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Further Education Funding

Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 2 April 2019

I beg to move,

That this House has considered further education funding.

Good morning, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to see colleagues from across the House come together to debate further education colleges. I do so with my co-conspirator, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin)—165 colleagues signed our recent letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is a fantastic opportunity for hon. Members from all parties to come together without the need for indicative motions on alternatives and to reach a rare and much-cherished cross-party consensus on four simple propositions.

The first proposition is that further education is incredibly important to all of us, in every constituency in the land. The second is that our colleges need more funding to achieve important goals. The third is that the spending review and Budget are a great opportunity to make giant steps towards that objective. Lastly, today is an opportunity for many people to give a clear message to the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who has been very supportive throughout, and to the wider Government: please do more to help our colleges provide the skills our young people need for themselves and for our country.

Well done to my hon. Friend for securing the debate. Peter Symonds College in Winchester is the largest in England. It has grown significantly in recent years. Student numbers grew by 19% between 2011 and 2018, yet in the same period the college’s overall funding grew by just 3%—the relevant factors are the rising cost base, changes to pension contributions, national insurance and the part-funded pay rise—meaning that, without a long-overdue increase in the base rate, it will have to make some very difficult and significant changes. Does my hon. Friend agree that the comprehensive spending review is looking increasingly like a seminal moment for this sector?

Order. Before the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) answers, may I put a marker down? An enormous number of Members wish to take part in the debate. I am going to insist that interventions be brief.

The short answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) is yes.

Today, I want to set out briefly what the problem is—as you say, Sir Roger, many Members wish to speak—what the case for further education colleges is in more detail, what outcomes we would like to see from more funding going into the sector, what skills and productivity we should be looking for, and some of the key statistics, both locally and nationally, that are on our minds.

Let me start by outlining the problem. It is simply that education for 16 to 18-year-olds has, broadly speaking, not been funded as well as that for other age groups. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has done research that shows that. The chart we used in our letter shows clearly that, of the four main categories of education—primary, secondary, further and higher—further education is the only one on which spending has fallen in real terms recently. It is therefore the most deserving of the four categories, but let it also be said—

I will give way in a second; let me just finish the sentence. I suspect that all of us here share the view that education in general is a good cause for the spending review and the Budget, so this is not to decry the other three categories but to highlight the importance of more funding for further education. Three colleagues wished to intervene—I think they were, in order, an hon. Friend and then two Opposition colleagues.

I will be as brief as I can. Does my hon. Friend not think that FE colleges have the ability to improve the situation themselves by attracting good companies in to help fund apprenticeships? That is precisely what I am doing with the FE college in my constituency.

My hon. Friend is always a great champion of these things, and he is absolutely right. Colleges can certainly help themselves by attracting great employers to offer apprenticeships, and we can help them by introducing some of the employers if need be.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the restrictions on FE funding have directly damaged the ability of colleges to recruit very specialist skills at the highest level, such as in engineering, meaning that vacancies exist for long periods and that colleges are often cutting short those types of course?

Notwithstanding the Treasury’s historical aversion to hypothecated taxation, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, given that the Government are making a substantial surplus out of the apprenticeship levy at the moment, there is a strong moral case for recycling that money into the 16-to-18 sector?

Hypothecated funds are interesting. I am an advocate of them for the field of care. I will leave my right hon. Friend the Minister to comment on the huge surplus being generated; I have not yet seen much sign of that surplus coming through in my constituency, but the hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point.

The point about recruitment and retention has been raised. Does my hon. Friend agree that the sector desperately needs more funding? In a case I am aware of, there are staff who have not had a pay rise for 10 years. If that is the case, retention will become impossible.

Yes. When it comes to pay rises, all of us will remember that take-home pay has increased by about £1,200 as a result of the tax-free allowance being almost doubled, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right on the wider point about being able to retain key staff. That point has been raised by other colleagues and is crucial.

Does my hon. Friend agree that FE is at its most successful when it is provided locally, in communities? Gloscol—Gloucestershire College—provides services in both Cheltenham and my hon. Friend’s constituency of Gloucester, but if the cuts increase, it will be at only one or other of those sites, and that will reduce the uptake of courses and damage FE provision in the county overall. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Where my hon. Friend and constituency near-neighbour is absolutely right is that, in the case of Gloucestershire College, which provides those skills in Cheltenham, Gloucester and the Forest of Dean, there is only one provider, in effect, in the whole county. That is why further education colleges are crucial to the infrastructure of all our constituencies. I agree totally with that.

My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. I commend him for securing the debate. There could not be a greater champion for this sector than our right hon. Friend the Minister. Our job is to give her strength to go forward to the Treasury to secure the funding, and it is great that so many of us will be on the record giving her that strength. On the point about more funding to secure better wages, Truro and Penwith College is outstanding and deemed to be so by Ofsted, yet it has not been able to give its staff a pay rise for eight years, which of course is making it difficult for the college to recruit and retain staff.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think we can all agree that it is time that core funding allowed for a decent increase in salaries for staff.

My hon. Friend is exhibiting, if I may say so, an almost ministerial skill in handling interventions today. He was touching on geography. The FE college in my constituency is the only location for sixth-form and technical training within a 20-mile radius. Does he agree that if pressure is placed on isolated, rural FE colleges, we may well find ourselves in a situation in which no such provision is available in parts of the country, which would not be acceptable?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The crucial point, as he implies, is that, in effect, his local college, like so many of our colleges, has a monopoly. If things were to go badly wrong, who else would provide what it does? Who would provide those opportunities for young people? My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) was reaching for an intervention.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He is right to highlight the importance of wider education funding, which has seen increases. However, York College, in my constituency, tells me that the big problem it faces is that while school sixth forms can cross-subsidise, colleges cannot. Does he feel that that issue affects all colleges?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a significant issue, as is the issue of A-levels for those who went to schools without a sixth form, for whom further education is really important. I know that my co-conspirator, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe, will come on to that point.

My hon. Friend deserves huge praise for bringing this debate to the House. The Minister also deserves huge praise, and I know she is listening and believes a great deal of what we are saying. In Taunton we have an outstanding sixth-form college, Richard Huish College, and an excellent university centre. However, those institutions tell me that, by 2021, they need at least £760 more per student to deliver the apprenticeship scheme, which delivers for business. Does he agree that we want to retain those students locally, because they have the skills we need for the future, and to deliver minority subjects, such as languages?

I absolutely agree. The Minister, who is a former apprentice herself, is a huge champion for that, along with colleagues from across the House.

The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time. Related to the suppression of pay in the sector is a casualisation of contracts, which are being put out to subsidiary businesses within college groups, and that has an impact on the morale and pay of staff. Next Monday and Tuesday there will be strikes at Warwickshire College Group in my area. That is not what students need, and the sector does not need it either.

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question. He is absolutely right that that is not what students need, and I am not sure that it is what colleges really need at the moment. Perhaps the Minister will touch on that.

We are looking for more funding, which is needed to ensure that good staff are hired and retained. Unused space needs to be used. Interestingly, around a third of the space in the nation’s further education colleges is currently unused, so there is a capacity opportunity, which could provide more space for more students to get those key skills.

