[Relevant document: Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 10 October 2018, on school and college funding, HC 969.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 229744 relating to college funding.
I am moving the motion on behalf of the Petitions Committee. It is a pleasure to serve when you are in the Chair, Mr Walker. I should just say that, formerly, before I came to this place, I worked for Unison, one of the trade unions representing staff in colleges, and I am a member of Unite.
I will read the petition submitted by Charlotte Jones, a student at Brockenhurst College in Hampshire, but first let me congratulate those who have promoted it, including the thousands who lobbied Parliament a few months ago; commend the excellent work done by organisations such as the Association of Colleges, the Sixth Form Colleges Association, the University and College Union and Unison; and congratulate the almost 70,000 people who have signed the petition. It is great to see so many hon. Members in Westminster Hall today. I cannot believe that they are all fleeing the main Chamber, for one reason or another, at the moment. I hope that it is because of their enthusiasm for the subject under discussion here.
The petition is entitled:
“Increase college funding to sustainable levels—all students deserve equality!”
“We call on the Government to urgently increase college funding to sustainable levels, including immediate parity with recently announced increases to schools funding. This will give all students a fair chance, give college staff fair pay and provide the high-quality skills the country needs.
Funding for colleges has been cut by almost 30% from 2009 to 2019. A decade of almost continuous cuts and constant reforms have led to a significant reduction in the resources available for teaching and support for sixth formers in schools and colleges; potentially restricted course choice; fewer adults in learning; pressures on staff pay and workload; a growing population that is not able to acquire the skills the UK needs to secure prosperity post-Brexit.”
I shall start by asking the Minister a simple question: why? Why are 17 and 18-year-olds in colleges and sixth forms worth so much less than younger pupils or university students?
My hon. Friend is starting to make a very strong case about further education. In answer to his question, my belief is that we have a Government who fundamentally do not understand what further education is for. We have a Government full of people who have never experienced the further education sector, which is why they so undermine it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall develop a very similar case in a moment, but I suspect that it goes wider than Government, because I suspect that the Minister and most others who speak today will agree that it is simply shameful that the divide has been allowed to grow. I suspect that the Minister will blame the Treasury, and I have some sympathy for that position, but I guess that others will say that the problem goes deeper. The near invisibility of further education and now, apparently, other colleges to people in this place is not a new phenomenon. Arguably, it is at the heart of our current political problem—a divided country, with too many people left behind and ignored. No wonder the education divide mirrors the EU divide almost exactly. That is why I argue that it is in everyone’s interest—everyone’s—that this huge injustice be tackled.
Let me go into some more detail regarding the petition and then move to discussing the national picture, alongside some examples local to me, and the impact of the current funding squeeze. As I said, the petition calls on the Government
“to urgently increase college funding to sustainable levels”
in order to
“give all students a fair chance, give college staff fair pay and provide the high-quality skills the country needs.”
The petition notes:
“Funding for colleges has been cut by almost 30%”
over the past decade, stretching resources, support and the staff available.
In Hartlepool, we have three excellent 16-plus providers: Hartlepool College of Further Education, Hartlepool Sixth Form College and the English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College. Some of their cuts since 2010 have gone up to 62%. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need urgently to address funding in order to avoid the irreparable damage that that might do to our colleges?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I suspect that we may be going on a regional tour of colleges over the next 25 minutes or so. The picture that my hon. Friend paints is familiar across the country; indeed, it is all too recognisable across the nation. I represent Cambridge, a place that is rightly associated with excellent education and where higher education often dominates the agenda and discourse. Somehow that makes the contrast all the more stark between the focus on higher education policy—and, frankly, the resources—and that which goes to further education. Many of us remember the huge national outrage when tuition fees for university students were introduced and later trebled, but when fees were introduced in further education, where was the outrage? Where were the marches? In my patch, it was just me and a handful of local trade unionists out there talking about it—thanks, Peter Monaghan and others from Cambridge. Some people noticed, but the vast majority did not. Was the matter considered newsworthy? Hardly at all.
I would like to add to the points that my hon. Friend is making. Where was the outrage when the education maintenance allowance was taken away? That seriously affected students in further education, many of whom were unable to afford the bus fare even to get to college and receive an education.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That issue is almost worthy of a whole debate in itself, but the problem is not just the removal of the education maintenance allowance, of course. Where was the outrage in the country about the near collapse in the number of mature and part-time students? People can read about that in the pages of the specialist press; I think that we all know why it does not reach any further.
On that excellent point, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to hear from the Government not about bringing back grammar schools, but about funding night schools? If, indeed, we exit from the European Union, should we not be giving people in our seaside towns, northern industrial areas and parts of London the skills to compete in the economy that we are going to have?
Characteristically, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. Of course, he has been campaigning on these issues very powerfully; I just hope that people are listening.
Let me give some of the numbers. According to the House of Commons Library, in 2010 the average funding allocation was £4,633 per student. The 16 and 17-year-old funding rate has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013-14. The rate for 18-year-olds was cut to £3,300 in 2014-15 and has remained frozen since then. Funding per student aged 16 to 18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education for young people in recent years. By 2019-20, funding per young person in further education will be about the same as it was in 2006-07—only 10% higher than it was 30 years earlier.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the £3.3 billion of cuts in further education since 2010 is utterly devastating and, given the higher proportion of working-class students attending further education colleges—I was one of them—does he agree that this Government are hell-bent on making life a misery for working-class people in this country?
My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the £4,000 rate freeze. He might like to know that, had the rate increased by inflation since 2013, the figure would be almost £4,300 today; that is just if it had kept pace with inflation. For cities such as Stoke-on-Trent, there would have been about £2.5 million more funding for further education. What does my hon. Friend think that we could have done with that money?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. When many of us go into institutions and ask, “What could you have done and what would the difference have been, had you had these resources?” the response is very telling. I am sure that we will hear similar accounts from others. I will come on in a moment to some of the implications of the numbers.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Just to put a positive spin on it for this Government in the beginning, my local college listened to me and it is very pleased about the bus passes for 16 to 18-year-olds. That has made a great deal of difference for its students.
On the point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the finances, the two colleges in my area—the excellent Richard Huish College, which is in the top 10 in the country, and Bridgwater and Taunton College, which also does an excellent job—have both raised concerns about finances. They find that the cuts mean that they cannot offer staff as much as systems outside FE can, and that it is difficult to recruit. Might the hon. Gentleman comment on that? In the light of the fact that schools outside that system got a 3.5% pay award, which is hugely welcome—I know that those teachers welcome it—does he agree that we should look at the FE system and at least bring it into parity?
Strangely enough, I will come on to staffing issues in a moment. I suggest that the hon. Lady addresses those points to her colleagues on the Government Benches, because they are in a position to do something about it. Young people will be even more enamoured with free bus passes for people up to the age of 25.
Spending per student in school sixth forms will be lower than at any point since 2002. Although there are some minor scraps of comfort around funding for meals and certain subjects, and extra hours for T-levels, they do little to address the cuts that we have seen.
The issues are slightly different for sixth-form colleges offering A-levels and further education colleges offering a number of different qualifications, but the problem of cuts is universal. Our friends at the Sixth Form Colleges Association have tirelessly campaigned on that with their “Raise the Rate” campaign, which has attracted the support of many MPs. They are calling for the national funding rate—the rate of funding per student—for 16 to 18-year-olds to be raised to at least £4,760 per student, including 18-year-olds, and for it to be kept in line with inflation year on year.
I am sorry that I cannot stay for the whole debate, but I am chairing a Committee later. The hon. Gentleman may mention it later in his speech, but I wanted to put on record the important matter of special needs funding. Oaklands College in my constituency has 200 pupils with special needs funding, and that puts huge pressure on the college. I am fully aware that there are cutbacks to be made, but sometimes services just have to be provided for people who have particular needs and need to get their life back on track.
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady, and I will come to that point in my speech. I want to turn to some of the effects of this underfunding, which is significant and has damaging consequences in sixth forms. In total, 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages as a result of funding pressures, with A-levels in German, French and Spanish being the main casualties. That would seem to be the wrong way to go, especially when we are talking about global Britain.
Over one third of sixth forms have dropped science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, while two thirds have reduced student support services, such as mental health support, which we know is increasingly required. There are also, in many cases, limited careers advice services, and that also has a damaging effect. Two thirds of schools and colleges have moved from a four-subject offer to a three-subject offer, significantly reducing students’ choice and ultimately narrowing their options after study. For state schools with sixth forms offering post-16 study, the underfunding affects the education of all students, because, as we know, such schools frequently cross-subsidise post-16 education with funding that is meant for 11 to 16-year-olds.
Given that this country, quite rightly, requires its young people to participate in education or training until the age of 18, it seems quite incredible that across all 16 to 19 provision we reduce investment in education so sharply at the age of 16, from £5,341 for a 15-year-old to just £4,000 for a 16-year-old.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the level of cuts is so extreme that very dramatic steps are being taken? Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College is one of the biggest in the country, but it has cut its A-levels completely. It has also cut back on English for speakers of other languages, because funding has not been available. It is now redeveloping its sites to release land, just to keep itself going. How can we plan for the future of FE, when there is so much uncertainty and so little finance available?
As always, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is very difficult for people working in the sector to plan ahead. With years of area reviews, and all the rest of it, it has been a tough time. At the moment, the situation ahead does not look that good.
Further education colleges provide our communities with access to skills across the board. We see even more diverse challenges there. Although, in their response to the petition, the Government acclaimed their commitment to the adult education budget, in reality the initial teaching and learning funding allocations for adult further education and skills in England fell from a baseline of £3.18 billion in 2010 to £2.94 billion in 2015-16—a reduction of 14% in real terms—and more for the non-apprenticeship part of the adult skills budget. Since then, there has been an increase in funding for apprenticeships, but that really cannot make up for the thousands of people across the country who have suffered as a consequence of these cuts, and who want to upskill and reskill, as technology changes our jobs and our lives.
What about those who work in colleges? College staff were mentioned earlier. Staggeringly, college teachers are paid on average £7,000 a year less than those in schools, according to the University and College Union. In conjunction with busier jobs and fewer resources, this is stretching staff to breaking point, as any of us who go into colleges will hear.
On that point, 57 members of staff were recently made redundant at Warrington and Vale Royal College in my constituency when the Northwich campus was closed. It is facing funding pressures of about £4 million as a direct result of this under-resourcing.
My hon. Friend is right and sadly there is a familiar story of not only redundancies, but insecure contracts. The level of morale is really challenging for so many staff. Unison’s head of education, Ruth Levin, pointed out that colleges have faced underfunding, leading to job cuts, course closures and larger class sizes “for many years”. She went on to say:
“Pay in further education has fallen by more than 21% in real terms over the past nine years”.
It is clear that further education colleges have been hit the hardest in recent years, and it is simply not possible to continue down this road of less funding and more demand.
Further education colleges are being asked to implement T-levels, but the T-level system, even though it has not started yet, is already in crisis. The exam boards are taking the Government to court. The colleges are saying that they are unable to cope with the level of funding. Employers are unaware of them. Will that not add to colleges’ burden?
My hon. Friend raises some important points. I guess it will be for the Minister to respond. In a sector that has seen constant change and churn over many years, there is sometimes a yearning for stability.
On that note, the Prime Minister’s review into post-18 education and funding, chaired by Philip Augar, was announced last year and is eagerly awaited—although I guess the Prime Minister might have other things on her mind at the moment.
My hon. Friend is making the point about pay and the impact on recruitment and retention. Does he agree that it is especially acute for specialist areas? Sheffield College has seen significant growth in the delivery of higher apprentices in engineering and manufacturing, but it is really struggling to recruit in those specialisms. It has run four recruitment campaigns, but still finds it almost impossible to recruit. These are areas that are crucial for the future of our economy. We need to ensure that they have full parity of pay, so that we can attract the best and the brightest into this sector.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. I was not aware of that, but I must say that recruitment is a continual problem in high-cost areas such as mine. Given the levels of pay, that is hardly surprising.
Returning to the Augar review, I fear that we will probably have much the same story. I suspect that there will be warm words about further education. However, certainly in terms of the coverage, I expect, yet again, the world’s focus to be on higher education and universities. Important though those things are, I fear that there are unlikely to be real solutions for colleges, but we live in hope—we shall see.
The hon. Gentleman just made an interesting point, but in coastal communities such as the one that I represent, which includes Lowestoft Sixth Form College and East Coast College, colleges are vital for the link from education to the workplace and in improving social mobility. We probably need a change in mind-set in this country with regard to how we fund post-16 education.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Only a few days ago we were discussing that in the east of England all-party parliamentary group. Would it not be wonderful if we could have cross-party consensus on this kind of change?
