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Further Education Funding

Volume 649: debated on Monday 12 November 2018

8. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Treasury on funding for further education. (907544)

We are working closely with the Treasury, as finance has been challenging for further education colleges, and this work will continue in preparation for the spending review. We are also undertaking a look at the resilience of the sector to make sure that the regulatory structures and funding give us the high-quality provision that we want to see. I have mentioned the £2.5 billion that will be available by 2020 for apprenticeship training. When T-levels are fully rolled out in 2020, there will be an additional £500 million a year.

I thank the Minister for that response. As we approach the spending review, may I emphasise, particularly from North Cornwall, the passion and drive that we need to make sure that this money does go into further education? In the post-Brexit world we will be living in, it is more important than ever that our young people have the skills to benefit, so can we make sure that we push the Treasury hard on this?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for those in his constituency. Education is crucial, and we need to help young people to acquire the skills to thrive in life and work. For many, further education offers a second, third or even fourth chance, so it is important that we make sure they have the resources they need. Sadly, further education often gets squashed between the discussion about schools and that about university. I know my hon. Friend will be making his own representations to the Treasury.

We have had an interesting half hour. We are being told that funding in this sector is tight and not protected. We have just been told that this is the second, third or fourth chance for people in this sector. Given that young people have to stay on until 18, what assessment has been made of the impact of the reduction in income to the further education sector on their outcomes under this Government?

As the hon. Lady will have heard, we are looking at the resilience of the sector. I mentioned the £2.5 billion by 2020 and the £500 million for T-levels. There is a lot of work going on to ensure the sector has the resources it needs. Colleges are delivering extraordinarily high-quality training and education—three-quarters of colleges are good or outstanding—and they have high-quality financial management. We put a huge amount of money into restructuring, with exceptional financial support for this sector. A number of pots of money are now being made available to increase the number of teachers in further education.

The Minister says she has been working very closely with the Treasury, but it seems as though they are close encounters of the failed kind. FE’s financial woes are now at crisis. She knows that the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that spending is down by £3.3 billion since 2011. She knows that a stream of departing principals highlight the problem: 37 colleges on notice to improve their financial health. Now, Ofsted’s chief inspector says funding cuts are affecting FE’s sustainability. Before the Budget, the Minister urged everybody in FE to speak up for funding. They did with one voice through the brilliant Love our Colleges campaign, but the Chancellor ignored them. How is she going to address the crisis now that the Treasury has cold-shouldered FE?

I will not attempt to compete with the hon. Gentleman’s jokes about close encounters. I do not agree that we have been given the cold shoulder. We are looking at the resilience of the sector. I made it quite clear that I am fully aware of the challenges that FE faces. We have been putting in a lot of money, but I know that in the longer term we have to ensure that the core funding allows FE to deliver the high quality education that young people and, indeed, older people need.