We need more quality apprentices to be hired and trained. We all have stories from our respective constituencies about the importance of that. Colleges can make a huge difference in terms of the life opportunities apprenticeships offer. The key output from that will be a leap in business productivity, which we know is one of our country’s big, outstanding challenges.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as well as funding for students, colleges face challenges with apprenticeships and, in particular, with the new non-levy apprenticeship scheme, of which the Minister is well aware? In my area, the Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group has no funding for 18-plus, non-levy adult apprenticeships, and only enough funding until the end of September for 16 to 18-year-olds.

The apprenticeship levy is an issue in itself, which I do not intend to address today, because it is slightly peripheral to what we can achieve in an hour and a half on the overall situation for further education colleges. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are ongoing issues, which I know the skills Minister is doing her best to tackle, and I am grateful to him for raising them.

More funding can achieve results in a couple of slightly softer areas, which are worth mentioning. The challenge around mental health is not unique to further education but exists across the education sector. There is no doubt about it: young students in general are facing more challenges than in the past. Funding to ensure that they get the support they need while at college is incredibly important and should increase their resilience and contribute to better results and opportunities. It is worth adding that to the checklist of things that could be achieved through more funding.

Lastly, at the soft end of what could be done, there is a range of enrichment activities, particularly for students aged 16 to 18, where colleges have opportunities to demonstrate that they can compete with other, better funded institutions.

Before I turn to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who is from the engineering sector and a great advocate for it, I will just touch on a few general facts, which it is useful for us to bear in mind. There are 266 colleges in England—almost one college for every two constituencies. They educate the majority of 16 to 18-year-olds and 2.2 million other young people and adults. On average, there are 1,200 apprenticeships in every further education college. Students who are over 19 generate an additional £70 billion for the economy over their lifetime.

I will just make a bit of progress, then I will come to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and then the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss).

The average pay for a college teacher—a number of colleagues have mentioned salaries as an issue—is £30,000, compared to £37,000 for a school teacher. I find that a particularly interesting statistic because it implies that we put a lower value on further education teachers than school teachers, which cannot be right. It is also worth highlighting that in 2017 alone the turnover rate in further education was 17%—almost one in five—which is higher than the rate in schools. As a result of funding issues, 63% of colleges have been making compulsory redundancies. If this was a business, we would have to assume that it was in decline. I think we would all say that it is time that we halted and reversed that process.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the devastating impact that lack of funding for further education is having, particularly on young people. Colleges such as Newcastle College in my constituency are doing great work in really difficult circumstances. Does he agree that adult education and lifelong learning, such as that delivered by the Workers’ Educational Association in hard-to-reach communities in Newcastle—which has also been severely cut and is likely to be cut more in the future—provides the kind of opportunities that we need, particularly for productivity in the fourth industrial revolution, as jobs change in the future?

The short answer is that I agree. Qualifications for workers in key sectors have dropped. Qualifications for construction workers have dropped from 98,000 to 62,000. For engineers, the sector from which the hon. Lady comes, including plumbers and electricians, the figure has dropped from 145,000 to 46,000. That is a huge drop in a relatively short space of time, precisely at the moment when we need more engineers in this country, to take forward our technology revolution.

My hon. Friend highlights precisely the relevant point, namely that at the very moment when we should be looking at vocational skills in our economy, we are squeezing funding in that area. This is critical to where our country is heading in the next 10 to 20 years.

I do apologise—I will come to the hon. Lady in one second. Some statistics, which the Minister is well aware of, suggest that on a national basis we are in the bottom quartile for the numbers of higher apprenticeships, which are the ones that include the greatest numbers of skills and will drive forward our technology businesses. At the same time—the hon. Member for Scunthorpe may touch on this—it is worth remembering that the entry qualifications, levels 2 and 3, play a very important role in getting some of our youngest and least-skilled constituents on to the ladder of opportunity, so we need support at both ends.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I applaud the work of Sheffield College in my constituency during these difficult times. Does he agree that we are taking away a vital support system for many in our working-class communities, and that we will rob them of vital opportunities for the future, unless we change now, and start giving further education colleges the support that they need and individuals the community support that they need to realise their potential?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s general point that it is incredibly important to give our young people maximum opportunities. Everyone has highlighted the role of further education colleges in that.

I will make a tiny bit of progress. I am conscious that a lot of hon. Members want to speak, so I will try to reach the end of my comments and bring the hon. Lady in before I finish.

It would be wrong of me not to mention the importance of Gloucestershire College—Gloscol—in my county of Gloucestershire, which I have known well for the last decade. The management have done their best to try to use resources to maximum effect and give our young people the opportunities that we are looking at across the country. Its 1,000 full and part-time staff serve some 3,500 students across the three campuses in Gloucester, Cheltenham and the Forest of Dean. It is clear, however, that even such a college, which has been rated good for the last three and a half years, is struggling to maintain the range of qualifications that my colleagues in Gloucestershire and I want it to provide.

I will not touch on South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, because the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) will want to, but I suspect that he will mention some similar issues. I also pay tribute to my fellow campaigner in Stroud, Siobhan Baillie, who has visited the college twice recently and has highlighted some of the issues that it faces, including—as is true for all colleges—the teachers’ pension increases that cost it £1 million a year. I hope that the Minister will comment on those pension costs, which are a real issue for many colleges across the country; she has spoken about them before.

I have one brief sentence. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about young people, but colleges support older people and people of all ages as well. I left a grammar school with two O-levels, then went to college, got my A-levels and trained as a nurse—aged 39. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, as shown by the warmth of approval purring through the Chamber. She is a fantastic example of what a further education college can achieve; perhaps we should have a colleges alumni group in Parliament.

Some of the comments that the Association of Colleges and other royal societies have fed in to me confirm the general picture that I and other hon. Members have painted so far, which is that we need more funding for teachers’ pay; more help to ensure that the range of subjects continues to increase rather than decrease; and more young people to get decent results in English and maths at A-level. We also need to tackle the shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths skills, which are vital for our country’s future, as several hon. Members have mentioned.

I will finish by alluding to a remarkable bundle of statistics. There are 171,000 16 to 18-year-olds doing A-levels in further education colleges—a huge army of young people who deserve to be taught well and given the resources they need—and 672,000 students taking STEM subjects in colleges, who also deserve the best teachers available from a sector where salaries are getting higher all the time.

For all the reasons mentioned, I hope that the debate encourages the skills Minister on her chosen path, which is to be the champion of further education colleges. I also hope it will ensure that, in this spending review and Budget, further education colleges finally get the increase in funding that they deserve, so that they can ultimately improve opportunities and productivity, and be the success that we all want them to be in our constituencies.

Order. A large number of hon. Members wish to participate. I could impose a time limit of two minutes, but I do not think that is realistic, so I will impose a time limit of three minutes. Please bear in mind that each intervention adds a minute, so it is entirely up to hon. Members whether they allow other hon. Members the chance to speak at the end of the debate. I urge hon. Members to be as courteous and forbearing as they can.