Even the Further Education Commissioner told the Education Committee that further education funding is “unfair” and “sparse”. I have seen this at Cambridge Regional College, an FE college in my constituency, which I visit regularly. I see the excellent work that staff do with students and apprentices from right across the east of England, but the college remains under-resourced and overstretched.
The principal of Cambridge Regional College, Mark Robertson, told me that
“colleges train 2.2 million people annually, and … further education students aged over 19 generate an additional £70 billion for the economy over their lifetime. However, colleges and schools are facing increased pension costs and colleges have not yet had assurance that this increased cost—of around 2% of all income—will be funded.”
That makes no economic sense to me. With colleges adding such huge value to the economy, why are we hitting them so hard?
A similar situation can be found at the fantastic sixth-form colleges in Cambridge, Hills Road Sixth Form College and Long Road Sixth Form College, and in the sixth-form provision at Parkside Community College and Netherhall School. All the teachers at those colleges and schools tell me the same thing; indeed, I see it for myself week after week when I visit them. There are brilliant, hard-working, energetic young people, but increasingly they feel that the system is stacked against them.
Hills Road Sixth Form College is often cited as one of the best state sixth-form colleges in the country, but staff there have told me about the impact of cuts on their provision. Today, the college has £100,000 less to spend on additional learning support for students who need it than it did in 2010. It has been forced to offer fewer subjects and many students take fewer subjects. The average class size has grown by two students, while per capita student funding has dropped by over £1,000.
Ipswich was very pleased to welcome opportunity area status, which we were granted by the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), to try to improve the not very good social mobility in our area. However, there is no way that we will improve social mobility if we do not have the necessary facilities in place, and in particular the skilled and competent staff to help provide the opportunity for additional social mobility.
My hon. Friend and near neighbour is absolutely right, and that is a key issue for the east of England, which is often seen as a prosperous and successful region, but its skills shortages have been a problem for a long, long time and they need to be addressed.
I will also quote Yolanda Botham, the principal of Long Road Sixth Form College, another excellent college in Cambridge. She tells me:
“The current level of funding has meant for Long Road that we have had to reduce our curriculum offer. We no longer provide A-level German, for example. We have had to reduce the broader opportunities and enrichment opportunities that we can provide, limiting the number of trips and experiences we can offer, which really matter for social mobility. Visits and trips show what’s possible and enable students to see beyond their immediate horizons.”
She says that it is particularly galling to note that
“our private school neighbours, charging £17,000 annually, do not have to pay VAT, yet we do.”
Indeed it is, but this place is full of ironies on a daily basis, is it not?
Yolanda Botham said that for her college
“that £200,000 extra a year could really make an important difference, such as supporting through subsidy more students to take advantage of university summer schools and other opportunities.”
That is exactly the kind of point about social mobility that colleagues have been making. She continued:
“An increase in funds would allow us to better cater for the mental health needs of our students and so, over time, maybe reduce the demands on the NHS. This is in increasing need amongst young people.”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Recently, I met principals from the Lancashire Colleges network, including the principals of Blackpool and the Fylde College and of Lancaster and Morecambe College. The point they really emphasised to me is that this situation goes beyond subject provision. Further education colleges are absolutely on the frontline of supporting young people through what can often be very challenging mental health needs, at a time when the NHS cannot cope and cannot meet those needs fast enough. Does he agree that FE colleges provide far more than just basic qualifications in education and support young people through what can often be a very challenging time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a message we hear in both colleges and universities: the demands on them are rising. If, at the same time, they have to cut back to just their core provision, who helps the students and what happens next when those problems arise? The cost of meeting them moves somewhere else.
That colleges have to pay VAT has been a long-running problem for sixth forms, and it really is a kick in the teeth for headteachers who are doing their best to balance their budgets, while competing with private schools that are exempt from VAT.
The problems go wider still. The chief executive of Cambridge Academic Partnership, the multi-academy trust that runs Parkside Sixth Form College in Cambridge, spoke to me about the impact of cuts on the international baccalaureate. He said:
“The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is recognised across the world as a rigorous qualification, and it is well regarded precisely for the breadth of its curriculum. IB students distinguish themselves by undertaking study across the academic disciplines at a more advanced level. Therefore, they leave further education with an impressive knowledge base that spans their native tongue, a foreign language, the Humanities, the Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts. Within each of those disciplines lies a plethora of subjects from which students can tailor their Diploma according to the nuances of their interests and future plans. State centres that offer the IB qualification do so due to their commitment to developing well-rounded students, equipped to contribute across all sectors of society.”
Of course, after all that there is a “but” coming.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Last Friday, I visited Barrow Hall College in my constituency of Warrington South. It was so refreshing to see so many young people engaged politically and exhibiting so much potential—I could see their potential. Sadly, however, I fear that all too often that potential is being squandered by a further education system that is drastically underfunded. Does he agree that we should all support the “Raise the Rate” campaign, to ensure that young people receive the investment they deserve?
I very much agree. I also applaud my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm, which is the enthusiasm that can be seen in colleges. However, there is also that slight sense of shame when one sees the problems that they are facing.
After the “but”, the chief executive of Cambridge Academic Partnership told me:
“When funding is limited, the skills set that we wish to provide to our students is impacted. Registered IB centres wish to offer students sufficient choice between subjects to give them a learning experience that complements their interests and strengths. A lack of funding reduces that choice because sustaining the breadth of teaching expertise required becomes impossible. It is crucial that school funding reflects the importance accorded to a broad curriculum. If centres are forced to eliminate subjects, it either deters students from undertaking the programme, or undermines the principles of the qualification itself: to be principled, broad-minded and internationally minded.”
Post-16 education is vital to the UK’s prosperity, and at a time when many fear that the Government’s stance on immigration is making access to skills more uncertain, it is foolish to under-invest in young people’s education and training. To be competitive in a global marketplace, the UK must adequately resource the education of future generations. If the Home Secretary acts on the policy proposals in his immigration White Paper, which already threaten the economy as they will restrict access to skills so dramatically, it is essential that we push education and skills right up the agenda, or we will face a crisis that could take many years to resolve. We should be preparing now for that, as providing people with the skills that the country needs takes time, resources and support.
I will conclude by offering an alternative. Labour’s 2017 manifesto made a real offer for education—a national education service. There would be free, lifelong education in further education colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life. The manifesto noted:
“Our skills and training sector has been held back by repeated reorganisation, which deprives providers, learners and employers of the consistency they need to assess quality. Labour would abandon Conservative plans to once again reinvent the wheel by building new technical colleges, redirecting the money to increase teacher numbers in the FE sector”.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), who is on the shadow Front Bench, will have more to say, but our manifesto commitment is a real offer for the further education sector and for students. It has to be a strong offer; we cannot go on like this. We cannot go on without being able to say why we as a country so undervalue our 16 and 17-year-olds. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide an explanation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I welcome the Minister, who is my successor in the role. I know that she has a passion for further education.
We know that FE is vital for our economy. Done well, it can tackle three huge deficits: our skills deficit, our social justice deficit and our social capital deficit. Our colleges are vital assets. They are institutes that should be at the heart of every community. Although we are talking about funding today, I will take this chance to praise my local college, Harlow College, which is one of the finest colleges in the country. It has had a significant amount of funds to develop an advanced manufacturing centre, a new maths school and an aircraft college at Stansted airport, one of the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. I know that some funds are coming to our colleges, and that is one reason why I have visited Harlow College more than 65 times since I became a Member of Parliament. Nevertheless, the chasm in funding for education either side of a student’s 16th birthday has now widened to 24%.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has given FE the dubious accolade of “biggest loser” in education, noting that it is the only area to fall in real terms, year on year, for more than 10 years. By 2020, we will be spending the same amount in real terms on educating and training 16 to 18-year-olds as we were in 1990. People might be forgiven for thinking that that is an accidental failure of policy making; the truth is that it is much worse. On 31 January 2017, the Minister for Schools told the Education Committee that in 2010 the Government decided to prioritise spending on five to 16-year-olds—on the grounds that it had a more demonstrable impact on life chances—than on post-16 education, when presumably it would be “too late”. But people develop at different points on the education ladder of opportunity and, for some, FE can be the chrysalis stage between the caterpillar and the butterfly.
A recent report by the Centre for Social Justice showed that only 15% of people in the UK who start work at entry level will ever rise above that level, and that is one of the lowest percentages in the developed world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that colleges such the excellent Waltham Forest College are key if people are to upskill and change skills, and that we should not, therefore, write people off at the age of 16, 17 or 18, or even 35 or 40? Colleges such as the ones that he and I have mentioned are in a real position to help people to achieve that, and therefore, in some senses, they are more important even than universities.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Colleges are very important for social justice because they help to give people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to climb the education ladder of opportunity, even though we know that life chances are largely influenced during the time before a child starts school. The Education Committee, which I chair, will soon be producing a report on that subject.
FE colleges are the economic trampoline that our country badly needs. With one in 10 degrees now achieved in colleges, there is huge potential for FE to drive the revolution in degree apprenticeships that the Education Committee called for in our recent report on value for money in higher education. The introduction of T-levels is a good sign that the Government are getting behind FE rather than perpetuating its status as a poor relation of secondary and higher education, but the excellent investment in T-levels is not the same as core investment in FE. The £500 million provided for T-levels is additional funding for a new initiative. T-levels are of a scale and seriousness far beyond those of the relatively small-scale targeted funds, which are eye-catching in a Budget but will not lead to lasting long-term change.
Before embarking on costly new projects, such as national colleges and institutes of technology, the Government need to consider whether existing providers could deliver their policy objectives. We often announce new initiatives when we should really bring together and strengthen what we already have. On 10 October last year, as part of the “Love Our Colleges” campaign, we held a special session with the Association of Colleges, the National Union of Students and the Sixth Form Colleges Association. James Kewin from the SFCA told us:
“Too much of what we see in 16 to 19 now starts with the press release and works back...policy by press release is quite damaging and the much more mundane reality is we just need a higher rate of funding.”
That is exactly what the Education Committee wants to see, and it is why last April we launched our inquiry into school and college funding to examine where the truth lay in the polarised debate between those who say that education funding has been subject to swingeing cuts and those who claim it has gone up in recent years. Yes, our colleges need more money—starting with the core funding rate of £4,000 per student—but it is even more important that the Department for Education comes up with a long-term strategy for schools and colleges. If the NHS can have a 10-year plan and £20 billion extra, why can education and our colleges not have a 10-year plan and the money they need?
In the written evidence to our inquiry, the real-terms reduction in post-16 funding was deemed to be inexplicable after the raising of the participation age to 18, especially when one accounted for the fact that, as has been highlighted, the cost of providing education—particularly technical education—between the ages of 16 and 18 is higher. That is evidenced by the fact that charges for post-16 education in the independent sector have gone up rather than down.
In truth, changing all that will involve self-restraint on the part of policy makers and Ministers. We will need to resist the temptation to tweak and fiddle. We will need to focus on the outcomes that we want in 10 to 20 years’ time, not on what might be attractive over a shorter timetable. Yes, the Committee is hearing evidence that is critical of the Government’s approach, but we are trying to help the Minister and to be as supportive as we can of the Department as it enters into negotiations with the Treasury for the next spending review period. A Select Committee trying to help the Department it oversees is certainly swimming against the tide, but I hope that our report will lead to much more investment in FE colleges and a new, long-term approach. For too long, FE has been called the Cinderella of education, but we should remember that Cinderella became a member of the royal family, and she did not crash the carriage. We need to banish the ugly sisters of snobbery and underfunding.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and to take part in this incredibly important debate on further education funding. It is obvious that the matter is of great importance to my constituency, as we were one of the top 10 constituencies in terms of responses to the petition.
In my constituency we are lucky to have two sixth- form colleges in Nantwich—Brine Leas and Malbank—and we are extremely lucky to have the college I attended in Crewe. The college has changed dramatically since I was there. Not only has it changed its name to Cheshire College South and West, but the building underwent an incredible transformation during the last Labour Government and we are now proud to have a modern facility with fantastic resources, unlike the creaky 1960s tower block I enrolled at.
