seems to be becoming an unfortunate habit of the hon. Lady to use all her public appearances to talk down the significant achievements and good things that are happening in our education system: first, we had the undermining of the achievements of academies, including one in her constituency; secondly, we had the scaremongering on teacher recruitment; and now the Opposition are trying to create a sense of panic in the post-16 sector. Yet again, an Opposition day motion reveals that, as we heard from the Labour leader at Prime Minister’ questions, they still believe in the existence of the Labour party’s magic money tree.

I speak as somebody who got to university from FE as a mature student and who worked for 10 years as a lecturer in FE. Barnsley college in my constituency is outstanding—it is an excellent institution. Given what the Secretary of State has just said, can she guarantee that the services that it provides for local people will not be damaged in any way by Government cuts to the institution over the forthcoming period?

The hon. Lady was doing a great and valiant job of talking about the excellence of a college in her constituency, but then immediately tipped off into the word “cuts”. She ought to wait to see what is in next week’s spending review.

Let me make some arguments with which the Opposition can take issue, and then I will happily accept some interventions.

The shadow Secretary of State asked why, under this Government and the coalition Government, we have prioritised spending on five-to-16 education. The answer is extremely simple, and we have debated it before in this House. One in three children was leaving primary school unable to read, write and add up properly and, in this difficult economic climate, we decided that that was where we should put our education investment. If a child is not literate or numerate by the time they leave primary school, they are far less likely to get good GCSEs, and to progress into higher education, an apprenticeship or the world of work.

By taking away the funding now, the Government are damaging the children who do not have those skills and who rely on FE to achieve those level 1 and 2 qualifications.

The reason why those children do not have those skills is that they were educated under a Labour Government.

The Secretary of State said that the comprehensive spending review has not been announced yet, but it is not just magicked out of the ether, so can we cut to the chase? Will she tell the House what cuts she has said she will accept to the post-16 budget, and how she squares that with the treatment of funding for education up to 16?

Nice try! That would be like the hon. Gentleman sending his election campaign leaflets to the opposition and saying, “These are the arguments I am going to make.” He will know that, in any negotiation, no person reveals their hand before the final announcement, which, in this case, is next week.

Let me make some progress, and then I will take further interventions.

The shadow Secretary of State asked why we prioritised spending on five to 16 rather than 16 to 19. I wonder whether she has checked out what her own party did when they were last in Government. What is interesting to note is that per pupil student funding increased twice as fast for those aged five to 16 between 2005-06 and 2010-11 as it did for those in 16-to-19 education. That is the very thing that she accuses us of doing.

Has my right hon. Friend any information that will enable us to judge whether more children are now in a good or outstanding school, and what achievements are being made as a result of that vital investment put in at a very difficult time by the previous Government?

My hon. and learned Friend looks at the achievements and the positives, which is important. I am delighted to say that 82% of schools across England and Wales are now rated good or outstanding. That is a significant increase since 2010. We have more students studying maths A-level, more students doing the EBacc and the core academic subjects, more students learning to read well and confidently by the end of the first stage of primary school, and more students doing better at the key stage 2 test at the end of primary school leading into secondary school. Clearly, despite the difficult economic climate of the previous Parliament, some really, really good progress has been made.

The Opposition were making the case that our colleges are not giving enough contact hours to students, which was a surprising criticism. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when students undertake advanced level studies, they need time for private reading, research, writing and problem solving as well as time with teachers? I presume that that is what our colleges are doing.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Young people, post-16, will have a mixture of face-to-face tuition, study in smaller groups, study in larger groups and their own study time, which prepares them for the next stage. The funding that colleges receive is for 600 hours, which enables them to teach a number of A-levels or technical qualifications.

How does the Secretary of State respond to the suggestion of Professor Alison Wolf that Britain’s supply of skilled workers may vanish into history if looming cuts to further education go ahead?

What I would say to the hon. Lady is that we helpfully had the support of Professor Alison Wolf in the last Parliament in getting rid of 3,000 qualifications that did not prepare our young people for the world of work at all. The EBacc subjects that I have been talking about—the core subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths: just what we need for the future of our country—are exactly what our education system is rightly focusing on.

As my hon. Friend says, Professor Alison Wolf is also on our panel looking at technical and professional education.

I want to remind the House that the reason we spend almost the same amount on servicing our debt as we do on the entire schools budget is the financial mismanagement of the Labour party. Its recklessness means that we have been forced to make difficult decisions to balance the books and live within our means, because if we had not, our education system would have fallen into the chaos that we have seen in countries that have failed to balance the books—thousands of schools closed in Greece; teacher and lecturer pay slashed in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain; an exodus of talent.

Is my right hon. Friend surprised that nobody has yet mentioned our ambition to have 3 million apprenticeships by 2020? There has already been a significant increase in my constituency.

My hon. Friend is pre-empting what I am coming to. I would like to say that I am surprised that Labour Members have not so far mentioned apprenticeships, but they would not want to bring attention to our track record in the last Parliament of delivering double the number of apprenticeship starts than that delivered by the last Labour Government.

I am going to make some progress.

We heard from an Opposition Member about youth unemployment. In 2010, youth unemployment had risen by a staggering 40%, under the last Labour Government. That was the legacy of the Labour party when it comes to young people’s life chances—a legacy that I am pleased to say we have painstakingly reversed, to the extent that we now have the lowest proportion of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs on record and the lowest NEET rate for 16 to 24-year-olds in a decade. Having seen the nonsense, back-of-a-fag-packet calculations about the spending review that the hon. Member for Manchester Central attempted to brief out last week, I am more relieved than ever that her hands are nowhere near the public finances. We have protected the schools budget because we know that education is the best investment we can make in the future of our country. Our analysis, backed—

I am not going to take any interventions for a while. I am going to make some more arguments and then Labour Members can come back and try to justify their track record in government, which is woeful.

Our analysis, backed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, shows that the boost in the number of pupils getting good GCSE grades in England since 2010 is estimated to add around £1.3 billion to the country’s economy. Pupils who achieve five or more good GCSEs including England and maths as their highest qualification will each add on average around £100,000 more to the economy over their lifetimes than someone with below level 2 or no qualifications.

Had the Opposition chosen this business for the week after next, we could have had an informed debate about the post-16 settlement for the next four years, but they did not choose that. They chose to have an opportunistic, scaremongering debate today.

I have said that I am not going to take any more interventions until I have made some more arguments.

As hon. Members decided not to do that, we cannot have a sensible debate—[Interruption.]

Order. The debate has so far been well behaved. I was about to say that we are not in a sixth-form college, but my goodness, a sixth-form college would be better behaved than this. The right hon. Lady must be heard; otherwise no one will be able to argue against her.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I want to start by recognising the enormous success, despite the financial constraints, of the post-16 sector in the last Parliament—2.4 million apprenticeship starts and more young people than ever going to university; 97% of young people now studying English and maths at 16 to 19 who did not achieve good passes at the age of 16; new gold-standard qualifications such as tech levels, rather than thousands of worthless courses such as marzipan modelling and balloon artistry. That is the legacy of the last five years of this Government’s approach to growth and skills, and it is a record I am proud to defend. Ensuring that our young people have the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly globalised labour market is vital to driving up national productivity.

Our plans for 16-to-19 education lie at the heart of our productivity drive. The plan published at the start of this Parliament by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills enshrines the role of an improved 16-plus skills system in driving up our nation’s productivity. With rapid technological progress and greater global competition, the skills we give the next generation are fundamental to the UK’s future growth.

On 16-to-19 skills, if the Education Secretary would like to see physical, palpable evidence that gives the lie to the Opposition’s case that it is all going wrong, I invite her—and, indeed, the shadow Education Secretary—to Ashford, where, after years of delay, a new further education college is being built in the centre of town. It will open in 2017 and will provide precisely the kinds of skills that all our young children will need for the next generation. It was planned under the previous Government and it will be built under this Government.

I am delighted to hear that. Only last week, I opened the newly refurbished sixth form at Loughborough college in my own constituency.

If the Secretary of State is not prepared to talk about the forthcoming spending review, perhaps she could talk about some of the cuts that have already taken place. Lambeth college, which serves many of my constituents, has entirely stopped teaching English for speakers of other languages because of an in-year cut it did not know it was going to have to accommodate. It has stopped teaching ESOL to students who are mandated by Jobcentre Plus to take ESOL courses. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is an entirely false economy? It is preventing students—

Order. The hon. Lady is not making a speech; she is making an intervention. The Secretary of State has got the gist of it.

The hon. Lady speaks with great passion. She is talking about the adult skills budget, but what we are debating today is 16-to-19 education. If she looks at the detail of that contract, she will see that it was not performing as well as expected. I think she would agree that every single pound of taxpayers’ money spent by Government should work as hard and as effectively as possible.

I am going to make some progress.

Throughout the globe, nations are investing in high-quality technical and professional skills, and reaping the rewards through higher productivity and living standards. This Government’s ambition is to develop a world-leading system to deliver the skills that the economy needs not just for today, but for the future. We will deliver a post-16 skills system that provides young people with clear and high-quality routes to skilled employment, either directly or via higher education. Apprentices are a key part of some of the most successful skills systems across the world.

My constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills has some great examples of apprenticeship schemes, which are run by a neighbouring college and by businesses and other providers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all those organisations for the fantastic job they are doing in creating apprenticeships, which are helping us to deliver the skills that we need for this country’s productivity—

My hon. Friend speaks with passion and eloquence about her constituency. She is absolutely right to say that the 2.4 million apprenticeship starts in the last Parliament and the 3 million we have committed to in this Parliament are transforming the opportunities available to young people and employers.

I am not going to take any further interventions for the moment.