Exceptionally, to facilitate the debate, I will give the batting order now. Those at the end may choose to intervene, on the almost-certain understanding that they will not get called, because I suspect that the time limit I am imposing will not be realistic—I appreciate that I am taking time myself. From the Opposition Benches, I shall call Daniel Zeichner, Paul Blomfield, Emma Reynolds, Liz McInnes, Mrs Sharon Hodgson, Luke Pollard, Jim Shannon, Marsha De Cordova, Derek Twigg, Dr David Drew, Rachael Maskell, Holly Lynch, Karen Lee, Gill Furniss, and—first, as one of the co-sponsors of the debate—Nic Dakin. From the Government Benches, I shall call Andrew Selous, Will Quince, Sir David Evennett, Giles Watling, Martin Vickers, Peter Aldous, Andrew Lewer and Derek Thomas.

I am afraid that those who are attending the debate who are not on that list and have not put in to speak will not stand a chance of getting called. I hope that is helpful. Moving swiftly forward, I call Nic Dakin.

Thank you, Sir Roger; I shall rattle through my speech. I thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for clearly setting out the case for colleges, which is echoed by the big number of hon. Members attending the debate. I hope that the Government are listening.

Colleges provide a bridge between education and the world of work, help industry to find solutions, and secure real work contexts and experiences for students. In small towns such as Scunthorpe, they are significant engines of enterprise and social mobility. North Lindsey College is showing great leadership by opening its new university centre as part of the drive to build higher level skills locally. John Leggott College celebrates 50 years of Ofsted recognising its pastoral support as outstanding.

Success does not guarantee future success, however. North Lindsey embraced the Government’s apprenticeship agenda and achieved growth of more than 30% against a backdrop of a national decline in starts. However, due to problems with the levy, non-levy-paying companies may not be able to provide apprenticeships for young people, which might be restricted as caps take effect. I would appreciate it if the Minister commented on that.

There has been a 22% decline in core funding since 2010-11. The average funding per student for 16 to 18-year-olds is 15% lower than for 11 to 16-year-olds and about half the average university tuition fee. Some 51% of colleges and schools have dropped courses in modern foreign languages; 38% have dropped STEM courses; 78% have reduced student support services; and 81% are teaching students in larger classes.

It is high time to raise the core rate, which has remained frozen at £4,000 per student per year since 2013-14. Recent research by London Economics found that £760 per student was the minimum amount of additional funding required so that there can be student support services where they are needed, protection for minority subjects and an increase in time for students. Raising the rate would benefit 1.1 million young people and the economy. The decline needs to be reversed now. Stabilising the core element of college funding would be a clear commitment to not only 16 to 18-year-olds, but colleges and their pivotal role in communities.

More than ever, as we contemplate life outside the EU, 16 to 18-year-olds are our future—this country’s future—and they deserve to be backed by all of us across this House and by our Government. It is high time to raise the roof, shout out for our young people’s future and raise the rate—that means the proper rate, not bits and bobs around T-levels, a larger programme uplift and maths levels. Those things are valuable and useful, but raising the rate is about the core funding that will make a core difference by transforming the lives of 16 to 18-year-olds and transforming the country.

I am very proud to have Central Bedfordshire College in my constituency. It is a multi-campus college, with sites in Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, which are three of my towns. Of course, having a multi-campus college means that there are additional expenses.

For me, this issue is one of fairness. Every stage of education is important; none of us in Westminster Hall today has come here to do down our schools or the excellent work that universities do. We all want schools and universities to be well funded. However, the way that colleges have been treated in comparison with schools and universities is simply not fair.

How can it be acceptable that college teachers are paid on average less than 80% of the rate of school staff? We know that we have critical shortages of college teachers in engineering, maths and other critical subjects. We also know that the recent pay rise given to school staff of up to 3.5% was not given to further education. Again, that is simply not fair. We must stand up against it, because our colleges and their staff do brilliant jobs.

The second issue I will raise is the problem that this country has with productivity. The UK ranks poorly in terms of skills comparisons. The UK is in the bottom quartile of the OECD for level 4 and level 5 technical skills. Our colleges are the means of doing something about that. Productivity has been an issue in the UK economy for a very long time indeed, and it is our colleges that will be the answer.

It should also shame us as a country that, according to a report from the Centre for Social Justice, 85% of people who start their working lives in an entry-level job will finish their lives in an entry-level job. That is an appalling statistic, showing that only 15% of people escape and move on.

Our colleges are great poverty-busting institutions. They are the means by which we have the high skills that lead to higher pay and help people escape poverty. That is why further education is essential. We want our colleges to offer more. We want them to be open in the evenings and at weekends, so that people in those entry-level jobs can upskill while they work, in order to progress, to get higher pay and to put food on the table for their families and look after them. That is why this debate is so important.

Recently, Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, spoke at Cambridge Regional College and said that further education colleges have “politically been neglected”, which has led to their historic underfunding. I think that theme will come through in many of the contributions this morning.

I represent an education city, but I see it as my business to speak up just as much for the further education sector as for the famous universities for which Cambridge is known.

When I spoke recently to the director of Cambridge Regional College, Mark Robertson, he detailed many of the funding issues that have been raised this morning. I asked what it would take for him to really make a difference. He smiled ruefully at me and said, “Even a 5% uplift would be absolutely game-changing.” It seems to me that it is important to get that across today: colleges are not asking for a revolutionary change regarding their settlement; they are asking for a relatively small reversal of the damage that has been done over the last decade.

The situation is particularly difficult in areas such as mine, where staff face very high housing costs, there is a lot of churn and a lot of people cannot afford to live and work there. Cambridge is an expensive city and if we compare the pay with that in some schools, we see that colleges are working at a systemic disadvantage.

One key issue is that students are being put through maths and English retakes consistently. I am told by staff that the retakes are very, very difficult. It is very hard to teach people who really do not want to be there and who are almost being set up to fail. I hope that the Minister will consider revisiting that issue, because frankly there are other ways of assessing whether people have the appropriate skills to take them forward. From what I hear, it seems that the retakes process is proving counterproductive. When I speak to Pete Mulligan, a local University and College Union representative, he says that it is really difficult for FE staff who can see ways of taking people forward when those people are being forced down a very narrow route.

I will not repeat the figures that we have heard this morning, but I suspect that the strong message to the Minister from both sides of the Chamber today will be that as we come to the spending review, particularly in the light of the skills challenges around our changing relationship with the European Union, it is really important that we get this matter right. Obviously, there will be an argument about funding and the comprehensive spending review, but the fact there are so many Members here this morning—I have counted at least 20 Members on each side of the Chamber—sends a strong message to the Government that the situation needs to change.

Further education is the crucial but sometimes forgotten link between secondary schools and universities; it is very much the Cinderella service. It can pave the way for an excellent university career or provide the opportunity to learn the vocational skills required to enter a competitive professional field, and is just as important as secondary or higher education. We cannot afford to neglect further education and we must correct the disparity in funding.