Cheshire College South and West provides a variety of courses, boasts its very own award-winning student-run restaurant called “Academy”, and has a hair salon, a theatre and an incredible fitness centre. The college sits in a residential area of Crewe, which is a post-industrial town that suffers from high levels of poverty, with people trapped in work that simply does not pay. The college provides opportunities to many local schoolchildren and to the community in general, offering space for community groups, meeting rooms for businesses and experiences that people otherwise simply would not have.
It sounds too good to be true. There always is a “but” with these things, and the big “but” is exactly the reason we are here today: Cheshire College South and West faces huge funding challenges. I am here to highlight that and to make the Minister aware of how devastating it would be to my community to lose that excellent education provision. Sadly, we are already seeing the university I attended, Manchester Metropolitan, withdraw its university campus from Crewe; that is a huge blow. We cannot allow FE opportunities to shrink for my constituents as well.
A key point that really illustrates the funding pressures in FE is that in real terms, funding for 16 to 18-year-olds is back to its 1990 level. To put that into context, I was five years old in that year, Margaret Thatcher resigned and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. How can it be that 29 years later funding has gone so far backwards? I have been informed that while costs continue to increase, our college will face considerable funding pressures next year, causing a potential negative impact of more than £1 million. The college will undoubtedly make cuts, and we all know that cuts come in the form of jobs. That will be devastating not only for those who are dedicated to teaching, but for the opportunities available to our future generations, not to mention the impact on our local economy.
It is important also to make it clear that pay is a major issue both for staff and for the colleges for which they work. Two thirds of college leaders cite an inability to match pay expectations as a major barrier to recruiting skilled staff.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her powerful argument. The picture she has painted is very similar to the situation faced by Barnsley College. I recently met with staff there, who highlighted that the college is really struggling to recruit in core subjects. To make matters worse, students often come to the college below the standard that they should be at when they leave school.
The situation that my hon. Friend and I are talking about is reflected in all constituencies, and that is why we are here today. The University and College Union has made it clear that funding reductions have meant that many colleges have had to make difficult decisions about what to fund. For students, those restrictions have meant fewer hours for teaching and support and a more limited range of study choices. For staff, pay has fallen in value by 25% in real terms since 2009. In cash terms, that means a £2,484 pay cut for those at the bottom end of the scale, rising to more than £9,000 for experienced lecturers and even more for those higher up the scale. For colleges that have failed to implement the recommended pay rises, the fall has been even greater. Since 2010, some 24,000 teachers have left the further education sector. That is around a third of the total teaching workforce.
Why is this happening? The Conservatives have ruthlessly cut funding for FE colleges and reduced entitlements for adult learners. That has led to diminishing numbers of courses and students, and has plunged the FE sector into crisis. The Labour party recognises that FE is an essential part of our education system that plays an important role in young adult education and lifelong learning. I firmly believe that after nearly 10 years of neglect, only the Labour party will correct the historic neglect of the FE sector by supplying the investment that teachers deserve. After all, it was the Tories who scrapped education maintenance allowance, which supported disadvantaged young people to stay in college—something that was so important to students in constituencies such as mine.
However, while this Conservative Government remain in charge of policy, I appeal to the Minister once again. I have already written and asked questions on this matter. First, what recent assessment has she made of the adequacy of Government funding for further education colleges in England? Secondly, what assessment has her Department made of the level of pay inequality between schools, universities and colleges in the education sector? Thirdly, what assessment has she made of the recent letter from Her Majesty’s chief inspector to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), which raised concerns about significant under-investment in the further education sector? I sincerely hope that the Minister can provide answers to those questions at the end of the debate.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For most of my lifetime—perhaps all of it—a misapprehension has pervaded and affected the application of Government policy. That misapprehension has been that people can only gain esteem and fulfilment through academic accomplishment. As a result, practical learning has been perpetually neglected by Governments of both parties.
It was in that spirit and against that backdrop that, as a shadow Minister in the mid-2000s, I began debating these issues and considering them carefully. Indeed, I worked with the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), who chaired the all-party skills group at the time and is the shadow Education Minister today, to look at how we could elevate practical learning. To do so, it was necessary to challenge many of the assumptions that had permeated previously—assumptions that were given life by the previous Government’s much-vaunted ambition to send 50% of people to university. I always thought the problem with that ambition was what it said about the other 50%, who did not go to university but went into practical subjects, further education and all kinds of other learning. We had some success. We grew apprenticeship numbers to their largest level in modern times—perhaps of all time. We protected the budget for adult learning, working with the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), who was Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills when I was the Minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning.
However, that success is now in jeopardy. I have to challenge the Minister about the decline in apprenticeship numbers that has resulted, in part, from a misunderstanding of the new levy—I am not against the levy as a matter of principle, but its implementation has been problematic—and the decline in adult learning in particular. I say that for the following reasons: first, there is a strong utilitarian case for further education and training, which is about feeding the economy with the skills it needs for us to prosper. That is a given, and I think all Members in this Chamber would agree with it. Secondly, there is a case for communal health being part of the value of practical learning. When people learn and gain new competencies, they grow and become better citizens, seeing themselves as more useful to those around them.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the most valuable things that further education does is to allow people—whether they be native to this country or a migrant—to improve their language skills, including by learning a foreign language? That was always one of the ways in which FE colleges reached out and gave people opportunities.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, FE colleges train 2.2 million young people and adults. The courses they run range from fundamental issues such as the acquisition of good English, as he suggests, to the most advanced skills. They also provide an opportunity for people to learn throughout their lives. FE is the principal vehicle by which people upskill and reskill in the way my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) described, and that is essential if we are to fuel the economy with what it requires. It is simply not enough to train people who are entering the workforce: we have to look at how people who are in the workforce already can adapt what they can do to suit changing economic circumstances.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that FE colleges, particularly Bridgwater and Taunton College in my constituency, are really important in delivering the apprenticeship programme? That college has just won a Lion award, as it is doing such a good job. Although the Government’s apprenticeship programme must be commended, especially the Minister’s work, does my right hon. Friend agree that for the programme to really be successful, we must address the issue of funding for our FE colleges, because they are so valuable to its delivery?
Yes, I agree. When I was the Minister responsible for apprenticeships, we not only boosted their number, but increased their quality. For the first time, we put in place statutory definitions of what an apprenticeship constituted. We moved away from the programme-led apprenticeships that had been a feature of the previous regime. We said that apprenticeships had to last a set amount of time, had to be linked to real employment, and had to confer real skills needed by the economy. My hon. Friend is right that apprenticeships matter, as long as they are of the right quality and are substantial, and that is what we built. However, I have to say that the levy has not been successful in maintaining that number. There are all kinds of questions about the apprenticeship levy, and I am sure that the Minister will want to answer those questions when she sums up.
As I have listed the virtues of further education and practical learning, I will finally say that it leads to personal fulfilment. The case for education can be made in terms of utility, or in terms of communal health and wellbeing, but ultimately it should be made for its own sake. People are more joyful, more contented and better for the learning they gain in FE colleges across this country, and we should be proud of that.
I will end here, Mr Walker, because you have sanctioned me not to speak for too long, which will come as a disappointment to my many admirers in the Chamber—mainly on the Opposition Benches, actually. I will finish by saying this: we plant trees for those born later, and we fund, fuel and furnish skills for them too, for in building those skills we build all of our futures.
I have considerably fewer admirers than the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). [Hon. Members: “No!”]
This is a pertinent debate, and I thank everybody who made it possible: the college sector, sixth forms, the University and College Union, and members of the public. It is a topic that is close to my heart and that of the community I represent, as we in North West Durham have recently witnessed the direct impact of funding cuts for 16 to 18-year-olds. Last year, Wolsingham School was forced to close the doors of its sixth-form college to local pupils; we hope that closure is temporary, but it is a very serious situation. Many factors were cited, but essentially it boils down to the fact that rural schools, which are well loved by the community, were starved of funding for many years, particularly at the top age range.
In another part of my constituency, management and staff at Derwentside College are working incredibly hard to maintain standards in the midst of relentless real-terms cuts to their budgets and decreasing per pupil funding. In addition, because of the college’s large number of apprentices, it has been disproportionately hit by the effects of the apprenticeship levy. While the levy was supported across the board, it has been bureaucratic in its implementation and has hit numbers in key areas. All that uncertainty has taken place in the context of real-terms pay cuts for the incredibly dedicated staff. I have no doubt that that picture is being replicated across the country. Derwentside College is a wonderful college. It is so warm and welcoming. It is extremely important for my community that the resource is kept, because it is a place of safety and refuge from the harshness of everyday life, where people can study and learn for their future.
I agree with what was said in an earlier intervention; I genuinely think that the Government do not really care about further education. It was pointed out that working-class students disproportionately engage in further education, and perhaps that is why there is little care for the sector.
The crisis has been coming for many years, and the Government have been warned over and over again. Sixth- form funding for 16-year-olds has been frozen since 2013-14. For 18-year-olds, it was reduced to £3,300 in 2014-15. There is no logic or justification for the cuts or the levels of funding. It is hard not to conclude that further education has been an easy target. The sector is now beyond stretched—it is at breaking point. In real terms, funding for 16 to 19 education has declined by 22% since the coalition Government were elected. Over the same period, there has been an increase in student numbers and a decrease in teaching staff across the sector. Sixth-form colleges have been trying to perform miracles, and enough is enough.
The Government need to understand very clearly the result of the cuts. Courses are being stripped, restricting the options for what my constituents can entertain as a future career. An inadequate and very expensive transport system—I keep banging on about this, but transport is pivotal for people in my community—means that people cannot easily travel elsewhere for their education. Staff workload is increasing and because of austerity and cuts elsewhere, such as in public health services, colleges are seeing increasing numbers of students with mental health and wellbeing difficulties. That is no wonder when poverty is entrenched.
I know that some people go into Derwentside College with no food in their bellies and no money to buy food. Lecturers—those dedicated staff—make sure that those young people have a meal in their bellies so that they can study. That is not accounted for in any spreadsheet or funding formula. Some schools have been allocated funding to deal with mental health problems—it is still not enough—but colleges have been left out in the cold and not had any additional funding for that.
Thinking about the staff, college pay has fallen in value by a quarter since 2009 according to the University and College Union. In cash terms, that translates to a £2,484 pay cut at the bottom point of the scale. That is a shocking and disastrous way to treat professionals in the sector. Teachers in further education colleges earn on average £7,000 less than teachers in schools. What is the result? It is no shock that since 2010, approximately 24,000 further education teachers have left the sector, which is around a third of the total workforce.
Across the country, students and their families, the communities they come from and their future employers value the work that colleges do. Never mind asking the Government to love colleges; if only they would listen. The crux of the matter is—this was mentioned before, and I agree with the point—that the snobbery around further education colleges has to end. They are as important as any other sector. The Sixth Form Colleges Association claims that to increase student support services to the required level, to protect minority subjects and to increase non-qualification time—for example, extracurricular activities—the Government would have to increase national funding for 16 to 18-year-olds by £760 a student a year in the 2019 spending review. That is the bare minimum just to allow colleges to stand still or survive. I suspect that for a more expansive view of the college sector, we will need a change of Government. That cannot come too soon for the sector.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the many members of the public who have signed the petition on this extremely important matter. I want to set the scene by talking about what happens in Yeovil. We have an incredibly successful college. It does a fantastic job for its students and it very much wishes to be at the heart of skills development in the south-west, to work with other colleges and the local enterprise partnership, and to make a contribution, which it is well set to do.
The Minister will be aware that some of her officials have been working with the college to help develop various elements of the apprenticeship scheme, which has been a great success, and to think about what happens with T-levels. One feature of my part of the south-west is that it is a hub for defence industrial manufacturing and for the STEM skills that go with that. The college does incredibly well and is an exemplar of how to involve businesses—they often need skills that do not come out of universities in the same way as colleges—in developing programmes for apprenticeships and T-levels, and thinking about how they might look in the future.
On Thursday, I was at Leonardo, our helicopter manufacturer—the only end-to-end aircraft manufacturer that the UK still has—and I met the team that has been working with Yeovil College to help develop the apprenticeship scheme. They were incredibly enthusiastic about the college and what it can do not only for the company, but for the wider community.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I asked him to do so only because he has spoken so eloquently about Yeovil College, and I should say a word about Boston College in my constituency. I met the students, governors and principal of it last week, but I neglected to mention them in my earlier contribution. They do a superb job.
I thank my right hon. Friend for, as always, making an eloquent contribution to the debate.
In my visits to Yeovil College over the years, it has become apparent that despite having a great amount to contribute and doing an incredible job, it suffers from having to do so on a shoestring. It has found budgeting difficult. For historic reasons, the fabric of the college could certainly do with improvement, and I have seen evidence of that.