Around the world, apprenticeships have long been recognised as a crucial way to develop the skills wanted by employers. We have committed to a significant increase in the quantity and quality of apprenticeships in England for 3 million starts in this Parliament, putting control of funding in the hands of employers. That step change in the scale of the programme needs a step change in funding. We will therefore introduce a levy on large employers to fund the new apprenticeships, ensuring that they invest in their future workforce. That follows examples of levies to fund training that are already in place in Germany, France, Denmark and more than 50 other countries, often supporting high-quality apprenticeship systems.

As Professor Alison Wolf, who has already been mentioned, set out in a recent report, it is now time for the UK to do that as well. We want young people to see apprenticeships as a high-quality and prestigious path to successful careers, and for those opportunities to be available across all sectors of the economy and at all levels.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me the opportunity to intervene. I am aware of an apprenticeship offer that involves going into a sandwich shop for two or three days a week to learn how to use a cash register. Does the Secretary of State consider that to be a high-quality apprenticeship?

First, I do not think the hon. Lady should be undermining those who do that sort of work. They are serving our economy very well. More importantly, those are the sort of apprenticeships that happened under her party when in government. We have reformed the framework, the incentives, the quality and the demands for training. That is why we have launched the trailblazer apprenticeships. Rather than knocking the start given to young people by apprenticeships, she should be talking them up.

Our reforms are leading to employer-led trailblazers, designing quality apprenticeships that provide exactly the skills, knowledge and behaviours required by the workforce of the future. In the previous Parliament we swept away the panoply of vocational qualifications that allowed politicians to trumpet ever-higher grades, but which were not respected by employers and did not lead to a job. Now we will go further, across both apprenticeships and classroom-based technical and professional education.

We will simplify the currently over-complex system, working in direct partnership with employers to ensure that the new system provides the skills most needed for the 21st-century economy. Up to 20 specific new professional and technical routes will be created, leading to employment or degree-level study, which will be as easy to understand as academic routes.

No. I am not giving way further.

These new routes will take young people from compulsory schooling into employment and the highest levels of technical competence, which for many will mean moving on to apprenticeships as quickly as possible. Young people taking one of these routes will be able to specialise over time in their chosen field, gain a work placement while in college, and then move into an apprenticeship when they are ready.

To deliver the reforms, we are delighted that we can work closely with an independent expert panel. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Manchester Central can bring herself to welcome it, as it is headed by Lord Sainsbury, former Minister for science and innovation in the Labour Government. We are grateful to the panel members, including, as we have heard, Professor Alison Wolf, Simon Blagden and Bev Robinson. The Government will work with the panel to improve technical and professional education, making sure that all young people follow a programme of study that allows them to see clearly how it leads to the world of work.

For many young people, an academic path will be the clear choice, so we are reforming A-levels. Giving universities a greater role in how A-levels are developed has been an important part of the Government’s plans to reform the qualifications. Their involvement will ensure that A-levels provide the appropriate foundation for degree-level study. We have introduced linear A-levels, making sure that young people spend less time in exams and more time learning and studying. The new qualifications will return the A-level to the gold standard international status that it used to enjoy, undoing years of grade inflation and dumbing-down presided over by the Labour party.

All these reforms represent a major opportunity for post-16 institutions. The sector has the opportunity to seize hold of the agenda and shape its own future. Apprenticeships growth alone will represent a huge potential income stream for colleges.

No. I said that I would not give way anymore.

Some colleges are already leading the charge, with up to 44% of their income coming from apprenticeships. Those post-16 institutions which do this and take control of the future of the system will be strong and resilient, and to support institutions to do this, we have announced a series of area reviews.

I said that I am not going to give way. The hon. Gentleman has already made one intervention, and he probably regretted that one.

We are protecting our post-16 sector, not just for today, but for years into the future. Area reviews will be driven by local leadership and will support collaboration and strengthen local partnerships, all to the benefit of the young people in these institutions. Throughout the provider base, these reviews will lead to improved engagement, with better incentives to share resources and achieve economies of scale. They will help to generate efficiency savings and put the sector on a stable financial footing for the long term. We have already begun several area reviews, and we are working closely with representatives of the sector to take them forward in a positive and collaborative way. We are grateful for the constructive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders and look forward to continued close joint working as we complete all reviews by March 2017.

I am proud to defend the work of the previous Government in improving the 16-plus skills system, but now we will go even further, ignoring the siren calls and doom and gloom from the Opposition. Whereas their plans for the economy would have wrecked our education and skills system, we will make it the envy of the world. Be it academic, professional or technical education, we will make sure it gives each and every student the chance to realise their full potential and be all that they can be. Post-16 education is fundamental to our aim to govern as one nation, extending opportunity and realising the full potential of every young person. We will ensure that all young people can get the best start in life, through the opportunity that high-quality education and training provides. I therefore ask the House to reject the motion.

Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak, and there is limited time available. Therefore, after the next speaker, who is the SNP spokesman, I will have to impose a time limit of six minutes.

I do not think that anyone in this House would dispute the fact that colleges play a crucial role in providing employability skills for our young people. The cuts in funding for 16 to 19-year-olds’ education are leading to cuts in courses that are key to productivity. That is a serious issue that must be addressed. This sector must be appropriately funded.

This morning I met Chris Keates from the NASUWT, and she painted a disturbing picture of post-16 education in England. She told me of her concern that the sector has been entirely unprotected and was specifically targeted for cuts in the 2010 comprehensive spending review, that 72% of sixth-form colleges have been forced to drop key courses as a result of the cuts to date, and that the area reviews are causing distress and disillusionment to staff in colleges.

Of course, the Secretary of State has pre-empted the comprehensive spending review with her rapid area reviews. Does the hon. Lady agree that choice and competition often drive standards, and that therefore any enforced closures for budgetary reasons under the slash-and-burn approach may be detrimental to standards for post-16 education in future?

I agree that a slash-and-burn approach is not the correct way to go, and that competition is healthy for our young people when they are making choices.

Not at the moment.

House of Commons Library research suggests that £1.6 billion could be wiped off the total FE budget next year if the proposed cuts are pushed through.

Over the past few months, I have met representatives from the Association of Colleges, representing sixth-form and FE colleges in England, and Members from both sides of this House, all of whom are concerned about the current state of FE in England and want to hear about what Scotland is doing. [Interruption.]

I am not going to give way just now. [Interruption.]

I have told all those people the same thing: colleges in Scotland are about providing access, pathways and employment.

Finally the Minister decides to stand; it seemed as though he wanted to intervene from a sedentary position.

Does the hon. Lady not accept, first, that this whole area of policy is entirely devolved and therefore what the Scottish Government decide is entirely for them; and secondly, that her Government, whom she claims to represent, have closed colleges, which we have not done?

First, education is devolved—[Interruption.] I think this House could possibly pay attention. Members from the Minister’s own party have come to ask me what Scotland is doing—they are looking for advice and a new way of doing things.

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that the Minister is not in a position to dish out lectures, but surely she has to look with some humility at the SNP’s record, which is staff cuts of 10%, funding cuts of 12%, 100,000 fewer students and 10 million fewer hours of learning. That is a record she should be ashamed of.

In Scotland a well-publicised restructuring of the college sector has taken place over the past few years. We hear about these supposed cuts to places and hours, but what has been cut is short leisure courses of under five hours that do not lead to progression. In fact, in one area, college numbers were being made up from pupils at a local primary school who were subscribing to do a first aid course. These are not real college numbers. Let us look at the numbers involved and the hours spent on these short courses: 142 hours of those short courses account for one full-time place. These students are not real students; they do not exist. Short courses that lead to progression have continued to be maintained and are still delivered in our colleges.

May I say that I welcome the hon. Lady’s interest in English post-16 education? It is very generous of her to interest herself in such affairs. Will she, however, respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) about the number of people not in education, employment or training post-16 in this country, which is of course at an all-time low? Does she welcome that and share my disappointment that the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) did not touch on it?

The number of young people not in education, employment or training in Scotland is even lower still.

There have been challenges in the college sector in Scotland. That was necessary to produce a sector that focuses on employability. In the past, courses were over-subscribed. Young people subsequently flooded the jobs market searching for positions that simply did not exist. We do not want to serve our young people badly by allowing them to waste several years of study only to be thrown on the scrapheap at the end of their course.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of good work is done by colleges in Scotland in cases of mass redundancies? Under PACE—Partnership Action for Continuing Employment, the Scottish Government’s partnership on access and employability—Scottish colleges play an important role and are mandated to do such work on employability and retraining.

Absolutely. I agree 100% that colleges in Scotland serve not just young people, but a wide sector of society.

The Scottish Government are determined that young people should leave college with the skills that employers want, so the right thing to do is to prioritise full-time courses for recognised qualifications to match true market need. In 2013-14, there were nearly 120,000 full-time equivalent college places in Scotland, exceeding every target since 2011.

Does my hon. Friend agree that further education provides a valuable second chance for adult returners, especially women, who did not achieve at school?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I ask for your advice about the debate on a matter that is entirely devolved? SNP Members are welcome to contribute to that debate, but they need to talk about the subject of that debate, which is further education—16-to-19 education—in England.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am listening very carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying. So far, my interpretation of what she is saying is that she hopes to inform the House about matters in Scotland that might be helpful when considering similar matters in England. However, I am quite certain that she will bear in mind the fact that the motion is specifically about further education in England, and that she will appreciate that a lot of Members whose constituents are affected by the subject of the motion are waiting to speak.

I will of course do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. As hon. Members from both sides of the House—and colleges—have sought my advice, it might be worth their taking account of what I have to say.

To ensure access to and inclusion in colleges, the Scottish Government have provided an additional £6.6 million for part-time places. Further education students can get bursaries of up to £93 a week. The Scottish Government have retained the education maintenance allowance to enable more young people to stay in education. Colleges offer our young people pathways. In August, I visited Glasgow Clyde college to see the range and quality of courses on offer. The new purpose-built facility was bursting with students engaged in their studies. Local employers are working with the college—

No, I will not give way because I have been encouraged by Madam Deputy Speaker to be quick, so I will be.

