Skip to main content

Further Education Provision

Volume 635: debated on Monday 29 January 2018

We have done a number of things in this area. The area reviews have been an opportunity for every college to reorganise and merge, and we have approved £300 million of restructuring money. Plus six grants have been made from the new £15 million strategic college improvement fund. We have appointed seven national leaders of further education, and the work of the FE commissioner, a vital role, has also been extended.

I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. Colleges such as East Coast College are doing great work that will improve social mobility and productivity, but they need to be properly funded. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps that have been taken to ensure that that is the case, so that colleges can deliver a high-quality, rounded curriculum?

Funding is important, which is why I mentioned those figures. The strategic college improvement fund will be very important. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth merged to form East Coast College, which is a much more financially independent institution. We are also putting £500 million a year into technical education to increase the hours of learning for more than 50% of those on technical routes; providing £20 million to help teachers prepare for those routes; and continuing to protect £4,000 a year for 16 and 17-year-olds. I am very aware, however, that this is a complex sector delivering a wide range of courses in quite difficult financial circumstances.

I thank the Minister for her efforts on behalf of Exeter College, which, as she will know, was inexplicably not granted the contract by the Skills Funding Agency to provide apprenticeships through small firms. I would like her to continue those efforts, working with officials from her Department and the agency, because if this is not rectified, or a way through found for this, it will do serious damage both to the provision of apprenticeships in the Exeter area and to Exeter College, which is one of the top performing colleges in the country.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has worked very hard on behalf of Exeter College. I praise my officials who continue to work with individual Members to ensure that these problems are ironed out.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the input of businesses is key to delivering high-quality further and technical education?

Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that further education colleges—seven out of 10 have been graded good or outstanding—are absolutely critical in drawing together businesses from the local area. Along with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, they can have a significant impact on the education and training that young people get.

Wakefield College opened its advanced skills and innovation centre late last year. It is a brilliant new centre to help entrepreneurs start up their own businesses. The one cloud on the horizon is the excellent work done by the college through the national collaborative outreach programme, which is still up in the air following the fiasco of the Minister’s Department over the setting up of the Office for Students. When will she announce the funding for the years going forward and when will my excellent staff be able to continue that good work?

The hon. Lady is right to praise the work of Wakefield College. Such colleges are real exemplars of what can be achieved. I appreciate the importance of outreach work, and that is particularly important when we consider social mobility. I am happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Lady at any time.

Does the Minister agree that sixth-form colleges, such as Richard Huish College in my constituency, are an extremely valuable part of our education system, making the great link between education and employment? Will she kindly meet me to discover whether, in the tertiary review, funding might be available from age 16, rather than starting at 18?

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend; it would be a pleasure. I was recently at the conference of the Sixth Form Colleges Association. Sixth-form colleges do an excellent job, and I will do everything I can to support them.

Twenty-one per cent. less—that is what a student aged 16 to 19 gets compared with what they get between 11 and 16. This tertiary review needs to start with tertiary education at 16 to 19. Will the Minister confirm that tertiary education for 16 to 19-year-olds will be included in the review?

The review is currently under discussion. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have my tin hat and battledress on, and I will always battle on behalf of the FE sector and independent training providers for the 50% of young people who do not go to university.

How can the Minister talk confidently about FE provision when the Government’s whole record on the sector is a mess? In the last 10 days, we have seen apprenticeship starts down by 41% since the levy began; traineeship starts down by 16%; the FE commissioner telling the Select Committee on Education that funding is “unfair” and “sparse”; the Public Accounts Committee roasting the Government over learndirect; and five sector leaders calling for a major levy rethink in FE Week. Will she get a grip on the levy? Will she also ensure that she does not claim that those concerned are running FE down? We are passionate about FE and apprenticeships; it is her party that is split on HE and FE policy.

I utterly reject the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the situation is a mess. This is the first time that a Government have really got to grips with this issue. I will be running a training session for Members from all political parties. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman come along to discover that it is very easy to get apprenticeships if we do not care about the quality, but I do care about the quality. It is really important that we raise the quality and raise the numbers, ensuring that young people have the skills they need for the future.