As many colleagues have said, the national funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds has remained frozen since 2013-14, yet we know that, as with our schools, the cost pressures on our colleges are considerable. If we do not address that, there will be a huge issue—it has already been growing year on year.

Despite that, our schools and colleges have been doing an excellent job with the resources they have. Two colleges in my constituency, Colchester Sixth Form College and Colchester Institute, are both bucking the trend. In my constituency, A-level attainment is far above the national average, which is remarkable. Huge credit deserves to go to the teachers, staff and leaders who work within our schools and colleges. However, we cannot expect this success to continue if we do not take action to address the rising costs faced by schools and colleges, and their underfunding.

Those rising costs are having an impact: 51% of colleges and schools have dropped courses in modern foreign languages; 38% have dropped STEM courses, which we know we so desperately need; and 78% have reduced student support services or extracurricular activities, with significant cuts to mental health services.

A problem that I find in my constituency is that there is a disconnect between the jobs being generated by the economy and the ability of our education sector to provide the right skills for those jobs. Havering Sixth Form College, which is in my constituency, plays a key role in that process. For instance, going down the nursing associate route will be critical for our public sector. Trying to get that match between the public sector, the economy and our education sector is critical, which is why this debate is so important.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is our colleges that are working closely with industry to ensure that our future workforce have the skills and competence that are needed to thrive and develop careers within those sectors. It is important that we keep that link alive.

As Members have mentioned, the Raise the Rate campaign is calling for the frozen national funding rate for FE students to be increased to at least £4,760 per student, to bring it closer to the level spent on 11 to 16-year-olds, which is some £5,341 per student.

I will conclude by saying that if we believe in social mobility and equality of opportunity, the heart of that process is within our education system. It is imperative that we invest in our people. I know that the Minister cares passionately about this issue. One of the frustrations with debates such as this is that we make the arguments to Education Ministers who know the arguments well and are well-versed in them. Therefore, this is really a message to the Treasury, and we say loudly and clearly, on a cross-party basis, that we need more money for our education budget and, in particular, for the Cinderella service that is further education.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on students and we provide a voice for students in both further education and higher education. In this place, we spend a lot of time talking—rightly—about higher education, but not enough talking about further education. I therefore congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing the debate and on the work that he does with my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). It is a real pleasure to see so many colleagues attending this debate; I am sure that it will send, through the Minister, a powerful message back to the Treasury.

I will keep my remarks brief. It is a delight to be able to scribble out many of the comments that I was going to make because so many other Members want to contribute to the debate.

I will briefly make a couple of points about Sheffield College, which provides a great education for 17,000 students from entry level to level six, across 25 subject areas. Crucially, 53% of its students come from disadvantaged postcode areas, including 75% of its BME students. Half of its 16 to 18-year-olds receive financial support from the college, because they come from low-income households.

When the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) made her first speech as Prime Minister—that seems like a very long time ago—she said that her Government

“will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”

That is exactly the mission of Sheffield College and of the FE sector. Our college has strong leadership. It is ambitious for its students and in its mission to enable social mobility, and it is committed to upskilling, retraining and developing the skills of adults across the city.

Ahead of today’s debate, I asked the college what it needed to fulfil its role, and there were four asks. The first was that within the wider debate on education funding, 16 to 18-year-olds are recognised as a priority. College funding has fallen by 30% over the past 10 years, and that must change. Secondly, it asked that additional funding be made available for adult students. Continuing on from previous cuts, the college’s indicative adult budget—

The hon. Lady is exactly right, so it is disappointing that we see consistent cuts in the adult budget. In the year ahead, Sheffield College faces a further £120,000 of cuts, even though it is best placed to meet the needs of both individuals and the local economy.

The third ask is for funding to enable the college to recruit competitively. It is simply wrong that the average FE teacher’s pay is £7,000 less than that of a schoolteacher. The Government refuse to underpin FE pay awards in the way they do for schools. That is not fair to staff and it makes it difficult to recruit, often in key vocational areas.

Fourthly, the college asks for funding in capital investment. Our college has good buildings, but it struggles to maintain up-to-date learning resources, particularly in expensive areas such as engineering. The college wants to ensure that all students experience real work environments wherever possible, but in too many areas resources are not up to industry standards.

Finally, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on students and as someone who is committed to student wellbeing and conscious of the challenges of mental health in our schools, FE colleges and universities, I would add that colleges have not had the necessary resources to provide the support that FE students need. I hope that the Minister will make the argument to the Treasury for redressing the underfunding of recent years and ensure that our colleges have the funding they need to make the real difference that they seek to provide for students.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing this debate on such an important topic. We have heard powerful arguments on further education funding, which I myself will come to shortly, but we should first take a moment to recognise the real achievements we have seen in further education in the past few years.

All Members here today will have some fantastic colleges and sixth forms in their area. In Bexley, we are fortunate to have a campus of London South East Colleges, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills visited last year. She toured the campus, met students, apprentices and tutors and observed a number of lessons and activities. The college appreciated the visit, as it enabled it to showcase the outstanding work done by students, the facilities, and the plans to help upskill people in our area.

Much has been said about the financial challenges that further education establishments face. Although further education seems to be the poor relation of secondary and higher education, we must not forget that in the “Further education and skills inspections as at 31 August 2018: main findings” document, 81% of the 1,040 providers inspected were judged good or outstanding. We should praise lecturers in particular; I want to praise mine in London South East Colleges. They should be valued more, and it is really disappointing that they are not paid at the same level as teachers.

We need to realise that these colleges are the engines of our future economic success. They provide the young people we will need, when we leave the European Union, for the future of our economy, and the opportunities for our country to thrive in the global world.

We need to address the T-levels that are coming in, which we welcome. The £500 million investment, however, will not fully materialise until 2023 and, when it does, the majority of students will still be doing academic or applied general qualifications.

We need to ensure that further education establishments provide opportunities for older, as well as for young, people, and for social mobility. In my view, social mobility is absolutely key to the future of our country, and FE is the engine that can deliver it.

Time is short. There are so many more issues I would like to raise, but I will not repeat what colleagues on both sides have said. We hope that the debate will give more ammunition to my right hon. Friend the Minister in her campaign with the Treasury, to ensure that we get the extra funding we need for the FE sector. Education funding at all levels should, of course, be seen as a necessary investment for our country and should be increased, but FE colleges in particular should be a priority.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) not only on his eloquent speech but on taking so many interventions. I also congratulate every Member who is here, because their presence sends out a strong signal, not only to the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who we know gets the message, but to the Treasury. I hope that the televisions in the Treasury are blaring away with Westminster Hall on the screens, because it is the Treasury that needs to get the message. That is why a cross-party consensus is so important. We are all essentially saying the same thing—that further education has been overlooked and needs sustainable, long-term funding.

We are lucky enough in the Black Country to have some fantastic colleges, including City of Wolverhampton College. It is a place that is close to my heart because I studied my Spanish A-level there alongside those I studied at school. The college provides vital educational opportunities to both young people and adults. It offers more than 300 vocational and academic qualifications to 4,500 students, covering a wide range of full and part-time courses, including a well-regarded journalism course. It also has some fantastic, but expensive to maintain, facilities that enable people to train in the trades, such as plumbing.