Local employers such as BAE—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), who is making interventions from the Bench, could learn something from the picture in Scotland. Local employers such as BAE are working with the college, doing day releases with apprentices. There is a nursery on site for students with caring responsibilities. The number of women on full-time courses has increased. There is also a programme for students with additional support needs that prepares them for the world of work.

Certain school pupils benefit from attending local colleges for two or three afternoons a week. I am sure that the situation is similar in England. That allows them to follow vocational courses that the school cannot provide. Often, these are disaffected or challenging students for whom academic routes are not working. I keep hearing about how colleges provide routes for students to do their A-levels. Some students follow vocational routes and get vocational qualifications, and those must be viewed as the equals of academic subjects.

One challenge that colleges experience is the way in which they are perceived by society. It is important that we, as legislators, recognise the vital role that they play in providing positive destinations. A few years ago, I had a student whose parents were very keen for him to go to university, but he was not emotionally or academically ready. When he saw what the college had on offer, he decided to sign up. He has flourished and now has two job offers for when he finishes in June, but he also has the option of entering the third year at university.

Colleges provide an excellent educational opportunity for our young people. Their role in providing routes to employment must be recognised and appropriately funded. It is no coincidence that Scotland has a higher rate of positive destinations and a higher rate of youth employment than the UK as a whole.

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate because I have a long-standing interest in the FE sector. As Chair of the Education Committee, I am interested in ensuring that we drive through the apprenticeship programme, making sure that people have choices post-16 and tackling the productivity challenge in this country during this Parliament.

I am pleased to say that my Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee held a successful conference on productivity, which identified the need for an innovative FE sector. That is at the core of this discussion: we need to encourage innovation in the FE sector and to ensure that it is of a scale and scope that matches the demands of employers and professions. “Technical, professional and higher” is a good way of describing the FE sector that we need for tomorrow. I will make my contribution with that theme in mind.

We must ensure that apprenticeships have traction and that they have parity with academic learning. It seems to me that the gold standard award approach is absolutely right. The Government should extend that to make it a national apprenticeship award so that there is consistency across the field and a recognition that quality is the hallmark of a good apprenticeship scheme. We should encourage the FE sector to engage in that.

We need to think carefully about sixth-form colleges. The shadow Secretary of State suggested that UTCs and other things were excluded from the area reviews, but, actually, through the regional schools commissioner mechanism, they are not. There will be engagement. I think it would be extremely advantageous were we to allow sixth-form colleges to become academies and part of multi-academy trusts.

I am pleased the hon. Gentleman has mentioned sixth-form colleges. As chair of the all-party group on sixth-form colleges and governor of a sixth-form college, I consider them to be the most brilliant institutions in the country. Will he use his influence to get the Government to create more of them?

I am keen to use my influence, as Chair of the Education Committee, for a lot of things, and that is certainly one direction of travel in which I am sure we will be going.

We must ensure greater employer engagement, which can and should come through governance, and we have already seen changes bringing that about, but something else needs to happen: the education sector needs to engage more effectively and readily with the world of work. I mean not just businesses, but the professional sectors, such as the care sector. It is critical that we know how many people there are with the types of skills that are needed. We need to know more about how the labour market works, and the education system needs to know more about how skills and the labour market are developing. That interface is crucial, and I see it coming through in various changes in the FE sector.

We have a good example of that in my constituency, where Stroud and Filton colleges merged to create an innovative college structure with characteristics that colleges need to think about when going through the area review. The first characteristic is precise, strong and courageous leadership. It is critical that we articulate a vision about where our colleges should go, and that is best done by a leadership with the capacity and willingness to do exactly that.

St Helens college has shown good, strong and innovative leadership, but it gets funding now only where there are job opportunities and training. Teachers from my college went to the Liverpool docks, to Dock Road, to provide education, at 7 o’clock in the morning, to some 200 Chinese speakers who did not speak English. It was a huge success. There are no bounds to what that college does. It has the inside of a plane to train people in flight hospitality—

I nearly made an intervention myself. I listened to the thrust, however, and obviously I agree that strong leadership should be combined with the good management of resources.

The second characteristic is an ability to embrace other mechanisms and other types of FE colleges within the wider framework of an overarching body. It is important to note here the success of UTCs being run in conjunction with an FE college. This is going to happen in my own constituency. We have a UTC, with a training centre making use of a decommissioned nuclear power station, that is bringing together the kind of training we need, specifically for renewable and nuclear energy. So we have to be more innovative in how we structure these things.

I agree entirely that we need to plan education to meet the economy’s needs, yet sixth-form colleges have been under such financial pressure that one quarter have had to cut STEM courses. Is that not a tragic mistake?

It is absolutely right that we need to increase the number of STEM courses, as is happening in mainstream education. We need more young people taking STEM subjects, as it is central to our long-term goal of increasing productivity.

Is it wise to allow students and pupils to stop taking maths post-16? We must put that critical question on the table. There is an argument to be made about a post-16 national baccalaureate that contains maths, English, and either technical or further academic study, and it would help the FE sector generally if that option were brought to the table. As a country we have a big problem with maths, because we do not have enough people who are capable in that subject.

On comparators and looking abroad and at other places, does the hon. Gentleman agree that as a member of the Education Committee I can help by providing information and background on further education and other education sectors?

I am often acquainted with the Scottish view. It has its merits, but I will not address that issue further because I have only 58 seconds left. The National Numeracy charity is rightly concerned that we have a problem with numeracy in the adult population, 78% of whom scarcely reach level 2. That is not a good commentary on our situation, and we must improve it. It is right that the FE sector tackles maths, but it is worth asking whether that should be done through repeated attempts at GCSE retakes or through some other form of numeracy measurement. In short, we need an innovative FE sector that is clearly and properly led, that engages with the world of work, and that considers new ways of delivering the courses, assessments and awards that are so necessary for our young people today.

Of all 650 constituencies in the country, Bristol South sends the second lowest number of its young people to university. More than 5,500 people in my constituency attend a college, and around 3,500 of those attend City of Bristol college, part of which is located in my constituency.

Further education is crucial for the life chances of young people in my constituency, and the problems in the sector have been mentioned often and were recently discussed in the Public Accounts Committee on 19 October—the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) is also a member of that Committee. The Skills Funding Agency also participated, and highlighted the fact that around 70 colleges could be rated as “financially inadequate” by the end of this financial year. Financially inadequate means that a college is unable to fulfil its contractual arrangements, and the number of colleges operating a deficit by the end of the year will be much higher at about 110.

The Committee discussed the process for area reviews, and a great deal of uncertainty about those reviews remains. In my constituency, I understand that the area review will take place at the beginning of 2016 in the west of England, and will include City of Bristol college, Bath college, Weston college, the Filton campus of South Gloucestershire and Stroud college—that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael)—as well as St Brendan’s sixth-form college. Now, however, it seems that it will not include sixth forms, or Bristol technology and engineering academy, which educates 14 to 18-year-olds, or private providers. Far from being a comprehensive picture of post-16 education across the west of England, it seems as if the area review will miss that opportunity.

I would like to be positive about the Government’s review because it will be externally provided, based on evidence, and will consider all colleges. That is to be welcomed, as is the fact that it covers a good geographical patch. However, no money is attached for reviews of colleges, and I urge the Government to consider trying to support colleges in the onerous task of involving themselves in those area reviews. As independent organisations, colleges will not be made to implement the review’s recommendations.

The West of England partnership has produced its own bid for devolution to manage all post-16 skills funding. I support that approach because I think it will help to integrate some of the post-16 skills, but I am concerned that further uncertainty around that aspect for colleges will further impede opportunities for my constituents to have a clear pathway post-16. The two things together may create further confusion, and I would like the Government to look at bringing some of those strands together.

This has become a critical issue for Bristol South, because every time I canvassed before the election I heard from parents and grandparents of young people who are now finding it almost impossible to navigate through the choices and pathways post-16. This part of the west of England has a skills deficit, especially for people with NVQ 1s, and I suggest that the process needs more cohesion and accountability in the future.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth). I must first declare an interest as an advisory governor of Eastleigh college, a brilliant general FE college and one of the leading providers of apprenticeships in the area. I can say that with proper knowledge, as the business admin apprentice in my office attended the college one day a week. As the Secretary of State will appreciate, it is a leading champion in ensuring a good charge towards apprenticeships in the area.

As we have heard from the Chairman of the Education Committee, we and BIS are working together on productivity and it was great to hear from apprentices at the seminar held a few weeks ago how they were enjoying and benefiting from the training that they were getting on the job. It was worrying to hear from them, however, that they were not learning about apprenticeships in schools. In many cases, apprentices are themselves the best advocates for apprenticeships, but we need to find a way to get them into schools to talk about what they are doing and to give others the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the very best FE institutions not only discharge their responsibilities for apprenticeships and even sponsor university technical colleges, but work with bodies such as Jobcentre Plus to help youngsters with work-readiness, so that they are ready with their skills to start employment after they have concluded their studies?

My hon. Friend is of course right. The best colleges are working with business and schools to make sure that when young people go into the world of work they are ready for it.

My constituency has no 16 to 19 provision in the state sector, which means that every single teenager is exported somewhere else to go to college. But that is great, because it gives me an opportunity to talk to college principals across the region. I may stray on to the territory of some of my neighbours today, but I have a broad perspective from many college leaders across the south of Hampshire. We are lucky: we have great sixth-form and FE colleges that have worked over the years to make sure that they are as efficient as possible. In many cases, they are as large as possible—they have worked hard to get more students through their doors—but big is not always best. What is crucial is that we have a range of colleges that provide different offers. The transition from school to college can be difficult for some young people, and we should not assume that just because a college is large, efficient and getting great results it will give the best outcomes for every student.

Peter Symonds college, which I was lucky enough to attend—a few years ago now—and Barton Peveril, two of the biggest colleges in the area, have brilliant academic records. They are some of the best in the country, but we also have Richard Taunton college in Southampton on the edge of my constituency, which is far smaller. It has only 1,250 students and it has specialised in attracting a broad and diverse range of students, many of whom have come from other institutions and found their home in a much smaller college, taking three years to complete their A-level education.