As I am sure Members are well aware, the college system does not have the ability to avail itself of capital grants in the same way that schools and other parts of the education system can. That means that colleges have to make everything out of their basic income, which is a real disadvantage. When we add in the fact, which we heard from other Members, that revenue funding for further education students is a lot less than for university students or secondary school students, colleges are put at a disadvantage in trying to deliver programmes.
Part of the problem with the proposed T-levels system is that there is a lot of extra teaching, but for no more money. Perhaps we can have another look and work together as a group to approach the Treasury and make the case that if we are to get behind T-levels, as I am sure we should for all the other reasons we have heard, there must be adequate funding so that our colleges can do a proper job of delivering for the people who, as we have heard, really depend on them.
I thoroughly approve of thinking about colleges as places where adults’ skills can be developed. We heard about that earlier. As we talk about trade deals around the world, and given the speed at which industry is changing in the current technological age, there will be a great demand—probably an increasing demand—for retraining during people’s working lives. It is essential that our colleges play a central role in that. Maths already gets extra funding. Perhaps T-levels should be treated in the same way, because we could really get behind that. Underfunding our colleges degrades individuals’ choices. In Yeovil, for example, there is a great demand for secondary school-type places in the further education college. It does a great job in its sixth form with A-levels, and that is the only provision in Yeovil. There are no choices, so it is really important to the town that we get this right.
It is great that the petition has raised the issue. It is very important to everybody in my constituency to have a well-functioning Yeovil College that can deliver for the industry of our area and take our local economy from A to B.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. The number of people here today shows how much value we put on the FE sector across the parties. I certainly feel that very strongly. The right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) reminded us that funding has been going down in real terms for the past 10 years. That is one of the reasons why today’s debate is so well attended and it reminds us that, frankly, all of us have our hands dirty on this front.
Further education in my constituency and across the piece is something I was involved in when I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2010 to 2015. I chaired the all-party group on FE and lifelong learning. I was also the first MP to launch the 100 apprentices in 100 days challenge, which was very successful and was copied by 200 other MPs over the ensuing years. I got to know the FE sector far better than I knew it before, not just locally but, more importantly, nationally. I became an absolute convert. Ever since that time, I have been committed to the belief that the FE sector, for academic A-levels and BTECs on the vocational side, provides a really important function in giving millions of our fellow citizens from 16 upwards an opportunity that they would not have had before.
Funding has been frozen for various historical reasons. I remember having long conversations with the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable). Believe it or not, he fought like hell to fight off the then Chancellor to try to get as much cash as possible. That was one of the areas where the Liberals and the Tories sometimes had a slight distinction, although I appreciate the words of the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), who was a Minister at the time. We believed profoundly and passionately in the strength of FE and we had a battle. We won some and we lost some, as we all know, which is the nature of politics.
Where are we at today? We are reaching crisis level. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) mentioned how someone teaching A-levels at an FE college, such as the Eastbourne campus of East Sussex College in my constituency, will on average be earning £7,000 less per annum than someone teaching GCSEs at one of the excellent local secondary schools down the road. I beg the Government to understand and appreciate that that is not sustainable. I go as far as to say, as I mentioned earlier, that it is not just the Government’s fault. We have all dropped the ball to one degree or another over the past 10 or 15 years.
There is an opportunity now for the Government to demonstrate to the House, the FE sector and the millions of people of all ages who attend FE colleges around the country that they can change tack. In my own constituency, they could demonstrate that to the tremendous teachers at East Sussex College’s Eastbourne campus, who have been teaching A-levels to a high standard, despite the shocking real-term cuts to their salaries over the past few years.
I look forward to the Government acknowledging that there is a real problem. I look forward to their making a commitment today in this Westminster Hall debate to come up with additional funds, perhaps in the March Budget. I look forward to the Government not simply saying empty words, but demonstrating that they understand the strength of feeling within this Chamber that FE is not sustainable in its current form. I also look forward to the Government not seeing the half a billion for T-levels as solving the problem, because, as the right hon. Member for Harlow reiterated, T-levels are a different set of qualifications. I support T-levels. The concept is excellent, but that issue is not the same as the issue of the many thousands of teachers around the country, including in my own constituency, teaching A-levels on salaries that are so much worse than in the local schools. It is no wonder that almost 25,000 people have left the profession over the past couple of years. I look forward to hearing real beef and vegetables from the Government: real details about what the extra funding will be.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker.
Every young person should have access to an excellent education, and further education colleges play a vital role in achieving that. In my constituency of Morley and Outwood, 111 people, including myself, signed the petition. I made the decision to sign it because I recognise that more needs to be done to address and highlight this important issue. As co-chair of the all-party group on education and vice-chair of the social mobility all-party group, I understand the importance that education has as the best way to improve one’s lot in life. That is why the issue is so important and why I felt compelled to sign the petition.
The Government will have raised funding for school pupils aged five to 16 by more than 50% in real terms by 2020, compared with 2000. That is to be praised and is a record we should be proud of. However, from looking at the House of Commons Library figures, it is clear that funding for the 16 to 19 age group has fallen. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ annual report on education spending in England stated that the equivalent of 16 to 19 student spending has fallen from £6,208 in 2010-11 to £5,698 in 2017-18. The average funding per student for the 16 to 19 age group is now less than that for secondary school-aged students and for higher education students. The IFS estimates that it is about 8% lower than spending per pupil in secondary schools. I hope that parity is something the Government will consider in their response to the debate.
The fact that local authority maintained schools, academies and sixth-form colleges have to pay VAT was mentioned. Schools and academies are subsequently reimbursed for those costs through VAT refunds; however, no such scheme exists for sixth-form colleges. That is another area that I hope the Government are looking at, because it has been argued that that anomaly places sixth-form colleges at a disadvantage.
The Sixth Form Colleges Association claims that the average sixth-form college lost about £385,000 in 2015-16 because of that anomaly, and in November 2018 the Association of Colleges argued that the Treasury should use the opportunity afforded by Brexit to extend the VAT refund scheme to all publicly funded sixth-form level education. Again, I hope that the Government are looking closely at Brexit and any dividends that it could offer.
It is not all bad news, and the Government deserve praise where it is due. Investment has been announced to strengthen education for 16 to 19-year-olds in certain academic areas. As we have heard, a further £600 for additional students participating in level 3 mathematics will be available, and two payments of £600 may be made if, for instance, a pupil is taking two years of maths study. Moreover, it was announced in the 2017 autumn Budget that £40 million of funding has been allocated to establish centres for excellence in mathematics. Ministers have also made £300 million of restructuring funding available to colleges, and half of that has already been spent.
However, I feel that my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), in his role as Chair of the Education Committee, was accurate in saying:
“Successive governments have failed to give further education the recognition it deserves for the role it plays in our national productivity puzzle.”
The Prime Minister has said that austerity is coming to an end. I hope that the Government are looking closely at this area, because it certainly needs to be addressed. We need to invest in our young people if we are to achieve our ambitions for our economy. I agree with the “Raise the Rate” campaign when its advocates say that if we are to meet our
“objectives for a strong post-Brexit economy and a socially mobile, highly educated workforce”,
we need to increase funding in this area. This is not the time to point fingers and play party politics—not with our young people’s future. Let us now increase college funding to sustainable levels and see greater parity with secondary schools.
I thank the education leaders in my constituency, including the fantastic Elliott Hudson College, which I recently visited, for the great work that it does in educating our constituents, both young and old.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker.
I welcome this debate; the number of signatures shows how important the issue is. It is really important to people in my constituency because we do not have school sixth forms, so students have no choice but to go to a sixth-form college. Wigan and Leigh College offers the vocational route, and does it very well, but I will concentrate on the two outstanding colleges in my constituency that offer academic qualifications for students who might want to go on to higher education. It is their problems with the chronic and sustained underfunding that I will talk about today.
In the last two years, Winstanley College has been named Educate North’s college of the year, Merseyside Educate’s most inspirational 16 to 18 provider and, in April 2017, the Times Higher Education sixth-form college of the year. In addition, it has been rated outstanding by Ofsted for the past 17 years, and has the matrix standard for excellence in support and guidance. It has no problems attracting students. This year, 16 students were offered places at Oxbridge, but it has had to cease offering German A-level. The principal said to me:
“We are lucky that, so far, we have not have to do more but we cannot carry on like this.”
Difficult decisions will be made in the future.
Indeed, they travel from all over the north-west to attend Winstanley College. To have that college say that it does not think it can carry on offering those excellent qualifications is a tragedy for social mobility in the area.
St John Rigby College is the other college in my constituency. It is also an award-winning college. I am pleased to say that the title of Educate North’s sixth-form college of the year happily stayed in Makerfield, as it passed from Winstanley to St John Rigby, which has also won the award of most inspirational 16 to 18 provider.
The principal feels that, although students continue to get excellent qualifications, their experience is not as rich as that of their counterparts a few years ago, because every year something has to be removed from what was previously provided as part of the overall educational experience. Students are getting less specialist teaching than they did three years ago. St John Rigby is a highly inclusive college that really supports its students through the academic route, but students are now taught their specialist subjects for 20 minutes fewer per subject per week than three years ago. That is nearly three weeks’ worth of lost teaching per academic year.
There are increased class sizes, with approximately two extra students per group than four years ago. The college tries to support every individual student, but increased class sizes reduce the amount of time teachers can spend with students. They also increase the workload of the teachers, giving them more marking and making them less accessible out of lessons. Enrichment opportunities have decreased.
The college has maintained its focus on employability skills and career pathways, but that has been possible only because of the cuts that I have mentioned. The activities that have declined are the recreational activities, which play an important part in student wellbeing and mental health. St John Rigby has chosen to put its primary investment into teachers and quality of learning, but its capital investment has reduced to half of what it was four years ago. There has been a decline in the college infrastructure and the estate. That cannot continue much longer.
The principal said to me:
“It feels as though each and every year we are faced with an unpalatable decision of which priority (which just about survived the previous year’s prioritisation exercise) can no longer be provided”.
That is simply not good enough in an area where social mobility is extremely low. How are my students from the Wigan borough supposed to continue to have high aspirations and become more socially mobile when their access to further education courses, and support from the staff who teach those courses, is being continually restricted by lack of funding? More broadly, with the challenges of Brexit, how are we going to produce the competitive and educated workforce of the future if there is systematic underfunding of post-16 education?
Those colleges are doing their best to support students who wish to take an academic route. Investment in T-levels and vocational education should be applauded, but it does nothing for Winstanley and St John Rigby, and for those students who want to take a different route. Therefore, for the sake of our future, the Government have to look at raising the rate of 16 to 18 education to £4,760 per student and, crucially, keeping the rate at least in line with inflation.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Walker. As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on leading the debate, in which I am pleased to speak. I endorse the sentiments of the petition and put on record my support for the “Raise the Rate” campaign.
For a number of years, I have pressed the cause of increasing the schools funding budget—a topic I have often raised. It is important to remember equality for all students, both pre and post-16, for which the petition rightly calls. We need to look at ways to increase college funding to sustainable levels to give parity. The bottom line is that the sixth-form and college sector needs more money. That will give all students a fair chance, give college staff fair pay and provide the high-quality skills that the country needs.
This issue attracts significant interest among my constituents, of whom 130 have signed the petition. I have recently had meetings with Danny Pearson, the principal of Aquinas sixth-form college, which serves my constituency so well. I also know that the principals, teachers and students at other local colleges—Cheadle College, Marple Sixth Form College and Stockport College—are keen that urgent action be taken. They will be following the outcome of this debate closely.
Sixth-form funding was made subject to restrictions in 2011 and 2013. The national funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds, which is by far the biggest component of the 16 to 18 funding formula, has remained frozen each year since 2013-14. As well as the funding disparity between pre-16 and 16 to 18 education, colleges face particular disadvantages in comparison with schools, which have their VAT costs refunded and receive the teachers’ pay grant. All sixth-form providers are being asked to do more by the Government, from implementing the Prevent strategy to meeting the Gatsby career benchmarks, but sadly those requirements are rarely accompanied by additional funding.