Many of the facts and figures have been covered by colleagues, but it is worth saying that the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently said that further education was the “biggest” loser in cuts to education. It simply cannot be right that funding per pupil for 16 and 17-year-olds has been frozen at £4,000 since 2014 and £3,300 for 18-year-olds, or that lecturers are paid about £7,000 less than teachers. It is not about just the money or the statistics; it is about what we value as a society and what our objectives are. If we are serious about tackling inequality and about ensuring that our young people, and adults who have perhaps missed out on opportunities at school, fulfil their potential, we need to do something about the situation.

In Sheffield, we have a tale of two cities. The difference in life expectancy between the east and west is 10 years. One of the biggest differences is that in the east we have little access to schools with sixth forms, so FE is a really important unlocker for social mobility. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is fundamentally a class issue?

Indeed. If we are serious about social mobility, we must fund further education better. More broadly, if as a society and as an economy we are serious about attracting more investment into the UK and competing in the world and, crucially—the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Gloucester mentioned this—if we are serious about tackling low productivity, we cannot do anything about those things unless we invest in the skills of our young people and adults. We know that we have a problem with that in the UK; it is not a new problem. It is pretty clear to everyone here that we need sustained increases in funding for colleges, and the Raise the Rate campaign will, I hope, ultimately be successful.

The colleges have done a good job in raising the problem. Often in education debates, we focus purely on the early years, which are very important, and on primary and secondary and then university education, and further education is overlooked. That is why today’s debate is critical.

I say again that I hope the TVs in the Treasury are switched on to Westminster Hall this morning. I thank the Minister for her advocacy. This is not just the right thing morally; increasing and sustaining further education funding is the right thing to do for the prosperity of our country.

Thank you for putting me on the list, Sir Roger. It is lovely to be in a Chamber in which, for once, everybody is largely agreeing with each other. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on having introduced today’s debate, and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on the cross-party campaign to get this issue on the agenda ahead of the spending review. Even in these uncertain times, we must continue to fight for causes that we believe in. This is one I believe in, because I had something to do with further education many years ago before I went off into the realms of drama—come to think of it, I am back there now.

I will focus on the much-welcomed introduction of T-levels, which provide a multi-faceted and practical approach to education and prepare students for the needs of industry. Successful delivery of T-levels requires teaching staff with specialist industry expertise, up-to-date equipment, and smaller class sizes, all of which require more funding. For T-levels to be viable, the Association of Colleges believes that we need to introduce a base rate of £1,000 per student as a minimum. We need to get those T-levels right, as they provide the knowledge and experience needed to open the door into skilled employment. Such a potentially transformative scheme cannot be delivered on the cheap: a higher level of investment must be maintained.

Yesterday, a group of us met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to urge that FE college funding be increased in the upcoming spending review. Petroc College in North Devon is eager to get on with delivering the T-levels, exactly as my hon. Friend has mentioned. Does he agree that that is a vital thing to do?

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is exactly what we are here to do, and judging by the comments from around the Chamber, I think that everybody else agrees with him as well.

I want this scheme to be a success, because I am sure that it would be particularly popular in my Clacton constituency. My area of Clacton lags behind the average in Essex and the national average for the number of members of the workforce without any qualification at all, which is why I encourage the Government to invest more in adult education. In fact, the only area in which we in Clacton beat the national average is the number of people who are economically active but have no qualifications; they make up nearly 10% of our workforce. I know from my conversations on the doorstep that people in Clacton have a real appetite for further education, and we have a great facility in Adult Community Learning Essex. I encourage the Government to take investment in adult learning seriously. It will pay great dividends in many areas, especially those such as Clacton, where many small and medium-sized enterprises are crying out for a skilled workforce.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and I thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for securing this important debate. I have in my constituency Hopwood Hall College, a further education college that is in the top 10% in England for level 3 progress and has the highest achievement rate for vocational level 2 in Greater Manchester. That college is rooted in our local community, and is crucial to driving social mobility and providing the skills needed to boost our local and regional economy. My partner taught art and design at Hopwood Hall before he retired. I mention that because, later in my short speech, I will refer to his experience of teaching young people.

Many young people in my constituency also choose to study at sixth-form college. In my neighbouring constituency of Rochdale, we have Rochdale Sixth Form College, which in January this year was named the highest-ranked sixth form college in the UK for value-added performance for the fifth year running. However, although my local FE institutions enjoy success, both have expressed to me their concerns about funding issues and their long-term sustainability. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted the shocking cuts to 16 to 18-year-old and adult education over the past decade. It has stated:

“Funding per student aged 16–18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education for young people in recent years.”

Those funding cuts are affecting the sustainability and quality of FE provision, with colleges having to deal with an average cut of 30% while costs have increased dramatically.

Research from the House of Commons Library shows that when the educational maintenance allowance for 16 to 19-year-olds was scrapped by the coalition Government and replaced with a bursary scheme, expenditure through that scheme was only about a third of the expenditure on EMAs. When that happened, my partner was still teaching, and I remember him telling me that students were forced to drop out of his course simply because they could no longer afford the bus fare to get to college. The scrapping of the EMA scheme was a cruel blow to the most disadvantaged students and their efforts to access an education, and a Labour Government would reinstate that scheme, which has been proven to support retention of students in education.

Clearly, something has to change; this situation is just not sustainable. The solution, as many Members have already said, is to raise the national funding rate for 16 to 18-year-olds. It makes sense to do so, as there is little point in investing in pre-16 and higher education if the pivotal stage in the middle is overlooked.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on his efforts to secure this debate.

We all know that Governments over the past 10 years or so have had to make some difficult financial decisions, but the FE sector has perhaps suffered more than others, and certainly more than is desirable. In places such as my constituency and the neighbouring town of Grimsby, which have suffered a significant decline over the past 30 or 40 years following the loss of their core industry, too many of our young people have been lacking a vision of the opportunities that lie ahead. FE colleges have done considerable work in building that vision; indeed, the principal at Franklin College in Grimsby said to me that his students

“go on to contribute to the town, region and country”.

Does my hon. Friend agree that colleges play a vital role in the community, not just through education but through a far wider range of activities, as mine in Stafford—a member of the Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group—does?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Colleges have given young people in the Cleethorpes area the opportunity to gain vision and ambition, and have helped to retain those young people in the local area once they have qualified, which is particularly important.

In the short time I have, I will mention some of the other points that the principals at my two colleges have drawn to my attention. They have, of course, highlighted the fact that, over the past 10 years, there has been a 30% funding cut in FE colleges. The principal at Franklin College pointed out that, to start off with, that actually helped, inasmuch as principals recognised there were economies to be made and efficiencies that could be gained.

One important point both principals have drawn to my attention is that FE students in this country get 14 or 15 hours’ tuition per week on average, compared with 26 hours in Canada, 27 in Singapore and 30 in Shanghai. We are in a competitive situation, and we need to train our young people to go out and get the qualifications that enable them to compete for jobs in what is, whether we like it or not, a global economy.