I am listening with interest to what the hon. Lady says about the size of colleges. Does she agree that one of the advantages of large—but not too large—colleges is that they give students a maximum choice of A-level subjects as well as unusual combinations of subjects that might best suit their needs?

Of course what economies of scale and large colleges also provide are fantastic enrichment programmes, additional courses and provision that goes so far to prepare young people for the world of work—experiences such as volunteering in different parts of the world, the Combined Cadet Force and a wide range of sports. We desperately want young people not to drop off in their participation in sport at 16, but to carry on and make sure that they are fit and healthy for life. It is those enrichment programmes that I worry might start to fall by the wayside, but they are the very programmes that make sure that young people from the state sector have the same opportunities and chances when filling in their personal statements for university that we see in the independent sector. That sector has been great at ensuring that its young people have every advantage and are given a broad curriculum as well as experiences and activities. It is critical to keep ensuring that there is wider access to higher education, and it is imperative that students from the great sixth forms we have in Hampshire, which have a brilliant track record of getting pupils into Oxbridge, have exactly the same advantages when they are filling in their personal statements as those from the independent sector.

The area-based review under way in south Hampshire—the Solent-based review—has won an exclusion which, to my mind and to those of college principals, is significant: it does not include the in-school sixth forms. Way back in the 1970s, Hampshire introduced the tertiary model of education, but a few school sixth forms have lingered on, and indeed there have been some new ones. The area-based review will not look at those schools, and the principals of the colleges feel, probably rightly, aggrieved about that. They do not think it is fair. They already pay VAT, yet the schools do not. They do not have the opportunity to cross-subsidise. We all know that the funding for years 7 to 11 is protected and significantly more generous than the funding for 16-to-19 education. Within a school setting, it is possible to use the funding for years 7 to 11 to assist in the provision of A-level education, but the colleges do not have that choice. They are paying VAT, cannot cross-subsidise and now face this situation, about which they understandably feel pretty cross, because it is unfair on them, as they tell me.

We know from the Sixth Form Colleges Association that sixth-form colleges are out-performing school sixth forms. We know that they are helping higher numbers of more disadvantaged students, and we know that they are getting better results. In Hampshire, the colleges have consistently delivered high-quality education cost-effectively.

I strongly agree with the hon. Lady. In Luton, we have a relatively disadvantaged population, but simply because of the sixth-form college we have above the national average number of young people going to university.

I commend the hon. Gentleman’s work as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for sixth-form colleges.

To conclude, we all know that the average funding for 14 to 16-year-olds is £5,600 a year, but that it drops to £3,600 after 16. That means a reduction in contact time with teachers. That might work for young people preparing for university and learning about independent study, gaining skills that they are going to use in higher education, but it will not work for those with special educational needs or those who require additional support. It will not necessarily work for the students at Brockenhurst college in the New Forest, which has worked so hard to increase access to further education and keep young people with special educational needs in college and in education. For them, unsupervised study is simply not a realistic prospect.

I know that the Minister has probably heard more than enough from me, and will be preparing to respond with facts on funding and by telling us that we all have to learn to live within our means. I get that, I really do. I am not opposed to the area-based reviews, and having seen the issues at Totton college just outside my constituency, I know how important it is that young people have confidence in their college’s ability to provide them with a qualification at the end of their course, provided that they have worked hard enough to get it. I know that there is logic in exploring whether stronger partnerships or collaborative and strategic thinking might further enhance the effectiveness of the college system. However, how about a more level playing field for colleges that are already doing an outstanding job providing strong programmes of study and preparing young people for university, for apprenticeships and for the world of work?

It is just as well that our Scottish nationalist colleagues have left us at this point and are no longer interested in the development of the debate.

One has to feel sorry for the FE sector in the UK. This is a country—Tomlinson notwithstanding—that does not really value technical education. Technical is normally seen as the opposite to academic, and being academic is not seen to require any technical skill. You are either a classicist or a plumber and you simply cannot be both. At the end of the day, the country is run by people who have received an academic education and who fundamentally have a patrician view. That is why it is so difficult to get parity in this field. It is almost the destiny of FE to be messed around again and again largely by those who neither understand nor rate it. I would suggest that that has happened in some form or another.

Most of the sector started life as local colleges training local students in local crafts and disciplines allied to them, and was strategically—and, I think, helpfully—controlled by local authorities. They then added to the mix general studies of wider cultural interest and opportunities to retake school-based exams. That is where they started, but successive Governments—I include the previous Government—weakened the local link and made them autonomous, with corporate providers alongside other providers outside the public sector. The colleges ended up chasing down perplexing streams of funding from an ever varying set of quangos and outside bodies. The theory, which I suppose is quite sound, was that it would make them sensitive to the needs of the market. It did not do that: it made them sensitive to student demand and funding streams. Frankly, much game-changing technical education bit the dust at that point, to be replaced by courses of lesser value. We had more performing arts, and less gas fitting and all the other things we really need.

Feeling that something was wrong, the previous Labour Government under Gordon Brown decided to endow the colleges with new buildings under the Building Schools for the Future programme, which, I think we can all recall, crashed and burned. It either left colleges with severe financial liabilities they had not expected—the National Audit Office report illustrates that—or severely disappointed, because promises were not delivered on. I have very vivid memories of watching Siôn Simon, the Minister at the time, sitting hollowed out, worn out and punch drunk in Portcullis House after the latest Adjournment debate in which Labour Members had tasked him with not having delivered what had been promised.

Under the coalition Government, I have to say that things did improve under the wise guidance of Vince Cable. Further education was charged to make up for the deficiencies of British industry by providing ever more apprenticeships, and to make up for the deficiencies of schools by giving people an opportunity to retake English and maths. Laudably, colleges were allowed to develop links with universities. All of that was done against a declining budgetary environment. Now, however, we are going to cull them to save money. I take that to be the basic premise of the area-based reviews. They have to reach a bottom line and that bottom line has to be less than the current bottom line.

I suggest that there is a better way forward. We need to integrate FE colleges better with local industry and business, integrate them better with local schools and communities, and give them a proper strategic role. That is not happening, or, if it is happening, it is not happening everywhere. Colleges, particularly on Merseyside, have no tools to intervene or assist downstream with school and academy failure, but they are expected to sweep up after them when children finish those schools without GCSEs in English and maths. Communities are not being empowered to address the skill deficiencies they face.

The Liverpool city region deal has recently been concluded. The councils bid for control over the skills budget but did not get it, owing, I would suggest, to resistance from the Minister’s Department. Nothing has been a more intractable problem for Liverpool and the Merseyside area than the skills gap and nothing would be more effective in addressing it than giving local power over the needs we have, but local further education colleges are not even on the skills committee of the local enterprise partnership. Their budgets are not devolved to the city region and they simply await the axe of the area review. They wonder why it is they, and not the academies and schools, that are in the frame.

I want to make two points in response to the motion. First, it is not quite as simple as just funding. Secondly, we need to have a plan to afford an increase in funding.

Wiltshire college recently invested £21 million in a new Chippenham campus, which will bring long-term local economic benefits. It is a fantastic space for students to learn in. It has an excellent reputation and I am sure it will go from strength to strength, but it needs more pupil funding. Sixth-form colleges in my constituency are also suffering, in particular Abbeyfield school, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). Like countless others, it suffers from the burden of private finance initiative funding of its sixth-form building.

May I make a brief intervention to say that my own further and higher education college, Bromley college, is in dire need of funding?

I thank my hon. Friend for echoing my comments.

The school is also running a growing deficit, which is putting a real strain on its finances.

Spending on 16 and 17-year-olds is 22% lower than spending on 11 to 16-year-olds, and spending on 18-year-olds is a further 17.5% lower. I urge the Chancellor to address that in the spending review, and to ensure that funding for 16 to 18-year-olds is brought into line with the Department’s ring-fencing. It is a shame that the debate was not delayed until after the spending review, when we could have had a more productive and informed discussion.

We must bear it in mind, however—and I do not think this point has been stressed enough by Opposition Members—that a good FE offering is not just about funding We need to consider far broader issues in our education system, and think about its links with our national productivity. I therefore welcome the Government’s productivity plan. Increasing funds will not fix everything. Today’s debate only serves to highlight the fact that Labour seriously believes that simply throwing money at a problem will be a cure-all when it really will not. The truth is that we have a crisis in our career education system. We still have no tangible link between the education system and the workforce, because our school funding system is still a postcode lottery. The Government are trying to resolve deep-rooted, complex issues, and the topic of the debate is therefore far too simplistic.

Having spoken to local businesses throughout my constituency, I am well aware of the recruitment challenges that they face, given the lack of appropriate skills. According to a recent survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, six out of 10 companies said that skills shortage was a threat to their business in the United Kingdom. Simply pumping money into FE will not resolve the problem. It is true that courses have been removed because of a lack of funding, but because students may opt for other courses, they are not always financially viable. So what is the answer? Do we pump money into them to prop them up, or do we encourage our students to opt for the courses that will lead to jobs?

Might not guidance at an earlier stage, in the form of appropriate careers advice, help young people to make the right FE choices? I should remind the House that that service has been slashed, and now barely exists in any part of the country.

I entirely agree. I think that career education is one of the key issues that we need to address, and that is one of the reasons why I became a member of the Education Committee.

Yes, we should ring-fence further education funding, but we also need to recognise the true utility of vocational courses. We need to stop pushing students towards the traditional academic routes, we need to start treating children as individuals rather than mass statistics, and we need to work to shift the stereotypes that are attached to jobs and courses. Otherwise, the true value of any money that is spent will never really be utilised.