Taken in the round, the impact on colleges’ ability to deliver the quality of education that students deserve is significant. I fear that the situation is affecting the Government’s ability to achieve their ambitions for the economy and social mobility. Worryingly, it is also narrowing the curriculum: the funding impact survey carried out by Raise the Rate’s partners showed that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages, 34% have dropped STEM courses and 67% have reduced student support services or extracurricular activities, with limitations to mental health support, employability skills and careers advice.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on introducing the debate. As well as Coventry College, we have a special needs college in Coventry that does excellent work but is struggling financially and in its resources. In combination, they have faced cuts of up to about 27%. Does the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) agree that that is a major factor affecting the quality of apprenticeships? Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover in the west midlands industrial base want to expand, but for that to happen, they need the skills.
I certainly agree. I am pleased to have afforded the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to place on the record the work of colleges in Coventry.
It is a timely coincidence that the Education Committee, of which I am a member and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) always chairs most ably, is conducting an inquiry into school and college funding and has taken evidence from the post-16 sector. When we asked what was at the top of their wish list, witnesses agreed that the first priority is higher core funding, the second is separate funding for increases to teachers’ pay awards and pensions, as occurs in schools, and the third is increased funding for the capital expansion of colleges.
We also heard that the college sector would much rather have a boost to core funding than a continued run of new initiatives. Some witnesses spoke of an initiative mania and suggested that narrowly targeted uplifts can do more harm than good, because they displace the real issue. For instance, plans to invest in technical education, although welcome, will do very little for the vast majority of sixth-form students who study an A-level or applied general course. I am afraid that more money for T-levels is not, in itself, the solution to sixth form and college funding.
To ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver high-quality, internationally competitive education, the “Raise the Rate” campaign is calling for the national funding rate for 16 to 18-year-olds to be raised by £760 per student at the forthcoming spending review and in line with inflation each year thereafter, as the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) mentioned. Recent research has found that that is the minimum additional funding required to increase student support services to the required level, including improving students’ mental and physical health. It is needed to protect subjects that are at risk of being dropped, such as modern foreign languages. It will increase non-qualification time and extracurricular activities, work experience and university visits, which are vital for preparing students for the world of work or higher education and are key drivers of social mobility. Furthermore, it is important that the rate rise comes in addition to—not instead of—the funding that may be required by schools and colleges to meet new costs, such as increased employer contributions to the teachers’ pensions scheme.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is a big supporter of the further education sector and wants the very best for pupils. We have seen that support take different forms; I am sure her winding-up speech will remind us about the new per pupil premium funding for level 3 maths, the £40 million of funding to establish centres for excellence in maths, and the investment in T-levels. However, I encourage her to go beyond those initiatives and ask the Chancellor for the desperately needed raise in the rate of core sixth-form funding. I can think of no better Minister to negotiate on behalf of the college sector, and I wish her well in the spending review.
I cannot think of an issue more important than education. At the heart of a functioning society is the education system, but ours is being cut to the point where it is barely fit for purpose. Further education is the worst-funded part of the already cash-strapped system—the only part of the education budget to have had year-on-year cuts for the past 10 years.
I know that it is fashionable to blame the coalition Government. However, coming from a different cultural background, in which practical education is much more valued, I must say that the malaise is much deeper and has gone on for a lot longer. What we are looking for is a culture change that gives further education the same value as university education. That is what we need to achieve, and I hope that we will get cross-party support for it.
[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]
As the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently pointed out, funding for 16 to 19-year-old education has fallen by 8% and the adult education budget has been cut by 45%. These are massive, massive cuts that severely affect students, staff and everyone in the further education community. More than 24,000 teaching staff have been lost from the sector since 2009, and 90% of colleges report difficulties in attracting the staff they need. The sector is haemorrhaging talent and expertise—it really is a criminal waste of potential.
I was asked to attend this debate by a constituent who has significant experience in the field, both as a student and as a teacher. She says:
“People who emerged from school with few qualifications are now training and working as nurses, paramedics, social workers, vets, and many valuable careers because they had their chance at an FE college. It is this knowledge that keeps me working in the field despite dwindling resources and diminishing financial rewards.”
Further education is vital to social mobility, to training people for key worker roles, and to the principle that this country invests in its people, regardless of their background. In Bath, we are lucky to have a very well-performing college, Bath College, which demonstrates time and again that young people do not have to go to university to do well in life. Businesses in Bath need young people who are work-ready, with specific skills, and Bath College provides just that. However, like most further education colleges, it is really struggling. This morning, the principal, Laurel Penrose, told me:
“The strain is telling on staff and the offer and delivery is starting to be compromised because we cannot invest in the infrastructure and develop the capital enhancements we need to remain at the industrial standards required by our technical subjects. We are a unique educational sector, one that is recognised for our flexible approach and one with many of the solutions needed to address the skills deficit being experienced by this country—but we cannot grow or invest because of the funding.”
I really hope that the Minister is listening to all of us across the House. Some of Mrs Penrose’s staff went out on strike late last year; I supported that strike, but it could have been completely avoided if the sector were funded to allow staff pay equal to that in other parts of the education sector. The Government are failing to properly fund further education, and it sends a very strong message. As a country, we need to get over the idea that university is the only option for people who want to do well in life. Further education colleges have an important role in the education mix in this country. The Government should take that role seriously, and not just with words.
Liberal Democrat support for lifelong learning is very strong. As has been mentioned, our leader—my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable)—is a passionate supporter of further education. He has launched the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning, which is investigating the best ways to make sure that adults have access to learning and retraining throughout their lives. This could take the form of giving each person in this country a learning account, which they could use for education in the way they want. I very much hope that that is being looked into further.
Well-funded education is vital. We need to place opportunity in the hands of individuals and give them the tools that they need to make the most of their lives and reach their full potential. Without proper resources, we are failing a large number of people across our communities, and we must do a lot better. Further education has been the Cinderella of the education system—I remind everybody that Cinderella was always the hardest-working member of her family. We should value the immense contribution to this country made by FE colleges and their past, current and future students. We must value the sector and fund it properly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the remainder of this debate, Mr Bone. I have been lobbied strongly, repeatedly and effectively by the excellent further education college in my constituency, namely Petroc. The staff, pupils and management team have been assiduous in ensuring that they get their message across. It is an excellent further education college and has two campuses. I am proud to say that the main one is in Barnstaple in my North Devon constituency, and it has a second campus in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). Between them, they educate or train about 10,000 people across all age groups every year.
As part of the communication that I have had with the college, I received a letter only a few weeks ago. It is worth quoting the principal’s statement on the college and the work it does. Diane Diamond, the principal and chief executive officer of Petroc, says:
“As a leading further education college, you will know that we are an essential part of the region’s education system. Whether it’s through top-class technical education, apprenticeships, A-levels, basic skills or lifelong learning, we help people of all ages and backgrounds across Devon and beyond to make the most of their talents and ambitions. Rooted in the local community, I feel we are crucial in driving social mobility and providing the skills to boost local and regional economies.”
I agree with Diane; she is absolutely right. I would add one thing: further education colleges such as Petroc play a vital role in driving the Government’s industrial strategy, and they are really important. They have lobbied me on two main issues, which I want to represent to the Minister. First, the general sense is that funding for students in the 16 to 18 further education sector has not kept up; it has fallen in real terms since 2010, which compares unfavourably with both the 11 to 16 sector and the post-18 sector. That sense of an unlevel playing field has come through loud and clear in what Petroc has said to me. It suggests that further education is, I am afraid to say, the poor relation, especially when we look at the work that the Government are doing to improve funding of, for instance, the secondary schools sector. I have had many conversations about this with Ministers at the Department for Education. I feel that we are making progress there, but we are not making progress with the FE sector.
The second issue that Petroc raised with me is that the salary of lecturers and teachers in FE colleges has not kept pace with the pay of those who teach the same age groups—16 to 18-year-olds—in sixth-form colleges. This seems slightly perverse, because there are more 16 to 18-year-olds studying at further education colleges than at secondary schools that still retain a sixth form: roughly 600,000 versus 400,000. Once again, we do not have a level playing field.
Petroc has two asks, which I echo. The first is to look into increasing the funding of FE colleges at a sustainable level, as called for in the petition. The second is to consider providing some exceptional, ring-fenced funding to cover the costs of a fairer pay deal for the lecturers and teachers who work so hard in the 16 to 18 further education college sector. Petroc has had significant investment in recent years, and I want to stress that it has great new facilities. It has been my pleasure to visit the college many times and see the fantastic work it does. It has great results and is a fine, growing institution. I have been closely involved with many of Petroc’s initiatives; I have attended graduation ceremonies, and I sit on the board of the Health and Care Academy, which is a great initiative that Petroc runs in conjunction with the North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust.
We know there are many competing demands on the Government’s finances. I know the Minister cares deeply for the further education sector and fights very strongly for it, but I would not be doing my job if I did not reflect the very strong representations that I have received from Petroc College, which have been echoed by hon. and right hon. Members of different parties. The name of this campaign is “Love Our Colleges.” I know the Minister loves our colleges and I ask her to spread that love a little more effectively, particularly in the direction of North Devon.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding over our business this afternoon, Mr Bone. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones).
What has been striking in this debate is the consistency of the message from Members of different parties—not just, predictably, from the Opposition, but from the loyalists on the Government Benches. They include the Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon); the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on education, the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns); previous Ministers of State at a number of Departments; and other colleagues who know the Minister much better than I do, and who speak of her commitment to further education. I hope she gets the message as strongly as it has been delivered, takes it back to reinforce the work that she is doing in the Department, and reinforces its battle with the Treasury to get the required funding.
I am grateful to Alison Arnaud of the Tower Hamlets campus of New City College for her briefing on local impacts; to Vanessa Donhowe of the Sixth Form Colleges Association and the “Raise the Rate” campaign for briefing on the national effects; and to the Library, as ever, for their assistance. I would like briefly to mention three issues: the overall funding rate, the specific rate for 16 to 19-year-olds, and the staffing pay levels. All have been mentioned in pretty much every single speech by colleagues.
As has been stated, the overall level of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds in schools, sixth-form colleges and FE colleges is allocated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, using a simple national funding formula. A new formula based on learner numbers has been used since 2013-14 and replaced the old formula, which was based broadly on the number of qualifications taken. Based on figures in the ESFA account, expenditure on 16 to 19-year-old education decreased by about 11% in cash terms and 21% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16. The 2015 spending review settlement included protection of the core adult skills participation budgets in cash terms at £1.5 billion. Prior to that, spending on the adult skills budget fell by 32% in cash terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
On spending on 16 to 19-year-old education, the Library briefing reports that the Institute for Fiscal Studies 2018 annual report on education spending notes that
“spending per student in an FE or sixth-form college is now about 8% lower than spending per pupil in secondary schools, having been about 50% greater at the start of the 1990s.”
It concluded that 16 to 18 education in England
“has been the big loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years”
as spending fell more quickly during the 1990s and grew more slowly in the 2000s. It is
“one of the few areas of education spending to see cuts since 2010.”
It reports several underspends. Spending on 16 to 19 education was £135 million lower than forecast in 2014-15, and £132 million lower in 2015-16. In 2016-17, spending was £106 million lower than expected, meaning that 1.8% of the budget was not spent. Sector spokespersons have raised concerns about budget underspends at a time of funding reductions, and have argued that the money should be used by the 16 to 19 sector and not redeployed to other ministerial priorities. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on that.
In Tower Hamlets—this affects young people in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali)—the minimum funding for a secondary school place is about £1,500 above what New City College gets per learner. On staffing pay, the Library also states that the School Teachers Review Body 2018-19 recommendations for paying allowances was an uplift of 3.5%, but as we have heard, the grant does not include further education and sixth-form colleges. That comes while the average national pay differential between a school teacher and an FE teacher is around £5,000; nearer to £7,000 in London; and there is an even wider gap in sought-after subjects such as maths.
The Minister will have seen the statistics published by the “Raise the Rate” campaign, which have been mentioned by other hon. Members. Fifty per cent. of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages; 34% have dropped STEM courses; 67% have reduced student support services, with significant cuts to mental health support, employability skills and career advice; and 77% are teaching pupils in larger class sizes. I would also be grateful if the Minister commented on that.
In conclusion, less money per pupil goes to colleges than to sixth forms in schools. There is less pay for teachers in colleges than for those in schools, and the overall funding for 16 to 19-year-olds and mature students is dropping overall in real terms. In February 2018, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a Government-led review of post-18 education, which would be supported by an independent panel. The panel should be publishing its report at an interim stage, with the Government concluding the review this year—I would be grateful if the Minister got us up to speed with the timetable for that review. I look forward to the Front-Bench responses to the excellent contributions we have so far heard in the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for getting the debate off to such a good start, and I congratulate the students from Brockenhurst College on their work to ensure that the debate took place.