The Minister can see from the number of Members who have turned up how strongly feelings on this issue run across parties. I urge her to take these points away. We will give her our full support in her battles with the Treasury.

I thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for having secured this important debate. I pay tribute to all the local colleges in the north-east and especially Sunderland College—I regularly meet its representatives, who do such a great job with ever-decreasing budgets.

Between 2010-11 and 2017-18, spending on further education and skills fell by £3.3 billion in real terms. At the same time, employers are reporting another rise in the number of vacancies they are facing as a result of skills shortages. To bridge the skills gap, further education needs investment. However, over the past 10 years colleges have had to deal with an average funding cut of 30%, while at the same time costs have risen dramatically. Funding for adult education has been cut by 62% since 2010.

I am fortunate to have a good college, Riverside College, in my constituency. However, one thing that concerns me about the cuts and the impact of the funding problems with colleges is that adult education, which my hon. Friend just touched on, is a second chance for many people who may not have done well at school. They have another opportunity through further education to do better. We need more support for that.

Absolutely. In the past 10 years, we have seen enrolments for adult education drop from 5.1 million to 1.9 million. Funding for students aged 16 to 18 has also been cut by 8% in real terms since 2010. The current base for 16-to-18 education is just £4,000 a year, as it has been since 2013, with no increase.

One simple thing that could be done today would be to fund 18-year-olds at the same rate as 17-year-olds. It is absolutely wrong that they get less funding than children a year younger than them. Does my hon. Friend agree?

I absolutely agree. We also found that the budget did not increase when education became compulsory until 18. It just does not reflect the current cost of high-quality courses, including the new T-levels, as we heard from a Government Member.

I do not know whether the Minister wrote to everyone, but I got a letter from her last week, in which she said:

“A strong FE sector is essential to ensuring everyone in our society, whatever their background, has the opportunity to succeed…At its core this means colleges need strong leadership and must be financially sustainable and resilient, so that they can invest in learning and respond to changing demands.”

Given that acknowledgement from the Minister that FE must be financially sustainable and resilient, can she please justify her Department’s constant budget-slashing of FE?

As we all know, education is the key to a bright future. We must ensure that everyone, no matter their age, has the opportunity to learn and develop new skills. The only way we can achieve that is for the Government to invest. I hope they are listening, and I hope the Treasury is watching, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) said. People in Sunderland and across the country deserve better than the current funding model.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on their leadership and on securing the debate.

Putting the funding of further education on a sustainable, financially secure and long-term footing is vital for those young people who will reap the dividends, for those communities in which colleges are based and for the greater benefit of UK plc. Without that investment, social mobility will decline still further and the productivity gap will widen to a chasm.

In Waveney, East Coast College, which includes Lowestoft Sixth Form College, provides an important bridge from the classroom to university and the workplace. In a coastal town where there has been economic decline, they are the cornerstone on which we can rebuild the economy and give young people the opportunity to realise their full potential.

The case for better funding of further education is strong. It will improve social mobility, particularly in those parts of the country where people have often been left behind. It is a vital stepping stone from the classroom to the workplace.

I will carry on, if that is okay.

We are on the cusp of technological change and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, and we are transitioning to a low-carbon economy. FE has a vital role to play in that by providing the skilled workforce that the UK needs to be a global leader. In Lowestoft, the energy skills centre is being built at East Coast College. It will provide students with the skills required for exciting, well-paid jobs in the fast-emerging offshore wind sector.

FE also better prepares students for university. The University of Suffolk has come a long way in a short time. It works closely with FE colleges across the county. A properly funded FE sector is vital if the early success is to continue to be built on.

The T-level initiative is welcome, but to be a success it needs to be properly funded. In towns such as Lowestoft, the college is an important component part of the local community and civic society.

I have got to the end without mentioning the “B” word, but I will do so now. Whatever happens with Brexit, there is no getting away from the fact that the British economy is competing in a global market. Our people are the engine of our success. At present, due to a poorly funded FE sector, we are stuttering along in third gear. It is time to fill the tank—or, should I say, charge the battery—so that we are running in top gear.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank my fellow west country MP, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), for bringing forward this timely debate.

City College Plymouth has been on something of a rollercoaster ride in recent years. The college went into financial crisis last autumn, with a series of changes in principal. The current interim principal, Penny Wycherley, has been outstanding in steadying the ship and getting ready for her successor to start this year, but we need to acknowledge that the college is in financial crisis, and that is for a number of reasons.

First, the cuts to the FE budget have reduced the overall amount of money that the college has to spend. Changes in the way that funding is allocated have disproportionately hurt many colleges in the far south-west. The college has taken on huge financial capital liabilities in building the rather brilliant new STEM hub in Plymouth, which is delivering not only for City College, but for the wider city and the priorities of the local enterprise partnership. That has contributed to an exceptionally high level of recruitment of learners aged 16 to 19, meeting the local skills gap.

My hon. Friend is making an important point about capital expenditure. The previous Labour Government had a Building Colleges for the Future programme, which was cancelled in austerity times. Now, many college estates simply cannot keep pace, including in Chesterfield.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The lack of funding has meant that City College Plymouth has been unable to keep up with many of the repairs on its old building, leading to leaking roofs. It has not been able to replace technology with what it needs and has moved to leasing technology. It now faces financial barriers in moving off leasing to get the latest technology it needs.

Funding has also had a huge impact on college staff, who have not been given a cost of living pay rise or any other pay rise this year. That is not because they are not brilliant—they are exceptional—but because there is simply no money in the coffers for the college to do that. In an economy where the skills FE college staff have are in high demand, that means we are losing talent and skills. In particular, the engineering staff can earn salaries of £10,000 more simply by leaving the college and the jobs they love, and that is not right.

We need colleges like City College Plymouth to be motoring. It is a forward-thinking college. It has just launched its fantastic marine autonomy course, which will equip our young people with the skills they need to work in Plymouth’s world-class marine autonomy sector. Importantly, it will retrain people who work on the more heavy engineering side of the marine industries in the updated skills they need to succeed in a much more integrated digital marine environment.

My hon. Friend is making a passionate case for his local college. I had hoped to do a similar thing for my local college, Calderdale College, but as the clock is ticking down, I am not going to get the opportunity. Calderdale College has been forced to close its outreach centres, cut English for speakers of other languages by 50% and close some adult learning classes completely. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is counter to the social mobility that we all agree is so important?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

The key message I want the Minister to take away is that we are all on her side in her battle with the Treasury. We are all ready, but we must resolve to not just talk a good talk about FE; we have to not vote for cuts to FE, and we have to make clear to Ministers, whether we are on the Government or the Opposition Benches, that we will not support further cuts to FE. An FE lecturer has tweeted me to say that people want:

“A real increase to bridge the gap, not just make it less small.”

It is great to see so much support for this debate, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) secured, and for his letter, even at this time of complete distraction.