I believe that the best way to reform further education is to bring together local businesses, further education colleges and universities, and enable them to shape curriculums to the needs of local economies. University technical colleges make that leap, and we need more of them, but we also need to apply the same approach to schools and further education colleges. If we are to do more to support businesses and build a workforce for tomorrow, we must reform education today, and I welcome the Department’s recognition of the need for such reform. I welcome the introduction of area reviews, and the move towards institutes of technology and specialisation in colleges.

No one would oppose more investment in our further education system, but the question the Opposition have yet to answer is, “Where will we get the money from?” Will we get it from the NHS, secondary or primary education, or the police? We cannot “magic” money, and we need to stop using the education system as a political football. I urge the Minister to do even more, and to explore creative opportunities that would enrich our educational offering by working with businesses and community consortiums to fund courses and resources, and, in particular, helping local economies with specific needs. Wiltshire, for instance, is crying out for more support for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects and design and technology. That would enable us to help with the supply and demand of our local labour markets and our education system.

Simply pumping money into a system is a very simplistic answer to a complex question. If we are to improve and better fund our education system, it is vital for us to improve the link with business and the stake that business has in the system, and we need to look for new ways to boost funding from that link. After all, business and the economy have the most to gain from a productive, highly educated and skilled workforce.

There has been much consensus here today on education being the best down-payment a country can make to secure its economic future. There is much to agree on, and indeed a thriving FE sector is directly linked to a higher-wage, higher-skilled and more productive economy, yet sadly, as the Secretary of State has admitted, post-16 education is in a fragile state. Following funding cuts in the last Parliament, colleges are being forced to survive on starvation rations. As I discussed with Yorkshire businesses just this week, these cuts mean young people are leaving further education without the qualifications employers desperately require, and firms are unable to develop, expand and grow.

In Kirklees, our sixth-form colleges are doing some amazing work despite the funding constraints imposed on them. We have sixth-form colleges of high repute achieving great things academically and vocationally, and of course the FE sector also offers unique provision and is indeed sometimes a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in society—people who did not achieve their potential at school and for whom FE is a second or third chance. If we cut FE, these children and adults are in danger of being even more disengaged and excluded from education and society. However, this Government’s failure to protect FE funding has meant that, in west Yorkshire, for example, three colleges have had to accumulate a combined capital debt of over £100 million to provide the modern facilities employers and students deserve. As someone with friends and family working in the FE sector in west Yorkshire, I know at first hand that morale is at an all-time low and talented and committed professionals are leaving the profession in droves.

In addition, I share the concerns of many other Members here today about the narrowness of the Government’s proposed post-16 area reviews, which mean that FE providers are being asked to compete in a deeply unfair environment. In Kirklees, we are in the opening stages of our review, but ostensibly we will only consider sixth-form colleges. I am very worried that a review that does not take account of the provision that exists in secondary schools will be incomplete and therefore fundamentally flawed. Therefore, I believe the Government urgently need to re-examine these area reviews and include all current and proposed post-16 providers, and not simply colleges.

What will become of FE opportunities for post-16s is at best unclear at the moment—we obviously await next week’s announcements—but if we are demanding that young people remain in education beyond 16, we must ensure they have somewhere to go to study. The Government must stop treating post-16 education as if it is an add-on. Access to further education is shrinking for many at precisely the wrong time, just as demand for further education places starts to increase.

That is certainly the case in my neck of the woods. If we compare the number of schools with sixth-forms in Batley and Spen today with the number 10 years ago, we notice a stark difference: the provision has shrunk by more than half. There are seven secondary schools in my constituency; only two have sixth-forms. Incidentally, both are now academies. There is also now no sixth-form college provision in my constituency; the world renowned Batley art college is, sadly, no longer to be found in Batley. These days, the majority of post-16 education for young people from Batley and Spen is outside the constituency. That means many young people from my constituency have to travel in excess of two hours to the opposite end of the district to attend college. This is piecemeal provision in which access and locations are based not on the needs of students, but on financial considerations.

To conclude, the FE sector is in a parlous financial state and there is growing concern from the people in my neck of the woods who work in FE that further cuts will tip colleges over the precipice. FE provision has been disproportionately affected by Government cuts to the public sector and has not been afforded the same protection offered to schools over the last six years. The Government’s decisions regarding further education are too often influenced solely by financial considerations, not on what really matters: providing our young people with the very best and most accessible form of academic or vocational education. This is what we want. This is what the FE sector wants. This is what students want. It is what parents want. It is also what universities and employers want. I fully support the motion.

Order. Because of all the interventions, I am going to have to drop the time limit down to four minutes in order to get everyone in. I do not want to have to drop it any further, so let us see if we can keep everything going.

Yesterday, I was at an all-day seminar with the Education Select Committee in Coventry, where we had the opportunity to meet the heads of primary and secondary schools, the regional schools commissioner and local government education officials. It was clear to me that our education providers understood the importance of working together and learning from one another and that they understood the link between education and jobs. I would therefore like to highlight one part of the motion before the House and to challenge it. The motion states that

“many colleges are…no longer offering courses in subjects key to our country’s competitiveness”.

I want to focus on that assumption, because I think it undermines the valuable work that our sixth-form colleges are doing.

I want to highlight three very different further education colleges that serve my constituency and that are doing extremely valuable work. First, we have the Cambridge regional college, which has more than 5,500 apprentices in training and works with more than 800 local employers to provide apprenticeships. Yesterday, it held a science, technology, engineering and maths—or STEM—seminar for year 10 and 11 students from the village colleges around my constituency. Secondly, we have the Cambridge university technical college, which opened in September 2014 and which specialises in biomedical and environmental science and technology. It teaches core GCSEs alongside technical qualifications. Thirdly, there is Hills Road, a highly academic sixth-form college that specialises in STEM subjects. In its A-level provision this year, it had 1,000 students in year 13, 92% of whom got grades between A* and C. For the 22nd successive year, it is at the head of the sixth-form college A-level league table for points per entry. The motion is therefore wrong to suggest that we are no longer offering courses that are key to our country’s competitiveness. In my area, we are offering precisely that.

The hon. and learned Lady has pointed out that the Cambridge regional college is very successful, but will she acknowledge that it took a big hit financially when the changes made by the UK Visas and Immigration service stopped it recruiting international students for a period? That cost the college some £1.5 million. Will she join me in making representations to the Home Secretary to ask her to sort this out?

I must declare an interest in this matter. There is an issue with international students, which we need to address.

The hon. Gentleman and I share some fantastic colleges in our constituencies, and it is also wrong to suggest that the Government are not supporting education that leads to employment. They are undertaking a review of sixth-form education to ensure that it meets the needs of the regions it serves. They are also encouraging maths and physics through bursary schemes, and they are working to expand the apprenticeship programme, making £1.5 billion available for apprenticeships this year. Of course we can always do more. We should be encouraging not only teachers and businesses but students. The Government should look at ways to incentivise students to study the courses that will give them the right skills, so that we can continue to compete in the international markets in which our country operates.

It was a great honour, as a Minister, to be responsible for skills under Tony Blair’s Government and for universities under Gordon Brown. I learned two things in those two different posts. First, when I put out a press release challenging Oxford and Cambridge as to why more people from the London boroughs of Richmond and Barnet went to those universities than went there from the entirety of Scotland and Wales put together it reached all the headlines—everyone wanted to write about universities. Secondly, when I wanted to talk about skills and FE, I struggled.

That is why this debate is so important and why we must focus on a couple of things. First, many deprived areas across the country—areas suffering different degrees of poverty and areas that would traditionally be described as working class—do not have particularly thriving sixth forms in school. What these areas have are sixth-form colleges and FE. This is often where the working-class children find themselves by virtue of history, and it is why this debate is important. Much has been made of the spending review, but it comes on top of a huge 16% cut in funding to the FE sector.

Secondly, the Minister said a lot about apprenticeship starts but very little about completions. She did not say that a lot of the growth in apprenticeships is in the over-35 age group. She did not talk about the quality of apprenticeships and where those apprenticeships are. In London, the increase in apprenticeships is in hairdressing. People can say, “What is wrong with hairdressing?”, but too often it is not her children who are going into those apprenticeships. That is why it is important that we get serious about what an apprenticeship is. Around the country, a lot of working-class kids are saying, “It is not worth the paper it is written on. I didn’t get a job after it. I cannot get the income I wanted.” That is the real discussion to have when FE budgets are cut.

My main point this evening, however, is that if we are to have a debate about FE, let us concentrate on the real collapse in FE in this country. The huge collapse is in adult learning. It is a disgrace and it is why our productivity is floundering. Bring back the night school. Where is it? When we get to this time of the evening, where is that thriving environment in our FE colleges across the country? It does not exist. On a Saturday and a Sunday, where can working people go? We have gaps in IT and green technology. We have huge new sectors of the economy, but how are working people to get access to jobs in them if the Government cut the funding and cut the central purpose of further education?

Our first night school was in Edinburgh in 1821, and we had wonderful working men’s colleges in our major cities. I remember films such as “Educating Rita” when I was growing up that looked at the context: professors and others who came alongside women and working people and got them into education. That has been cut under this Government and lost entirely in this country. That is why people are turning to parties such as the UK Independence party—they have nowhere else to go. Let us bring back night school and fund FE properly. It is a shame and an outrage that this is not being covered in a much bigger way across the country, because it is what people are talking about in local communities.

It is interesting to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who says we should bring back night school. I would like to know where he would get the funding for it. It has been gone for a long time in a lot of areas.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you missed being lectured for 15 minutes by the Scottish National party spokesperson in a debate that its Members did not even bother to sit around to participate in afterwards. That is a real shame, given that we have an Opposition day debate today. I feel sorry that we were lectured like that when they could not be bothered to stay to listen to the meat of the debate.

I want to focus on apprenticeships, because the motion says that this Government are risking the country’s prosperity, yet it leaves out apprenticeships. The right hon. Gentleman did refer to them, but I was disappointed to hear him say that they are not worth the paper they are written on. I have been working with my local college, Oaklands college, which has apprenticeship week in March; I met many providers who were encouraged to make sure that apprenticeships are worth while. That is why I wanted to speak in this debate. I cringed when I heard the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) sneer—I can use no other word—about an apprenticeship; she seemed to be saying that using the till in a bakery was not worth while.