We need not only to love our colleges, but to treasure and invest in them, because they are at the heart of our communities. They have connections to industry and commerce, help to power our communities, and are also engines of social mobility. All the evidence shows that colleges—more than any other institution—transform social mobility. For those reasons alone, we should do everything that we can to support them.
With the rise of the participation age, it is absolutely nonsensical that a youngster at the age of 16 to 18 should be funded 23% less than a youngster at the age of 15. That makes no sense at all, and the debate draws attention to that. I am really pleased to see the strength of opinion from across the House and that hon. Members know and understand the importance of the colleges in their communities. Today, that message has come through loud and clear to all of us.
The Minister really cares about colleges and is a passionate advocate for them, which we welcome, but she needs to deliver. In her response, she must tell us where the underfunding of colleges sits in the Department for Education’s priorities with the Treasury—is it first, second, third, or 27th? We need to be honest about that. I think people in this Chamber would agree that it would be the No. 1 priority if the Department really cared about social mobility and delivering the skill agenda that we need as we leave the European Union.
Skills are central. One of people’s main concerns during the referendum was the issue of migrant labour. If we are to tackle that problem, we need to invest in skills. Who better to invest in those skills than our colleges? They make the difference. For my pains, I ran a college for a number of years, which was probably a more challenging job than being a Member of Parliament. The challenges that principals face today are much greater than those that I confronted in 2010.
Principals can only balance certain things and manage certain variables. One of those variables is the curriculum. Hon. Members have talked about how the curriculum is shrinking, and that includes student support and enrichment, as well as the breadth of curriculum and the disappearance of STEM subjects, languages and so on. Another variable that we have talked about is the workload of teachers, who have to teach more periods, and therefore have larger classes. Class size is another variable. Only a certain number of variables can be played around with: class size, teacher workload and the curriculum. Principals handle and manage all those things. We are reaching breaking point.
Although we welcome the action on T-levels and additional support for maths, T-levels will not come through until 2022 and will not affect young people now, and the other changes are small beer. We need to ensure that the rate is raised for those doing the central work.
I echo my hon. Friend’s comments. I say on behalf of my colleges—Franklin College and Grimsby Institute—that his points are exactly right. The additional cost burdens of things such as general data protection regulation, which have not been factored in, all add to the costs pressures on colleges.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. One the great colleges in my constituency, John Leggott College, which I was proud to lead, contacted me this week and said that the staff pay increases would be a real challenge for colleges. If the pension increases remain unfunded, that will represent the equivalent of six teacher posts. North Lindsey College also raised the issue of support for apprenticeships. It has had a massive 30% increase in apprenticeships this year to deliver on the Government’s priority of apprenticeships. It is concerned, however, about the potential cap to the funding of apprenticeships, which would really damage the investment that has been made in them.
I hope the Minister will give us reassurances that the strength and development of apprenticeships will not be badly affected by those changes. We need to raise the rate, treasure and invest in our colleges, and recognise that they are a key part of our future.
I thank the Petitions Committee for facilitating this important debate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for introducing it. I apologise for my intermittent coughing; I am afraid I have Brexit fever—it has affected us all in different ways. I shall persevere and press on regardless.
I will highlight some particular points that apply to my own college, East Durham College. I thank its excellent principal, Suzanne Duncan, and all the staff, for their hard work and dedication to the students in my constituency, and for giving me an insight into the funding issues that East Durham and other FE colleges face. I agree with many of the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber about the unfair nature of funding. I hope that the Minister will address those points in her response.
The funding cuts for East Durham College, like many other colleges, have meant real-term cuts in staff pay, fewer teaching hours for students, bigger class sizes and less choice. The Department for Education has demanded more from teachers for the same funding, which has resulted in substantial additional workloads on top of delivering work experience, maths and English GCSE re-sits, and the careers strategy obligations. I am told that adult education funding is being cut by 45%.
Clearly, further education colleges are an essential part of England’s education system. Whether through top-class technical education, basic skills or lifelong learning, colleges help people of all ages and backgrounds to make the most of their talents and abilities. My college, based in Peterlee, is rooted in the local communities. It previously served the mining industry. It has developed and moved on, and is crucial in driving social mobility and providing the skills boost to the local and regional economy.
It is fundamental—indeed, it is essential in constituencies such as mine—that colleges are properly funded. We heard that college funding was cut by around 30% between 2009 and 2019. I listened to the contributions by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) and the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). I do not know whether they have experienced the same problems, but we have fewer hours of teaching and less support for young people, and we have seen a drastic reduction in learning opportunities for adults. We know the value of staff pay has fallen by more than 25%, and many Members have pointed out that college teachers earn £7,000 a year less than their colleagues who teach in schools. This situation simply is not sustainable, and it ultimately impacts college students, staff, businesses and the wider community.
I met the lobby group from Love Our Colleges, a coalition of trade unions, students, college leaders and people with a particular interest in colleges. As time is short, I will not go through its manifesto, but I hope the Minister studies it. As a result of this Government’s austerity policies, every part of the public sector is asking for more money. Many have good cases, but the case for funding post-16 education is simply that if we as a nation are going to fill our yawning and ever-widening skills gap, there is only so much we can do with what little colleges currently receive. Last year’s IFS report confirmed that the FE sector has been hit worse by austerity than any other part of the education sector. Spending on FE and adult education has fallen by almost £3.5 billion since 2010.
Several hundred of my constituents are among the signatories to the petition, which indicates the value we place on our college. I thank the students who launched the petition, and I hope the Minister can provide them with some comfort that FE providers will be properly funded and protected. I do not want her to be remembered as the Minister responsible for kicking away the ladders of opportunity that many in the Chamber took for granted when they were students. Education is an investment. I hope the Government commit to ensuring that every student receives a high-quality and comprehensive education.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. Last Friday, I spoke to the principal of Portsmouth College, which I had the privilege of attending. What he told me was seriously concerning, and I am proud to be here to speak up for that college.
If we walked into a college in Canada, we would see sixth-formers receiving 26 hours of tuition per week. In Singapore, that figure is 27 hours, and in Shanghai it is 30 hours. We give our sixth-formers 15 hours of tuition per week. We owe our young people so much more. How can we expect future generations to compete on the world stage when we give them far less than their counterparts across the globe? If we want this great nation’s future to be as bright as its past, we need to invest in our young people.
Colleges educate nearly 65% of those who go on to higher education. Located both geographically and symbolically at the heart of our communities, colleges are a driving force for social mobility. All that is being put at risk. As we heard, colleges have had to deal with average funding cuts of 30% and soaring costs over the past 10 years. The effects have been severe. Those who attend state-run colleges have spent on them a third of what is spent on those who attend independent schools. In the past 10 years, qualifications in health and social care, engineering and plumbing have fallen by nearly 70% and, perhaps most significantly, IT qualifications have fallen by almost 90%.
The consequences are dire for everyone in our country, not just for our young people. Think of a world where we have hospitals but no nurses, where we can no longer construct buildings such as the Shard, the Spinnaker tower in Portsmouth or the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol, and where we can no longer protect this country from the ever-growing cyber-security threats we face. That may sound bleak, but those will all be very real scenarios if we do not increase spending on sixth-form colleges.
Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, recently expressed her concern about college funding to the Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit. She wrote:
“My strong view is that the government should use the forthcoming spending review to increase the base rate for 16 to 18 funding.”
Again, it seemed the Government had heard enough from experts; they chose not to take her advice. Instead, the national base rate for 16 and 17-year-olds was fixed at £4,000 per student, which obviously does nothing to account for the inflationary pressures and cost increases that our colleges face every year.
The solution to this problem is simple: we need to raise the funding rate from £4,000 per sixth-form student. Failure to do so would mean fewer young people realising their dreams, would dramatically affect the economy and would undermine our nation’s capability in a global market. A small increase in funding would have an immeasurable effect on the nation’s future and would be a minor price to pay for its financial security. I am not alone in asking the Government to increase funding; it is what the staff of colleges such as Portsmouth College tell me they need, and Her Majesty’s chief inspector has said it is essential. College principals around the country have come forward in support of this fantastic petition. We need to safeguard the future of our country and our young people. We need to raise the rate for fantastic colleges such as Portsmouth College.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. Pretty much all of what I was going to say has been said, but in the great tradition of this place I am going to say it anyway.
My constituency is served by three excellent colleges: Stoke Sixth Form College, under the leadership of Mark Kent; Stoke-on-Trent College, under the leadership of Denise Brown; and Newcastle College in the constituency neighbouring mine, under the leadership of Karen Dobson. All three of those colleges provide the basic parts of the social mobility engine in north Staffordshire. If it were not for those colleges, young people across my constituency and north Staffordshire would find their options very limited. Some of the finest minds in north Staffordshire have been through those colleges—not least the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), who was a student at the sixth-form college.
As well as providing a first-class education for the young people in my constituency, those colleges provide a whole host of life skills and support. That is not reflected in the current level of funding. When the Minister is able again to argue with the Treasury about the rate, I hope she factors in that this is about not just how much we spend per pupil for their education, but the other things colleges provide, which are not accounted for anywhere else in their budgets. The sixth-form college in the middle of my constituency is essentially the extension of a social work practice. It deals with the trials and tribulations of almost all the pupils there. In a community with cohesion and deprivation issues, in which parents struggle with literacy and numeracy and there are young mums with children, the colleges provide a safety net for a whole host of people who otherwise would not be able to access education.
In north Staffordshire, we struggle particularly with mental health provision. Claire Gaygan, the vice-principal of the sixth-form college, told me that in one year there were 70 referrals to the local child and adolescent mental health services but only one appointment was received. That means 69 young people are not accessing the mental health services and support they need. I know the Minister cannot fix that overnight, and I know it is not something she does not take seriously, but too many young people in our colleges need additional support that simply is not being provided.
I pointed out earlier that had funding increased by inflation instead of being frozen, an additional £308 per pupil would be being spent in colleges across the country. I am told by the Library that there are around 8,500 young people between 16 and 18 in Stoke-on-Trent. A quick bit of maths tells us that that would amount to around £2.5 million across the three colleges in north Staffordshire, which would make a big difference to the life chances of the young people I represent.
I fear we are getting to the point where this is a zero-sum game. We had a lot of talk from many Members this afternoon about teachers’ pay, and the funding for high schools and further education. The reality is that we should not be pitting the funding for those up to the age of 15 against that of 16 to 18-year-olds. We certainly should not be trying to level down; we should be levelling up and recognising that if colleges are well funded, universities will have good-quality applicants who can go forward to take on high-quality graduate jobs.
If colleges are well funded, the skills gaps that we face in our communities, particularly those such as Stoke-on-Trent, can be met with ease. If we have well-funded colleges, we will attract the best and brightest staff, who in turn will inspire the next generation to go on and do the jobs that we know are important. Stoke-on-Trent is a city rich in talent and aspiration, but it sometimes struggles to turn that into tangible outcomes. The colleges in my constituency are among the few places that are working to nurture that talent and aspiration. When I visit the colleges in my constituency—I am sure the same is true for all other Members at the colleges in their constituencies—I see the bright young faces of people who have met an inspirational teacher or leader, who has helped them to take the next step towards achieving something great for themselves and their families.
In my constituency, all too often the first generation of a family is accessing further education. The young people who are going to college now are breaking with the things that have gone before, and they have a chance to go on and do better than their parents and grandparents. Often, they come back and inspire the next generation. I have met far too many young people who have gone on to further education and taken qualifications at a more challenging level only because their brother or sister went on such a programme. They have seen what their brothers, sisters and cousins can achieve, and they have emulated and replicated it. The more we can do to stimulate that sort of interaction, the better we can be in providing a college system that works.
That comes with funding. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) said, we need to love our colleges. We need to spread that love further, but we cannot spread it more thinly. There simply has to be more love to go around. Investing in our colleges is about investing in our future, in our young people and in the future of our country. I know the Minister takes it seriously. The responses I have received to my education questions show that she knows this is a battle that needs to be had with the Treasury. All of us here today are willing to stand with her as she has that battle for the funding that we need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I feel as though we can achieve something that is perhaps unachievable at this moment in any other issue or in other areas of the House—that is, a little bit of consensus and cross-party working. Perhaps that will set a good example to other right hon. and hon. Members, because it is achievable.