I enjoyed and benefited from a traditional and formal further education at a school sixth form, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne. There are still some very good examples of that education in my constituency of Northampton South. My focus today, however, is on FE colleges such as Northampton College and Moulton College, which serve my residents.

As speaking time is extremely short, I will make two quick points. More investment and spending on FE, like other public spending, does not have to mean higher tax rates. It does mean higher tax take, though, and the two are not the same. With a happy circularity, that higher tax take is brought about by higher productivity, which is itself brought about in large measure by better and more relevant skills and training, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said. Clearly, FE is key.

A good measure of the pressure from voters for the B word, as already referenced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), related to migration levels. With a reduction in migration, the need for higher level skills and training is even greater. The incentive for employers to support and demand them is all the more obvious as the need to get more out of scarcer labour and therefore pay people more grows. So it is time for us to ensure that the Government are the fairy godmother for the Cinderella service referenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) to ensure a glittering and glorious educational future for our country.

In Cornwall tomorrow there is a meeting with parents and people with special educational needs because they are being told that their days will go from five days to three. As my hon. Friend says, investing in people for the future is the right to do.

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, which stands in its own right as a very good intervention.

I apologise to Members who have not been called, but I am afraid time has beaten us and I now have to call the Front-Bench speakers.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the Backbench Business Committee on securing this debate today. In the time I have available I cannot do justice to the multitude of speeches made, but Members have shown a sharp eye for details about travel, EMAs, keeping rural and other colleges going, unused space, capacity opportunities, FE in the global market and the drop in level 2 and 3 qualifications.

No, I am not taking any interventions.

It is hugely important that FE is getting the attention it deserves; it is heartening and unprecedented in this year. Members have spent half the Session raising FE funding and raised related issues in recent education questions. The excellent Westminster Hall debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who is in his place, showed that not new challenges, not new issues, but new urgency was required from the Government, given the state of FE funding. The recent statistics from the Love Our Colleges and Raise the Rate campaigns have highlighted that brilliantly.

We know that the statistics are a standing rebuke to the failure of all three Governments in the past decade to fund FE adequately. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that spending and skills fell by £3 billion in real terms between 2010 and 2011. Those needing second and third chances have been hard hit and adult education has seen its budget cut by almost half. According to the Association of Colleges,

“Over the last ten years, colleges have had to deal with an average funding cut of 30%...Further education is the only part of the education budget to have had year-on-year cuts since 2010.”

The skills Minister knows all that and, to her credit, has tried to push her colleagues in Government, the Secretary of State and the Chancellor, on the funding envelope, but so far answer comes there none. This is at a time when the massive uncertainties around Brexit and its future impact on our economy make the role of FE in delivering new hope and skills all the more essential than at any time in the past 20 years.

Despite a unified sector lobby of the Government last autumn on the need for the Government to reverse their damaging cuts, the Chancellor has persistently failed to acknowledge it. In his financial Budget of October 2018 he talked about schools getting little extras, but FE did not even get the crumbs. Both he and the Education Secretary cannot be oblivious to the demands not only of the colleges but of everyone else involved in the world of FE—the training providers who make up 60% to 70% of delivery; the employers who see skills programmes, both highly specific and generic, as essential to their success; and the LEPs, combined authorities and mayors, all of whom see such things as essential to success in the 2020s. As a consequence, the fabric of sustainability for colleges has become fretted and threadbare. Last year, the Department stated that there could be a best-case scenario of 80 colleges at financial risk and a worst-case scenario of 150.

The National Education Union’s briefing states that colleges have suffered from cuts in activities such as tutorials, enrichment activities and additional courses. The Sixth Form Colleges Association has said similar things. Students have progressively had financial support reduced since the education maintenance allowance went, and the bursary fund that replaced it was insufficient. I know that the principal and teachers at the superb Blackpool and The Fylde College are moving qualifications across the piece, and they think action is overdue.

The Government must reassess urgently how they fund their apprenticeship programme. Last week Government stats showed that the apprenticeship starts between August 2018 and January 2019, two years from the levy launch, are still beneath the number of apprenticeship starts for 2016-17. A large part of that is because level 2 apprenticeship starts have fallen by more than a third in the space of a year. It is increasingly apparent that the Government levy is not designed or fit for purpose for SMEs or non-levy payers, as the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and Mark Dawe have consistently argued. We need to have a situation in which non-levy payers can train apprentices for small businesses, as some are having to turn them away.

We have seen apprenticeship figures go up, but the costs go up as well, so we have a Government, as the hon. Member for Gloucester emphasised in his speech, who need to take action at both ends of the cycle. Qualifications at levels 5 to 7 need to work. We need to sustain the fuel for them, but, as we have heard, levy payers and SMEs are starved of cash. The Government will seek to address some of the drops in qualifications through T-levels, but the money will not be seen in full until 2021-22 and we have no idea whether it will be sufficient. If there is a capacity issue, and, as we hope, T-levels take off, what capacity will the colleges have to deliver them if no additional funding is allocated by the Chancellor? Where are the institutions supposed to deliver them? Even more crucially, how will we bring them to fruition in the 2020s? Our concern is that setting T-levels simply as a competitor to A-levels will be counterproductive to their take-up and viability. We have to focus on 16 to 18-year-olds at level 3 standard whose preparation has been largely geared towards taking A-levels. Assuming that that will fly for T-levels is a risky strategy.

The AOC has said that the Government need to have a base rate increase of £1,000 per student as a minimum, so will the Government commit to that? Successful delivery requires teaching staff, as we have heard, with specialist industry expertise, up-to-date equipment and smaller class sizes. Average college pay is £30,000 compared with £37,000 in schools, and it significantly lags behind industry. The University and College Union, nationally and its many excellent campaigns countrywide, has said the same for years. Who will actually teach the T-levels? Existing teachers who have received very little in funding for years for CPD or new teachers?

The UCU spelt out in crisp terms in its submission to MPs for this debate what they ask Chancellor and the Education Secretary to do. Pay has fallen in value by 25% in real terms since 2009. Teachers in FE colleges earn on average £7,000 less than teachers in schools. We hear a lot about red lines these days, but will the Minister commit to a red line for her Department to get that changed? Since 2010, around 24,000 teachers have left the FE sector: a third of the total teaching workforce. What will the Minister do to ensure that colleges can increase the pay of teachers and ensure that we have a qualified workforce to teach T-levels after their introduction?

It is clear from what we have heard today that more and more Members across this House, especially in this Chamber, know that FE is an essential factor in delivering the fair, socially mobile, economic and community strategies that we will need in the 2020s. We in the Labour party, with our new national education service plans and now the launch of our lifelong learning commission, see FE as an essential building block to achieve that process. Progression, progression, progression is stamped through everything that we need to do in this area as through a stick of Blackpool rock. For now and for today, what Members in this House—all of them—require from the Government is something a little more short term and modest. If the Minster wills the ends, she must will the means. She must require from the Government something a little more. We must commit here and now to start to make good on the promises and the rhetoric that have so far not been backed up with the funding that FE needs, particularly from the Treasury. She and the Treasury must hear loud and clear all of the excellent speeches and demands, and praise for their colleges and training providers, that Members have spoken of here today.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), ably abetted by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), on securing this debate, which follows on from our debate on college funding on 21 January. That 45-odd colleagues attended demonstrates the considerable concern across party boundaries about further education funding. I wonder whether that is a record for a Westminster Hall debate—perhaps the Clerks will let us know.