I am not giving way to the hon. Lady, because she has plenty on her own side who wish to speak. Many young people, my own son included, want to go into an apprenticeship and they will be feeling today, “If I take up an apprenticeship at the lower level and learn some of the skills of interacting with other people, using the till, and learning to get up to get to work on time, to make myself presentable and to make myself work-ready, somehow I am not—

As I have said, I did try to intervene when this matter was under discussion. I want to speak on this because young people will feel that it is not worth learning some of the softer skills, such as how to deal with customers, how to be pleasant, how to be work ready, and how to turn up on time in the morning. I worry that we are going down a route of saying that being academic—I am sure that you absolutely were, Mr Deputy Speaker—is the only thing that is worth pursuing. I wish to speak up for the work that this Government have done in bringing up the value for everybody regardless of their educational attainment at school. I am talking about bringing up the value for those people who are learning to get into the job of work.

The hon. Lady has misrepresented what was said. There was no attempt to degrade lower skilled jobs or say that they were not important, or that the people going into those jobs were not important, but those jobs are not what we think of as high-skilled apprenticeships. That was the point that my hon. Friend was trying to make, and she has been misrepresented.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) made her point very clearly. Effectively, she was saying, “What was that worth?” I am saying that, for many young people, getting to work on time, being presentable, using soft skills, and learning how to use a till, particularly if they are not mathematically literate, are valuable. I have met young people with disabilities who find those opportunities valuable. We must stop degrading those opportunities by saying that they are not worth the paper they are written on—the right hon. Member for Tottenham said that. We have to ensure that apprenticeships are worth the paper they are written on. It is a different matter if they are not. I am not aware of any apprenticeships in my constituency that are not worth the paper they are written on, and I am seeing young people benefiting from them.

I pay tribute to the Minister for encouraging people. I wish to remove any sneering about people who do not have high academic attainment and say, “If you are serving me in my local Greggs in St Albans, I value you. I value the fact that you are engaging with me properly and that you are someone who has taken the trouble to skill up.” I would not like to see that young person being put off taking on any further education.

Let me mention Naomi. She was a young person who had not done well at school, who was not good at attending and who was not good in the world of work. She was picked up by Barclays, and she has become an absolute credit to it. It trained her up, got her work ready, got her studying qualifications alongside being trained up on the job. Now Naomi is a high achiever for Barclays. That first chance to get on the rung of an apprenticeship—our Government should be proud of what it is offering—is not just a throwaway that should not even be considered in the motion. It is something that is hugely valuable and sets many young people like Naomi on the right path into work and gets it into their head that there is something worth studying for. They realise that they can make something of their lives.

I value apprenticeships at all levels. For some young people, they click in a way that school did not. It is not always right to get everybody going into more education. Many can absorb a lot, learn a lot and change their lives by taking up some of those more modest offerings that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green and others sneer about and refer to as not being worth the paper they are written on.

May I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the register? I do not intend to give way in view of the fact that so many Labour Members still wish to participate in this debate.

The central contention of the Opposition motion, which seems to have got lost in many of the speeches that we have heard, is that

“given that the participation age has now risen to 18 years old, it makes no sense for the post-16 education budget to be treated with less importance than the 5-16 schools budget”.

That is the central contention, to which we have not yet had an adequate reply from the Government. Indeed, the impression that they may have inadvertently given today and that they certainly have given over the preceding months if not years is that this matter is a poor relation. One of the leading principals of Coventry’s colleges has said that the Government do not treat post-16 education with the respect and priority that it deserves. Certainly, what we have heard today tends to enforce that unfortunate view.

I wish to talk briefly about Coventry, because we have two major FE colleges, City college and Henley college. In the case of City college, it is not a question of what will or will not come out of the spending review, which not just those involved in post-16 education but everybody is awaiting with trepidation. Rather, it is the fact that this year the Skills Funding Agency reviewed the college’s budget and promised it around £100,000 extra, against which it has committed resources and money to provide apprenticeships—the very area in which I know the Minister of State is most interested. The college looks like delivering and perhaps even over-delivering because of that increase in the budget, but because of the delays in the budgets and in approving them—not for future education spending, but for the current year—to which Members on both sides of the House have referred, the college still does not have any certainty. Can the Minister reply to City further education college in Coventry and let us know the situation?

The other major college—they both do tremendous work in Coventry—is Henley college. I want to quote the principal, who reinforces, I regret to say, the general impression that the Government have given. He speaks as someone who has been in further education for 38 years. He ends his letter to me by referring to the letter, which the Minister must have seen by now, from the principals of well over 100 colleges—I thought at one point it was 140—to the Government and his Secretary of State. After 38 years in the further education profession, the principal of Henley college says:

“I feel that the manner of this government’s treatment of local further education colleges shows a deep contempt and equally deep ignorance of the invaluable work they do to improve their communities”.

The cuts that FE colleges face and the cuts they are undergoing—14% in the last Parliament—bear that out. From somebody as deeply committed as the principal of Henley college in Coventry, that seems a very sad epitaph to the record of this Government and this Secretary of State and their attitude towards further education.

I have been meeting black country FE college principals pretty regularly ever since I was elected, and in the last 18 months I have noticed a significant change in their approach. My previous meetings addressed their problems, some of which were to do with funding, but now there is an almost apocalyptic feeling about the representations they are making. They have been badly hit recently with the cuts to adult education funding. That has been compounded by the sudden withdrawal of funding for ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—which has had a significant effect on colleges with high ethnic minority populations. This is not just a party political issue; it comes from the college principals themselves and is recognised throughout the sector. The National Audit Office agrees, and so does Professor Wolf.

The second point I want to make is that if FE colleges are closed down and their numbers reduced, there will not just be implications for local education provision, but a profound impact on the Government’s stated long-term economic objectives. The Chancellor’s current mantra is the creation of a high-wage, high-productivity, skilled economy. What are the key elements of a high- wage, high-skilled economy? They are construction, manufacturing and engineering. Who are the education providers that provide the apprentices and, often, the intermediate education of those who take higher education in those areas? Why, it is the FE colleges. Over 50% of manufacturing and construction apprenticeships come through the FE colleges. If their numbers are reduced, the capacity to provide enough apprentices to strengthen those elements of our economy, which are vital to the creation of a high-wage, highly productive, export-led economy, will be degraded.

No, I will not give way, because there is not enough time.

Manufacturing is crucial to the future of our country, and FE colleges play a vital role in the supply of skills necessary to sustain it.

Finally, it is reasonable to expect area reviews to be based on consulting all concerned and understanding local skills issues and skills provision—including in-house sixth-form provision, which is excluded from the reviews—in order to see how best to meet the skills requirements through structures that will also minimise the costs involved. The exclusion of in-house sixth-form provision, UTCs and so on has left the FE sector feeling discriminated against and worried that there is a political objective behind it. That should be overcome. I support the suggestion of the Association of Colleges for outcome-based reviews involving consultation of both business and education right across the board.

I am beginning to wonder what this Government have got against young people. When I spoke in this Chamber yesterday I asked why on earth we should not give 16 and 17-year-olds the ability to vote in local elections, and today I am talking about cuts to post-16 education.

The Prime Minister said today that decisions we make now are not just for the present, but for the future and for our children and our children’s children. He should not have to say that—it is entirely self-evident—but the fact that he said it on the same day as this Opposition day debate on cuts to post-16 education funding is particularly ironic.

Hopwood Hall college in my constituency does not offer, and never has offered, courses in balloon artistry, yet the Secretary of State cites such courses. In so doing, she repeats the misinformation spread in March 2014 by the then Skills Minister, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), when he, too, claimed that courses such as balloon artistry would no longer be paid for by the taxpayer. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills then revealed that such a course had never been listed for Government money anyway. It is disappointing in the extreme to hear the Secretary of State for Education incorporating such myths into her arguments. In this case I would suggest that she herself is guilty of scaremongering.

Hopwood Hall college is one of more than 100 colleges to write recently to the Prime Minister to urge a rethink of his Government’s proposals. They have highlighted many major problems with the current and planned system of funding, including repeated year-on-year cuts to adult funding, which now total about 40%; a significant reduction in funding for students aged 18; and large reductions in annual funding allocations being announced to colleges only weeks before a new academic year, severely harming their ability to plan and to invest in staff and resources. The letter was signed by the chair of Hopwood Hall college, Robert Clegg OBE, who is also a Tory councillor in Rochdale. I wonder whether the Secretary of State would accuse him of scaremongering.

The further education sector has taken a kicking over the past few years. I remember the sadness and anger in my constituency when the coalition Government withdrew the education maintenance allowance and poorer students were forced to withdraw from their courses as they simply could not afford to attend them anymore.

The principal of the college wrote to me last year, expressing his concerns about last year’s round of cuts and the detrimental effect they would have on the provision of adult further education. He said:

“Cuts of this magnitude could mean the end of this essential education in every city, town and community in England and the consequences will be felt by individuals and the economy for years to come.”

That was last year. Now it seems that FE and sixth-form colleges are staring another round of swingeing cuts in the face. There is a real fear that further funding cuts in the next comprehensive spending review will tip our sixth-form and FE colleges over the precipice. Colleges are asking that this Government give consistent and equitable funding to all 16 to 18-year-olds, and that this should be the same as that given to 14 to 16-year-olds. They want more certainty and predictability of funding to enable planning and investment to occur with certainty and confidence. I urge the Secretary of State to take seriously the problems stated in the letter signed by over 100 chairs of FE colleges and listen to their warnings—

Today’s debate is particularly important to me as Salford city college and other further education institutions in my constituency have had to battle savage cuts over the past five years. The college is under review as part of the Government’s post-16 areas review policy. Indeed, Salford city college was one of the 129 colleges to sign the open letter sent to the Chancellor earlier this month. I wish to make clear my support for them.