So far, all the contributions have been supportive of FE. In the grand tradition mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), every argument has been made. We have all heard the powerful and persuasive reasons why FE matters so much, and I will not use every moment I have to repeat them all. There is, however, an argument that has not been made as much. Members have talked powerfully about the skills shortage and the need to address it—I will mention the particular difficulties around implementing the NHS 10-year plan in a moment—but colleges have another role, which has been completely downplayed, and that is to be the heart of the community.
For some people, such as adults with learning difficulties, colleges are a social place. For adults who may be struggling with their mental health, or for people whose lives have not worked out in the way we would all have liked, colleges can offer social interaction, a place to go and a purpose for getting up in the morning. I have heard that from constituents who have struggled with their mental health, but who wanted to go and complete their course. A really nice gentleman, who has some learning difficulties, loves to show me all his certificates, which he carries around in his backpack, because he is very proud of them. I know that the college is often just finding reasons to allow him to keep going, because he has a wonderful time there and it is a social event for him. The argument for skills is pivotal, but I put it to the Minister that we should also have an argument for colleges being part of the community. Is it really so bad for society that for some people, colleges are a social place where they can go and interact with others? Can we look at the funding streams to address that? At the moment, it feels as though there is no funding for a course if there is no qualification at the end of it.
What a delight to hear the hon. Lady say that. She is making the case for continuing lifelong and community learning, some of which does not necessarily have an economic purpose. Politicians have become so insecure and emasculated that they are reluctant to make a case for things that cannot be measured in precise terms. She is making a case for joy, and education should be about joy. That is why it is such a tragedy that adult community learning has declined since the days when the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) and I defended its budget.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that has declined. I know that because after giving birth, a friend of mine wanted a reason to get out of the house and not have the baby with her for a while, so she managed to sign me and herself up for salsa classes. I was quite disappointed because I was taller and had to be the bloke, so now I can salsa but only if I take the male role in the pair. This was something that my friend did after giving birth, when she wanted to get out of the house and find something else to do. I fear we are losing that role for colleges.
I return to the point about the NHS and the skills shortage. The 10-year plan for the NHS is welcome, but in a report the director of the Royal College of Nursing said:
“This report confirms our greatest fear – that the impressive ambition of the long term plan could be derailed, simply because we do not have the nursing staff to deliver it.”
The Minister might be expecting me to plug the fact that Hull College has set up a nursing apprenticeship, which I think is really exciting. In a different debate at a different time, with pretty much the same Members, I spoke about the need for progression from level 2 to a degree apprenticeship to be clearly defined and mapped out, so that each individual can see how one moves on to another. That is exactly what has been done at Hull College, which has taken people at 16 years old from a level 2 qualification in health and social care and given them a pathway right through to a nursing degree apprenticeship. I have mentioned to the Minister before that we need to have a clear pathway and progression mapped out, from levels 2, 3 and 4 all the way up.
The Education Committee visited Germany to look at lifelong learning. Quite a few people have mentioned the challenges of automation—it is both a challenge and something to be excited about—that present problems around lifelong learning and how to upskill people in this country. In Germany, they are already starting to do that in a programme called Industry 4.0, which is happening across the country. I feel as though we are already quite far behind, and they have moved on with this. We do not want to be a country that is left even further behind, especially after Brexit.
The hon. Lady and I work together on the Select Committee. She is making one of the best speeches of the afternoon, particularly when it comes to the importance of FE as social capital. When FE colleges in areas that have very little economic capital are weakened, the community is destroyed. What she says about Germany is incredibly important. She will know that 50% of German students go on to do further or technical education, as do 70% of Swiss students, because we went to both those places. Those countries have Governments that are investing in FE and giving it equality with academic education, and we should closely follow their example.
It will be no surprise to the right hon. Gentleman that I completely agree with him, and I share his passion for that. In a previous debate on the subject, I made the point that if we want such parity of esteem, we need parity of outcome. Germany’s model has no dead ends. If someone starts on a vocational route, they can move across, between vocational and academic, and back. They can get to degree level through a vocational route, if they want to. That is why I feel as though T-levels are a distraction, as I have mentioned to the Minister before. That is, unfortunately, where we disagree.
To conclude, of course I support “Raise the Rate”. It is crucial that we have more money for our pupils. I am proud that the Labour party has an inspiring national education service vision for everyone to get behind. I put on record my thanks to all the staff at Hull College and at Wyke Sixth Form College—which is where I went, so I especially like that one—for all their hard work and for everything they do for all the pupils in Hull. I implore the Minister to consider that skills, progression and future matter, but so do a sense of belonging and a sense of community; those are the other things that FE provides.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) on the excellent speech she gave just now, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on introducing this important debate. There is no doubt that with a little more time and spending for FE, we could be less worried about loneliness, which is a current policy concern.
There is no such thing as a job for life, and with the possibility of an election in the air there is nothing dearer to our hearts than the sense that MPs may not have a job for life either. Who knows whether any of us may end up at our FE college at a not-too-distant time, seeking extra courses?
There has been poor retention in apprenticeships for several years, and we all know how crucial it is to get the apprenticeship workstream right. To date that has not happened, but my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle mentioned how important it is, from the beginning of the course, to make the pathway clear so that students can see what happens at the end, and more students can be retained on their apprenticeships. It is a pleasure to have some students here with us in Westminster Hall.
I want to thank Kurt Hintz, the principal of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, which is now part of a consortium of three or four colleges—the largest FE provider in London. There have been pluses and minuses for the teaching in north London as a result of that. Personally, I think the college achieved more before, when it could focus on a smaller population group, but we are where we are. A number of teachers have come to see me, including in the autumn, when the University and College Union organised a parliamentary tour to see MPs. A teacher of English as a second language, who is incredibly committed to what she teaches, pointed out that whereas an average secondary school teacher is paid £37,000, she is paid only £30,000. Many hon. Members have made the case for raising the rate and cancelling out that discrepancy.
Some hon. Members have pointed out that a 67% drop in the welfare workstream, and in extracurricular activity, arts and music, means a much diminished offer to students. I have seen from my casework how much work welfare officers do in the college and how they keep students at college, which is crucial to their mental health.
I attended an FE college, and it saved my life. I was struggling in the chemical industry and had lost my way. Going to FE college saved my life and career. I was a mature student, transferring, and the welfare and the support was wonderful. I just want that for every student in every FE college; they are the heart of our skills environment in this country.
My hon. Friend has repaid his debt to the college sector by committing himself to lifelong learning and apprenticeships. That includes the importance of learning as a part of industrial strategy, especially for towns, where colleges do important work in many pockets of deprivation, in England in particular.
I want to mention the gender and black and ethnic minority pay gaps. Someone who does not get a strong offer in college is likely to enter the workforce on lower pay. That surely has something to do with the fact that so many women and black and ethnic minority members of the workforce are paid less. The Department should surely look into that and rectify it.
Some Members have raised the question of STEM. The 24% drop in the STEM offer in the college sector is a terrible step backwards. What is being done to tie up the FE sector with huge public procurement projects such as Crossrail, the super-sewers project and High Speed 2? Could not some of the money be spent in colleges, to make links? When a big project such as the Thames tideway tunnel finishes, could that tunnelling expertise not then be lent to another high-value expensive public procurement exercise elsewhere?
I know that other hon. Members want to speak. We must redouble our efforts and together with the Minister, who I know is committed to this area, as well as the Chairman of the Education Committee, put pressure on the Treasury and make the case for lifelong learning.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the petitioners who got the petition going, and every one of the 70,000 people who signed it. It shows that when people get behind the further education sector, it can make an impact here. The quality and number of contributions to the debate says it all.
I want to talk about the impact of further education in my family. My son recently completed his second year mid-term exams at the University of Hull, but when he left school at the age of 16 no one would have expected him to go to university. It was the contribution of the further education sector—specifically Chesterfield College—that enabled him to go on to do well at university. Many of us recognise that a lot of children do not do well at school, and further education can have a transformative impact on them. I am worried that the education system is becoming a one-chance saloon. Adolescents can, as we all know, go through all kinds of crises. It is important that they get a second chance.
Chesterfield College plays an incredibly important role in the community, and not just through the services it provides at various levels to the 10,000 people who attend it. It is also as an employer and as a customer of Chesterfield’s businesses that it needs support. It also played the crucial role of providing my Christmas card this year—something that I am sure all those who received it will not have forgotten.
Further education is important for children who did not do all that well at school, but who have huge potential for academic study after their love of learning is developed by the sector. It also provides an important service to children who did well at school but want a different kind of study. It provides a kind of education with more freedom, much more like the university experience. It is also important for children who want to pursue non-academic study and to develop skills.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. I was a secondary school teacher. The focus on university education has such an impact on the whole school system that I believe if we considered greater parity, there would be a positive effect on teaching at key stages 3 and 4. It would make things far more interesting for a vast number of young people.
I agree entirely. A diverse education system is incredibly important for any country that wants to be competitive in the global race. I am worried that we are leaving far too many people behind, which I think is the point the hon. Lady is making.
Further education is important for many people with special educational needs who leave school but are not yet ready for the world of work, and who want to develop their skills. It is important to see education as not purely about the jobs people will do, but about their development in a variety of ways. That relates to FE’s role in supporting people who are recovering from a crisis. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) spoke about that.
Often the move to do a further education course is a step towards the world of work. It might be a flower-arranging course, first aid or any number of things that do not end up being a job, but that offer a starting point for people who are at a moment in their lives where they need something to give them a sense of hope. Of course, further education is also important for people looking to boost their skills and accelerate their career development.
Further education colleges play a core role in providing apprenticeship starts, particularly in the small business sector, where businesses do not have all the skills that our major employers have. I am worried that much of the progress made in the last 12 or 15 years on apprenticeships is being lost because of the apprenticeship reforms. Apprenticeships are not just about the Rolls-Royces of this world, and colleges play an important role in enabling apprenticeships to happen in our small business sector. I am also worried about the huge numbers of experienced lecturers who are leaving the sector, which other hon. Members have spoken about. We heard from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) that 25,000 have left the profession. That is a huge number of dedicated, skilled, experienced people lost from this crucial sector.
Today’s debate is about loving our colleges; we have had the call and we have heard from Members of Parliament on both sides of the Chamber that we all love our colleges, but it is important that the Government give some meaning to those words and ensure that the money backs that love. We can all speak about the importance of further education, but it is important that, when the Minister gets to her feet, she demonstrates that the Government are willing to show that love with some cold, hard cash.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for introducing this important debate.
I should begin by saying a word about my own background. When I first left school, I served an engineering apprenticeship—that was some years ago now, so I hope nobody will expect me to do any feats of engineering. The crucial thing about the training system at the time, although it was far from perfect, was that we got both on-the-job training in the workplace and the academic or technical side of things on day release to college, which I had the benefit of throughout my apprenticeship.
Those who worked in a relatively small workplace, as I did, only gained a narrow range of skills, because there are only so many things to learn in one place, but the great thing about college was that that range was augmented. We got transferable skills from going to college and taking the various qualifications that were available. It is important that we bear that in mind, otherwise we are training people to work in one workplace with no prospect of ever moving on to another.
Time forbids me to go through all the statistics that hon. Members have quoted at length, but I will say that we know, as has been said on both sides of the Chamber, that we have seen the number of apprenticeships fall and the amount of funding that colleges get—per pupil and overall—fall over the past 10 or so years. That cannot be right. I have had some briefing from St Helens College and Knowsley Community College, and from the City of Liverpool College, telling me that the apprenticeship system is so unnecessarily complicated that it gives them a headache. City of Liverpool College tells me that it has to deal with 14 different funding pots for apprenticeships. That is ridiculous. I hope the Minister will look at that problem and try to find some way of short-circuiting that complicated funding system.
Before I finish, I will briefly refer to points that have already been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West). Colleges are reporting huge increases in the mental health problems they have to deal with—those statistics have already been quoted—and there is a problem. Colleges must be able to help people with mental health problems get the training or education they need, but to do that they need the resources. In the context of constantly diminishing resources, they just do not have the capacity to do the sort of work that is necessary.
This has been a good debate and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in it. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, she will address the funding problem that so many hon. Members have mentioned. I hope she will look at simplifying the apprenticeship funding system and take into account the comments that have been made about mental health problems.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on introducing this Petitions Committee debate today. I will try not to repeat the many points that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber.
On her first day, the Prime Minister promised to tackle the “burning injustices” of society, with the implication that everyone in Britain, whatever their background and age, would be able to succeed. Here we are confronted with another example of deed not following word: the cuts to our further education system.