I am grateful. If the Minister looks around the Chamber, she will see many colleagues who represent areas that have not benefited from globalisation. As we move into a skills-based economy, may I urge her, on behalf of the people of Cornwall, to strengthen every sinew when she goes to the Treasury to argue for this money? We are desperate for these skills.

I would love to give way to lots of hon. Members, but time does not allow. I will make some progress.

FE delivers not only high-quality provision for 16 to 19-year-olds but lifelong learning, which was mentioned briefly. As we heard in a moving story from one hon. Member, it gives people chances to learn that they never had as a young person and the opportunity to retrain when their skills become outdated, to gain higher qualifications and to move along the career path. It also provides patient and caring support for those who are struggling to gain basic skills, opportunities for families to learn together and support for parents to help their children, as we all want to help ours. Although further education’s breadth is its strength, that breadth makes it hard to define: it is not school, but it is not university, so we need to articulate a clear vision.

As hon. Members have noted, funding per student has not kept up with costs. For 16 to 19-year-olds, we have protected the base rate of funding at £4,000 until the end of this spending review period, but that has been eroded by inflation. The Association of Colleges and the Raise the Rate campaign’s funding impact survey report have highlighted many of the issues and financial challenges. Reductions in 16-to-19 funding over recent years have partly been due to falling numbers of students; the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in the population has been falling for 10 years. The level is now 10% lower than in 2008-09, which poses difficult challenges for the sector, but it will start to increase again from 2020.

FE colleges are complex institutions that need to manage ebbs and flows in training provision and finance. On average, vocational courses cost more per student than academic programmes, so we provide more funding for most vocational courses for 16 to 19-year-olds through the programme cost weights. Further education institutions therefore actually receive more funding per 16 to 19-year-old student than school sixth forms, but that is purely a reflection of the greater costs.

I think that the thrust of the message from my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester was that we need to do more to help our colleges. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) spoke about the productivity potential of people who attend FE and about fairness. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) spoke about equality of opportunity; I wonder whether he might send a nice YouTube clip of this debate to the Chancellor, who I am sure would find it riveting. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) rightly noted that, despite it all, 81% of colleges are rated as good or outstanding.

Our debates on FE put the case for it front and centre as a driver of social mobility. Bearing in mind the precious little time we have had today, I am sure that the opportunity for part 2 of this debate will come very shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), spoke about T-levels, which will receive an additional £500 million in funding when they are rolled out. In fact, it was in Clacton that I met a woman who said probably one of the most poignant things I have ever heard. She had left school with no qualifications and was a single parent with three children, but she had gone back and done level 2, level 3 and level 4 qualifications. When I met her, she was doing level 5. I asked her why she had done it—what had suddenly inspired her to do it when her children were in their teens? She said, “Because I thought I was worth it.” There is nothing better to hear.

Wages of FE staff are lower than in schools. FE staff are incredibly committed individuals who carry on because of the demonstrable difference that they make to young people’s lives. Further education colleges are independent and set their own wages, but that does not make recruitment and retention any easier.

Differences in life expectancy were briefly mentioned. One of the most significant correlators with poor health is level of education. Better-educated people have better health; I say that as a former public health Minister. The issue needs to be highlighted, and there may be an opportunity to expand this campaign into questions of health—I put that forward as a suggestion, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe will take it on board.

One hon. Member spoke about second chances, and we often talk about third or fourth chances. I have had the privilege of seeing those fourth chances change people’s lives.

I congratulate the Minister and the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on their speeches. One of the great issues in my constituency is mature students who had a family early or who did not have much interest in education at school but pursued an interest in it at a later stage. Further education can give them that opportunity, as it does at South Eastern Regional College in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that mature students need opportunities in the same way that young people do?

Very much so. This is absolutely about those second, third and fourth chances.

My hon. Friends the Members for Winchester (Steve Brine) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), both former superb Ministers, are now putting their weight behind the campaign to raise the profile of FE and highlight just how important it is for the prospects of young and—never let us forget—older people.

I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—keep on meeting her. We also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) and my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer), among many others. They all made excellent contributions.

I hoped to speak in this debate on behalf of Askham Bryan College and York College, two outstanding colleges in York. I urge the Minister to ensure that further education colleges have a fully professional mental health service, because the levels of self-harm, eating disorders and even attempted suicide are way above the national average. Will she respond to that point?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There are younger people, and indeed older people, for whom the school education system has not worked for whatever reason, who probably have a history of failing external examinations and who are often quite vulnerable or have special needs and all the associated problems that go with it.

We are listening to a wide range of feedback from many sources, including hon. Members present, and we are looking at the efficiency and resilience of the FE sector. The post-18 review will take a systematic view of provision and funding across post-18 education. We are also looking at levels 4 and 5, where we know that we need a much wider programme. If I had time, I would love to talk about the national retraining scheme, a partnership between the Government, the TUC and the CBI that we hope to roll out later in the year.

I must say to the shadow Minister that comparing apprenticeships today with apprenticeships before the 2017 reforms is like comparing apples and pears. I know that the apprenticeship system is not perfect, but believe me, in National Apprenticeship Week, I saw the extraordinary progress that has been made in the past year.

I am very aware that there are non-levy employers who are not yet on the apprenticeship service, and I want them to be on it as soon as possible. We are currently at the mercy of procurements and training providers. With procurements it never feels as if we are getting the right answer, but I assure hon. Members that all the levy money is recycled into the apprenticeships system.

I have been to south Devon, Bradford, Uxbridge, Harlow, Gloucester and many other places. Some colleges are thriving and some are struggling, but it is clear to me that they all have a motivation that is rarely seen in any other sector. We have put in £470 million to help colleges to restructure, but until we collectively recognise the added value that FE colleges give us, we will not see the changes in funding that are needed. That is how we give people a chance to turn their lives around and ensure that whatever their background, wherever they come from, whatever their family do and whoever they know, they too can get a great job and a career.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe once again on their campaign, and I know that they will now be joined by many others. For me, they are pushing at an open door. Amid the cries for schools funding and the concerns for universities, FE can get lost. However, if we accept not only the personal gain for individuals but the potential productivity gains for the country, the case to the Chancellor is surely clear. With tin hats on, we continue into battle to make the case for further education.

This debate has been 90 minutes of passionate appreciation of and support for further education colleges. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I also thank the hon. Member for Scunthorpe, who is my co-skipper of the campaign for fairer funding for further education colleges, and all hon. Members who have spoken today for their huge message: “Let’s get the right resources for these national engines of skills, aspiration and social mobility.”

Order. Before we move on, may I thank all hon. Members for the courtesy with which this debate has been handled? In one form or another, all hon. Members who remained in the Chamber and sought to intervene got in—my congratulations.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).