In the previous Parliament the education budget for 16 to 19-year-olds fell by 14% in real terms. Funding for 18 and 19-year-olds was cut further, so provision for these students is 17.5% lower than for students aged 16 and 17. In July the National Audit Office reported that the

“financial health of the FE college sector had been declining since 2010”.

In addition, the Further Education Commissioner warned that over 55% of colleges will be in financial difficulty by the end of next year.

Despite these clear warnings, I fear that the Chancellor appears to be gearing up for another round of cuts to further education in the spending review next week. Let me be clear. Colleges in my constituency cannot cope with further cuts to their budgets. The city college has already had to lose teachers and support staff, make cuts in pastoral care and extracurricular activities, and drop a number of courses just to survive. These services were not a luxury. They were integral to ensuring that the young people of Salford participated and excelled in education. A person who comes from a poor background and whose family has suffered the savage effects of a lack of education and poor employment prospects for generations could be forgiven for feeling that aspiration was not for them, but only for a select few. Pastoral care and a wide range of courses are key to lifting these people out of poverty and breaking the cycle for their future children.

Without this support, how many young people will fall through the cracks of our education system? This is not just a bad thing in and of itself, but economically short-sighted. Education is critical for employment, especially in constituencies such as mine that have suffered from de-industrialisation and need both new jobs and a workforce equipped to do them. MediaCityUK, for example, is the hub of media creativity in the UK and is a fantastic asset to our city, but when it opened hardly anybody there came from Salford, and we have had to work hard and fight tooth and nail locally to ensure that we have educational courses to upskill our young people and make sure that they can be employed there. This is all under threat.

From the Conservative Government’s rhetoric, one would think that they support the institutions that allow people who work hard to get on, but the cuts already inflicted on further education services and the threat of more to come tell a completely different story. How do the Government expect people to improve their skills when the vehicle for doing so is breaking down? How do they expect these young people when they grow older to gain well-paid employment that will ensure that they do not have to depend on financial assistance from the Government? This is not long-term economic planning, as the Chancellor would have us believe, and it does not lend itself to a sustainable welfare system in the future.

I support the motion. I have experience of an FE college. As someone who went to a school that did not have a sixth form and who benefited personally from FE, I know at first hand how useful that can be in getting on in life. I am also a former governor of the FE college in Burnley.

At the beginning of the debate, much was made by the Minister of the Labour Government’s legacy in education. Let me share with the House the education legacy in Burnley. Burnley has a brand-spanking-new FE college built by the previous Labour Government that is an inspiring learning environment. As a governor, I watched it go from strength to strength, providing excellent academic, vocational and educational training, and supporting local apprenticeships and the local economy. It had a 100% pass rate at A-level and it was judged by Ofsted to be “outstanding”. The principal tells me that this is all now at risk. Recent cuts—this is before we consider any that might be announced next week—mean that our college is struggling to continue that excellent work giving life opportunities to young people across the constituency from academic and other skilled backgrounds. All those opportunities will be denied if the college cannot be sustained.

I know that strictly speaking adult education provision is not the subject of this debate, but FE provides excellent opportunities to deliver it. In the current climate, where we are seeking to prevent radicalisation and extremism, it is extremely unhelpful when budgets to deliver English language training to those whose first language is not English are slashed, already, by 40%. The Minister seemed to think it was funny that we were all worrying about what funding cuts might be announced next week, but the institutions know what they have seen since 2010, so they are understandably very nervous.

Those cuts have been administered to the sixth-form and FE sector in a way that shows total disrespect to staff, governors and students. The short notice allows for no planning whatsoever for restructuring and long-term, effective savings. This year, funding cuts were announced in March, with a further round announced in July, for implementation in August. That shows absolutely outrageous disrespect to the sector.

This is not a case for political argument. People in all parts of the House have said today how much they support giving young people opportunities for apprenticeships, vocational training and academic training. The motion merely seeks to ensure that that provision is protected. The contribution of such training to our local and national economies cannot be overestimated. Funds invested in this sector are never wasted.

I will not go into funding, because we have heard much about that during this debate.

Earlier today, Members in this Chamber heard my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) read a list of hundreds of job losses additional to those caused by the devastating cessation of steel production. This country continues to de-industrialise, with manufacturing going to countries that subsidise such production. Generations of families in Middlesbrough will have worked in the British steel industry. Education and skills retraining will be necessary to assist them in searching for employment and in attracting alternative employment opportunities. My constituency has suffered the same experience, and I feel for those people. I also know of numerous success stories. Deep coal miners and glass workers have gone on to achieve degrees, including master’s degrees. Some have become entrepreneurs and some have set up businesses providing services.

I want to talk about adult education and training. The Workers Educational Association is under threat. It has been educating adults for over 100 years, and millions have benefited from the programmes and courses that it has provided. The WEA provides opportunities for many for whom school was not a positive experience, and that can be, and has been, a real and effective second chance. It is imperative to maintain the vital service provided by the WEA, and I sincerely hope that it survives the BIS review.

Sixth-form colleges are an educational success story. Sixth-form college associations representing colleges across England tell us of those that are outstanding providers of 16-to-19 education, outperforming academy sixth forms and educating more disadvantaged students, yet receiving less funding. Sixth-form colleges also offer superior value for money by delivering better outcomes than academies at a lower cost to the public purse. All that is achieved with a greater proportion of students eligible for free school meals: 11% of sixth-form college students are eligible for this benefit at the age of 15, compared with only 8% of students in academies.

The Government need to address the indefensible VAT anomaly from which sixth-form colleges suffer. I have listened to what further education colleges have said in condemnation of the previous Labour Government, but they funded the St Helens FE college. It is a wonderful piece of architecture and I invite hon. Members to come along to see it. This excellent college is innovative, providing education and training where and when it is needed. For instance, a course ran at 7 am in Dock Road, Liverpool and was paid for by employers for 200 Chinese-speaking adult pupils. However, the course did not meet the tight criteria set by this Government.

Flight Hospitality chartered a plane for the use of the college. However, like many FE colleges, the college struggles to hire maths and English tutors as it cannot compete with schools. The Government need to support FE colleges to recruit such tutors, rather than making further cuts to their budgets. Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak.

In the last Parliament, the Government committed themselves to and delivered quality and rigour in post-16 education by driving forward 2.4 million apprenticeships. I am dedicated to that scheme, and over the years I have enjoyed employing apprentices and seeing them thrive. I am keen to see the Minister for Skills get to 5 million apprenticeships by 2020, because that is a brilliant aspiration.

West Suffolk college in my constituency of Bury St Edmunds is an exemplar of what the Government are striving to achieve. It is a high-achieving, highly collaborative education forum that works with successful local businesses—Greene King and British Sugar among others—the local Suffolk chamber of commerce, which is embedded in the heart of the college, and, most importantly, the local enterprise partnership. Only recently, the LEP supported the college with £7 million for a STEM centre.

The college concentrates on student opportunities, in accordance with the Government’s drive, and it delivers hundreds of highly skilled apprentices in East Anglia. Jack, whom I have met there, is an apprentice on a welding course. His aspiration is to have his own business, which I applaud. Working with the apprenticeship trailblazers the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, the college offers a skills pipeline to empower young people and combat socioeconomic barriers in the region.

In its pursuit of the Government’s ambitious plans, that college in my constituency is flourishing, so much so—this is a plug—that it has ambitions to become an institute of technology, in recognition of its standards in apprenticeships and its professional sponsorship. However, West Suffolk college, like the Association of Colleges, is asking us to look carefully at how to move forward. It is asking for parity between schools and colleges. We have formed an academy with a sixth-form college, and it seems slightly ironic that the two funding models are not treated the same. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) that we should look at a better entry level for maths and English because it is important to encourage people to move up to a higher level.

The college in my constituency wants to be able to plan for the future with confidence, and it is looking to the Government to allow a three-year funding packing, if possible, so that it can do so. Colleges such as mine are keen to help the Government to meet their ambitions for skills and productivity, and to deliver the Government’s commitment to have more apprenticeships. If the Government can give them certainty in further education funding, colleges will enable the Government to achieve the ambitions they want for our young people and others.

The best of today’s debate has been the powerful advocacy we have heard from Members from all parts of the House for further education in their constituencies and colleges.

I praise in particular the Labour Members who have spoken. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) said that we were right to consider the devolution issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) gave practical examples of good work in her sixth forms and FE colleges.

There was a powerful speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who drew on his experience as a former skills Minister. He pointed out that the Government have said very little about the completion figures for apprenticeships and the calibre of apprenticeships. He also touched on the huge collapse in adult learning. Although that is not central to the motion, it is another symptom of the failure of the Government to address this issue holistically.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) talked about the funding uncertainties. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) talked about the almost apocalyptic feeling among many FE colleges. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) cited the situation in her college and rightly shamed the Secretary of State for her reliance on scaremongering about balloon artistry in her speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) asked how we can deal with the savage cuts to colleges. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) said that FE had helped to transfer—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State chunters from a sedentary position. If she wants to claim that she did not refer to balloon artistry, she is welcome to do so.

I am happy to say that I mentioned courses such as marzipan modelling and balloon artistry, which were funded by the Labour Government. Young people were led to think that they were gaining qualifications that would stand them in good stead in their education, but they did not.

If the Secretary of State checks the facts, she might find that they are rather different.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) is a powerful advocate for the role of FE in her empowering sixth-form colleges. As a former WEA tutor, I was pleased that she spoke about the importance of the WEA.

Regardless of her artistry, balloon or otherwise, I found the Secretary of State’s speech rather sad and waffly, with a dash of Europhobia thrown in. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Ministers do not like that, but it is true. The Secretary of State talked about not showing her hand before the spending review. The problem is that most of us do not believe that she had a hand to show in the first place. The way in which she talked about apprenticeships without mentioning any of the difficulties or complexities reminded me of the old sitcom, “Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width”.

The Secretary of State did not look at the unsustainable division between school education, which has ring-fenced funding, and FE, which faces growing marginalisation and an ever-greater burden of cuts. The area review of local FE provision is adding to the instability in the sector and there is unclear information from the Government on funding applications. Further education for 16 to 19-year-olds was the most cut area of education in the last Parliament, with its funding falling by 14% in real terms. That was a combination of lower budgets to support 16 to 19-year-olds after the scrapping of the EMA and a direct funding cut to colleges of about 10% in real terms. This year, per-student funding in colleges and sixth forms has faced a real-terms cut and stands at £4,000.

It is a pity that the Secretary of State did not come out of her press release bubble a little more and talk about what other people in the sector are saying. Many Members referred to the open letter that warned about further funding cuts in the spending review, as was reported in Monday’s FE Week. Colleges and courses do not exist in silos. If there are funding cuts for 16 to 19-year-olds, it will have a knock-on effect on other age groups. Earlier in the week, the shadow Chancellor and I spoke to hundreds of FE staff in London. There was genuine fury not just because they will be less able to help students, but about the life chances that will go astray.

The National Audit Office rightly reported on the problems in FE earlier in the year. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), in her role as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, described it as a “deeply alarming report”.

It is not just in Department for Education policy that the Government are failing to support the skills and growth that we need. There is a failure of joined-up thinking across the Departments and there is no acknowledgement of the impact that the Government ‘s cuts are having on post-school education. The Minister knows that business and the budget for further education are closely linked, but the new higher education Green Paper threatens to stack the deck against FE colleges that derive precious revenue from providing degree-level skills. If he plans to ensure that colleges that do not immediately meet the desired standards are supported to improve and bounce back, rather than starting on a cycle of decline, fair enough, but the Green Paper has no answers to that question.

The analysis by our shadow Education team showed just what the cuts would mean for 16 to 19-year-olds. Assuming the Department met the lower target of 25%, spending on 16-to-19 provision could fall by £1.6 billion a year by 2020. No wonder the alarm bells have been rung all across the sector. No wonder the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, in its spending review submission, said that funding for 16-to-18 education should be maintained. The Government need to realise that people from across the sector, including the Association of Colleges, which has spoken out strongly, and the University and College Union, which has said that colleges

“cater for the learning needs of a wide range of people, including many from vulnerable or disadvantaged groups”,

are saying that colleges should not lose out to schools but that the Government are in danger of allowing that to happen.

We have heard a lot from the sixth-form college sector. Research by the Sixth Form Colleges Association at the beginning of August painted a picture of a beleaguered sector under serious threat from three separate funding cuts since 2011—never mind what might come up next week. Only this week, the principal of my sixth-form college said to me:

“Last year 81.42% of our students progressed to HE, a further 12.21% to employment with training…and only 0.94% remained NEET… Another cut in funding threatens all this. Not only will the college have to seek significant savings in its day to day operation, we will also have to consider…reducing the curriculum offer…to students”


“removing key specialist subjects from our portfolio”.

He also said the college risks not meeting its work experience requirements or the local needs of the community. A paper from the Sixth Form Colleges Association has made the same point. The principal of the excellent Blackpool and The Fylde further education college, which teaches 3,000 under-18s, has said to me: “Given the attainment in schools in the locality, post-16 providers have to compensate for poor performance and need to be remunerated accordingly. I hope you will continue your support for the college in the forthcoming year, particularly by offering robust challenges to any further funding cuts in the autumn spending review.”

Even on their most clearly stated aims, the Government cannot help shooting themselves in the foot. Ministers proclaim that they protected schools from cuts by ring-fencing funding, but they do not recognise the effects of cuts on schools with a sixth-form attached, many of which use the secondary education budget to cover the huge cuts. Ministers have encouraged 169 new school sixth forms to open since 2010, but there are now 1,200 with fewer than 100 students. There are already indications that pressures on the sector mean that providers cannot offer the service our young people need, even in core areas such as maths. In answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister told me that 150 graduates would be offered bursaries to train this year, but that figure represents only about 3% of the current maths teaching force. Some 25% of experienced teachers are approaching retirement, and those older teachers are three times more likely to have a maths qualification than younger recruits.

Government Members who think that these FE cuts and area reviews will pass them by should listen to the warning given by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) last week in Question Time, when he asked the Minister to assure him

“that the area reviews are not just a cover for further, unrealistic cuts that will threaten their viability altogether”.—[Official Report, 10 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 213.]

The Government claim that they want to energise technical and professional skills, but then they fail to deliver level 4 work experience in schools. They claim they want to boost productivity, but then, in their area reviews, ignore the vital role that colleges and providers play. They claim they want to give everyone a proper chance, but then produce cuts with unforeseen consequences. They claim that they want to talk about equalities, but as we have heard, colleges and schools are short of funding, which often means that support for disabled young people is not forthcoming or co-ordinated. They do not understand—or they do not care to understand—the cumulative effects of those cuts, just as they did not understand the awful damage that was done by cutting the education maintenance allowance and aid for social mobility.

Further education must no longer be the whipping boy when the spending review is delivered. If the Government will the ends, they must will the means. Otherwise, meanness and lack of focus will leave thousands of young people at risk of having their life chances shredded by the ignorance or incompetence of this Government.

It is, as always, a pleasure to debate in this House education for 16 to 19-year-olds, and particularly further education and sixth-form colleges. It is a subject on which I can bore for Britain. Unfortunately, the debate got off to a bad start, because the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) detained the House for 13 minutes on a question that does not affect her constituents in any way.

I will not give way to the hon. Lady. We heard quite enough from her earlier on. She strangely failed to mention that her party’s Government in Edinburgh have slashed funding for further education and closed colleges in order to subsidise free university education for students who will go on to earn far more than many who graduate from further education colleges. She should be ashamed and keep quiet in our debate.

Order. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) knows that he cannot just remain standing. If the Minister wishes to give way, I am sure he will; if he does not, that is his choice.

I might well have given way to the right hon. Gentleman if he had attended any of the debate apart from his own intervention.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the Minister—if he is that—did not mean to mislead the House, but if he checks the record, I think he will find that funding for further education in Scotland is immeasurably superior to funding for further education in England.

The right hon. Gentleman has been here over many years. He is back, and I know that he will never ever forget what is, and what is not, a point of order. That was not.

When any question is asked in this House, from the Government side we hear about reforms—reforms of institutions, standards, leadership and incentives. In this debate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), Chair of the Education Committee, made an extremely interesting proposal for sixth-form colleges to be allowed to convert to academy status, and I know that Ministers will have listened to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) spoke about the economies of scale that large college groups can enjoy, and which enable them to support enrichment programmes. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) spoke passionately about apprenticeships and applauded Jack’s ambition to set up his own business. I have no doubt that that ambition will be fulfilled. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), and I enjoyed visiting a college with her before she was elected. She made a good argument that we must encourage students to opt for courses that will help them to get good jobs, and that is exactly what the introduction of destination measures will achieve.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) spoke of Cambridge regional college, which educates more than 5,000 apprentices. I point out to her and the House that colleges currently win only 37% of the funding for apprenticeship training, and there is no reason why they should not win more of that growing funding stream. Yesterday, I suggested to the Association of Colleges annual conference that we should work together with colleges to help them to achieve two thirds of the much larger budget for apprenticeship funding that will be in place once the apprenticeship levy has been introduced.

In what was without doubt the best speech of this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) rightly said that Opposition Members should be careful before they sneer at apprenticeships in hairdressing and retail. We know that level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships increase people’s incomes by, on average, 11% and 16%, and Conservative Members will not sneer at those people and their hard work.

From the Opposition side of the House, we hear about money. It is their stock answer to everything. Indeed, it is their only answer to anything. The shadow Secretary of State waved a bloody shroud based on nothing more than her wild speculation about the spending review. The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) made a reasonable point about the need for some funding to support the implementation of the conclusions of area reviews, and she will be aware that we already provide interim funding for colleges in financial difficulties. We are absolutely aware of the need to provide funding to support the implementation of area reviews.

I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) seemed to regret the fact that colleges can borrow money to invest in new facilities, whereas that is a key freedom that I know colleges enjoy and make use of. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) decried cuts in adult learning budgets, but then criticised the inclusion of 35-year-olds in apprenticeships. I have to admit that I was confused by his argument. If apprenticeships are not right for adults, why is adult learning so much better?

The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said that Coventry City college, which is indeed a fine college, wants to bid for more apprenticeship funding this year. I can tell him that fortunately we will be able to meet some bids for growth funding for apprenticeships in the remainder of this financial year. I hope that the college has made such a bid. I cannot promise that it will be successful, but if the college is as good as he says it is, it has a very good chance. We heard further contributions from the hon. Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and others.

This debate has distilled the essential difference between the Government and the Opposition. The Government stand for, and propose, reform—reform of institutions to make them stronger, and reform of technical and professional courses to make them more valuable. That is why I am so delighted that an excellent former Labour Minister, Lord Sainsbury, will chair our independent panel, along with Professor Alison Wolf and Bev Robinson, the principal from the local college of the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), to ensure that we improve technical and professional courses. We propose reform of apprenticeships to increase their number, quality and impact on the future earnings of our constituents.

What the Opposition stand for, and propose, is money—from higher taxes, from higher borrowing and from higher debts that the next generation will have to pay. I will ask the House to reject the motion tonight because there is a clear choice. We will invest in the future generation and their capacity to earn money for themselves by investing in apprenticeships and making apprenticeships better, longer and more rigorous. The Opposition will load more debt on the next generation’s backs. The Opposition will ask future generations, the people who will attend these colleges that the Opposition want to support, to pay for their decisions now, and for their failure to get borrowing under control. We will not go down that path: we will invest in reform and improvement, and I therefore reject the motion.

Question put.