In December, I visited West Thames College in Isleworth in my constituency, which was largely rebuilt thanks to the decision of the Labour Government in 2010 and now has amazing student and technical facilities from that major capital build. The college provides a wide variety of courses, including world-renowned specialist hair and make-up degrees, whose graduates get jobs in the west end and in the film and TV industry; a range of vocational courses designed in conjunction with local employers, such as in aviation and logistics, where we have a local skill shortage; and courses in English as an additional language to enable young people recently arrived in the country to make progress in education and employment. There is specialist support for those who need additional support to access mainstream courses, and specialist courses for students with severe or complex disabilities. There is also a programme for 14 to 16-year-olds who have not coped in school for various reasons, such as health or family problems.
When I visited in early December, I met a number of students on a variety of courses—students such as Page and Rosie, who were aged 18. Each had struggled for different reasons when younger and had missed a lot of school, but West Thames is providing them with the focus to catch up on their core skills and giving them career hopes—Page in bridal hair and Rosie in car mechanics. I met 32-year-old Katrina, who is doing an access to social work course. As the lone parent of a disabled child, she has struggled to pursue a career or even, at times, to get a job. She told me how the course will enable her to apply to university and hopefully achieve her dream of becoming a professional social worker.
Uplifting as their stories are, the students on the different courses raised concerns with me about problems they had experienced recently: cuts to the teaching hours that are needed to cover the breadth of the curriculum on their courses; cuts in courses such as employability, which are so important in helping them to get a job; concerns about the provision of up-to-date specialist equipment and software, because they are changing all the time and the college needs to keep up with the changing needs of employers; and overstretched special needs and mental health support. The college is also suffering from the decimation of adult learning, with fewer and fewer adults able to attend the college.
I was lucky enough to benefit in 2008 from retraining through adult education. Does my hon. Friend agree that the great benefit of further education is the richness and breadth it can provide, and the diversity of courses that does not exist anywhere else? We are seeing 30% cuts at Warwickshire College Group, which has 29,000 students and provides a huge benefit across Warwickshire.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The decimation of adult courses has been brought about partly through the ending of student support for over-19s. The students and colleges are dealing with that cliff edge, which comes when students reach 19. Aviation and ICT course students told me that more than half the students left at the end of level 2, because they no longer got funding. They therefore missed out on level 3, which is the best gateway to jobs.
West Thames College, like many others, has lost 30% of its funding in the last 10 years, while costs, as other hon. Members have said, have been rising. Students told me that they respected their tutors greatly and could not understand how they earned £7,000 less than equivalently experienced schoolteachers. The West Thames principal, Tracy Aust, made it clear to me that this situation, with all these problems, is not sustainable and ultimately impacts not only on students but on staff, businesses, our communities and our wider economy.
How can Government Members wring their hands about UK productivity and then oversee the decimation of the education and skills training that is fundamental to the productivity that this country so badly needs? How can they wax lyrical about social mobility and then withdraw or underfund the options that enable people to aspire and achieve?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and to hear so many excellent contributions.
It is no secret that this Government are presiding over rising inequality in education. All 26 schools in my constituency face real-terms cuts to their budgets; university tuition fees have risen threefold; and maintenance grants and education maintenance allowance has been scrapped, hitting students from the poorest and most deprived households the hardest.
Colleges are a beacon of hope and opportunity in our local communities. As John van de Laarschot, chief executive officer of Nottingham College, says:
“Rooted in local communities and with broad and deep links to local employers, Further Education Colleges like ours help people of all ages and backgrounds to make the most of their talents and ambitions through top-class technical education, basic skills and lifelong learning. We play a crucial role in driving social mobility and boost local and regional economic competitiveness.”
But colleges are dealing with sustained under-investment that is nothing short of a financial crisis.
Recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies crowned further education “the biggest loser” in education over the last 25 years, and no wonder, as its research has revealed that since 2009 college funding has fallen by 30%, and funding per sixth-form student has fallen by 21% since 2010-11. Of course, we may soon say goodbye to European funding, which often helps colleges over the line.
This is all happening at a time when colleges’ costs have increased substantially. As has been recognised, the 16 to 18 budget has been frozen by this Government for seven consecutive years at £4,000 per student. A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner states that by the end of this decade, as a country we will be spending the same amount of cash per 16 to 18 student as we were in 1990. That simply cannot be right, especially when we know that the years from 16 to 18 are such a critical time in young people’s lives. It is the time when they often need the most support and when they face multiple pressures. From sitting or perhaps resitting some of the most important exams of their lives to deciding whether to apply to university or seek an apprenticeship, they are getting to grips with adulthood and making choices that will often shape their whole future. Too many students of that age face mental health problems, but a survey by the “Raise the Rate” campaign has found that many colleges are having to make significant cuts to mental health support just when it is most needed.
The continuing budget freeze, teamed with rising costs, means that ultimately colleges are being asked to do more with less. Nottingham College is currently working with a total income of £86.8 million—a 26% reduction since 2012-13. In the last year alone, it has rationalised sites and closed an on-site nursery. Of course, this is not happening just in my constituency. As we have heard, college students all over the country face less choice in the curriculum on offer and reductions in teaching and learning support, and they are often unable to access the same extracurricular activities, work experience opportunities and university visits as their peers in private and selective schools.
Adult further education, which plays a vital role in increasing social mobility, is also dependent on the success of our colleges, but funding has fallen by 45% in nine years, and enrolments of adult students have dropped from 5.1 million to just 1.9 million over the same period. Learning is not just for the young; it is something for all of us and we should be able to access it throughout our lives. As the nature of work changes, we need to be ready to reskill and retrain, to adapt to new technologies and take up new opportunities. The Government say that they are committed to increasing social mobility, yet funding for vocational and adult education has been decimated. Gone are the days of taking an evening class at a local college after work. The second chances that life-changing lifelong learning courses provide are being destroyed. As has been recognised, that not only makes people’s lives less fulfilling; in many cases, it just makes them less fun.
It is not just college students and potential learners who are affected by the lack of funding. Since 2009, college staff have seen their pay fall by 25%. According to the UCU, teachers in further education colleges earn on average £7,000 a year less than teachers in schools, often for the same work. No wonder that they have been leaving the further education sector in their droves. Since 2010, 24,000 have left, which is one third of the total teaching workforce. In Nottingham College alone, there has been a 34% reduction in teaching staff since 2012-13; the number has gone from 937 down to 616. Hard-pressed staff simply cannot be expected to continue doing more for less.
I am proud to speak today on behalf of Nottingham College’s 40,000 students and 1,500 staff. There is of course some good news: the new City Hub campus will provide excellent learning facilities and transform a brownfield city centre site.
We are asking the Minister to increase funding to sustainable levels. Will she give a guarantee of real-terms funding rises for the coming five years? Will she commit to extending the pupil premium to cover post-16 students? Will she ensure that everyone can access lifelong learning, particularly those who have not achieved a level 3 qualification? Will she ensure that colleges can offer their staff a decent pay deal this year and in the years ahead? We in this Chamber all love our colleges; I hope that our colleges love the Minister’s reply.
I did not intend to speak because I was a long time in the main Chamber for the Prime Minister’s Brexit statement, so thank you, Mr Bone, for giving me the opportunity. It is a perfect segue, because the chief executive of Nottingham College, John van de Laarschot, used to be the chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, next to my area. He is a good man, and I count him as a friend.
The Minister will know well from the correspondence that we have had over the last year that Newcastle-under-Lyme has an excellent college—I hope that she will visit us sometime soon. Its principal, Karen Dobson, was awarded an OBE in the new year’s honours list, in recognition of her efforts and those of her team. I played my part in getting a £5 million contribution from the old Advantage West Midlands to make the construction happen, because there was no better argument for investment in regeneration than investment in people’s futures and in their further education.
I want to make one wider point, with the Chair of the Education Committee here, to the Minister. In Newcastle, since the reorganisation in the 1980s, there is only one school, St John Fisher, a Catholic school, that has a sixth form; everybody else goes to the college, more or less. Therefore, excellent though the college is, this is not simply a matter of choice. My plea to the Minister is that, be it on per-pupil funding or on teachers’ pay, the playing field between school sixth forms and FE colleges simply must be levelled. Not only is the current situation unfair to pupils and teachers; it discriminates against areas like mine in north Staffordshire, Newcastle and Stoke-on-Trent, which have a different school and college structure. I hope that in the coming days, weeks and months, as the Minister goes in to bat in the Treasury, her Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), will pursue that argument with her vigorously.
It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and that of your predecessor in this debate, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). It has been an absolute joy—to echo the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes)—to be in this debate and to hear the unanimous view about what needs to happen in this sector. The Minister has been showered not only with an avalanche of statistics but, more importantly, with evidence of the life-enhancing chances that further education and skills can bring.
The case has been made with an eloquence and urgency that demands a response not only from the Minister—I am sure it will be good—but from the Secretary of State for Education, because he needs to put his shoulder to the wheel in the discussions with the Treasury. I know that the Minister will do her best in that area, but if the Secretary of State for Education does not get that money through and if the Chancellor does not come back and respond to the abject failure in his Budget, none of them will be forgiven. That is the crux of what we have been talking about.
I do not have the ability to praise all the hon. Members who made speeches, but I certainly praise the 70,000 people who signed the petition. I praise all the excellent briefings from the Association of Colleges, the Sixth Form Colleges Association, Unison and the UCU, and all the individual colleges, principals and staff, as well as the many individual students, whom hon. Members have quoted. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who spelled out to the Minister in simple, cogent and thoughtful terms the challenge of a divided country that has been left behind; the challenge to make this a newsworthy crusade, which it has not been in the past; and the challenge simply to understand and to question why this has happened.
When EMA was abolished in 2010, £555 a year was being spent; why do we now have 16 to 19 bursaries at only a third of that value? Why, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, has the concept of night schools been left behind? Why has this funding been frozen at £4,000? Those issues have not just dropped into the Minister’s tray; they have been in the trays of the four Skills Ministers that I have shadowed since 2011.
I cannot touch on everything that has been said, but I would like to highlight some points. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) talked about the issues with T-levels, as have many other people. If I had more time, I would talk more about T-levels, not to attack them, but to say that they are doing a very different job, and even that job is being hampered by a series of things.
The right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who is the respected Chair of the Education Committee, was absolutely right to talk about the different ages at which people get second chances and to challenge the Government on building new colleges. I absolutely agree with him: what is the point of building new colleges or new institutes of this, that or the other, if there are inadequate staff to take those courses through and inadequate funding to sustain them? That is the challenge for the Government. This requires a long-term strategy and a 10-year plan.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) gave a fantastic speech lauding her own FE college. She also pointed out the dire problems for smaller towns—she was absolutely right to talk about the tragic situation of Manchester Metropolitan University—which were expressed by many hon. Members. My hon. Friends also mentioned the 24,000 FE teachers who have left the sector. The Minister and the Department have to focus on those things.
The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, whom I am proud to call my collaborator in the joy of further education, was absolutely right to point out that the role of adult learning is in jeopardy because of the sheer volume of funding cuts. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) talked about the yawning gap between schools funding and FE teachers’ funding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) talked about the importance of Winstanley College in her constituency, which reminded me that it is named after Gerrard Winstanley, who was one of the group of Levellers to become known as the Diggers. Thomas Rainsborough, another Leveller, said to Cromwell that the “poorest he”—sorry about the sexism of the 17th century—should have the same opportunities as the “greatest he”. That is the watchword of further education and schools, time after time: people should be allowed to have this opportunity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) put his finger on the button when he talked about the message needing to go to the Secretary of State for Education and to the Treasury, regarding the underspend on 16 to 19 education and advanced learner loans. It is a tragedy that this Government have not only failed to put money in the right places, but introduced systems and structures, such as the advanced learner loans, of which 50% of the money has been returned to the Treasury year after year and nothing has been done about it. That is one of the real problems in this area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) talked about how valuable further education is to the north Staffordshire economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), who serves so strongly on the Education Committee, talked about the social capital in that area. We also heard a number of good points from my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins).
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) talked about the over-complex system. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) quite rightly pointed to the achievements of the last Labour Government in this area and how those have not been replicated so far by this Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) praised the principal of a college in his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) summed up further education as a beacon of hope and opportunity.
Those are the sorts of questions that come to this Chamber. It is sad that we have to revisit these voices of challenge and hope, because we were all led to believe—as the Minister said in perfectly good faith—that the unprecedented campaign in the autumn would produce a result. That is why, in October last year, I wrote to the Chancellor to request an urgent uplift in this area.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
As I was saying, these cuts have been very severe. There has been a real-terms cut of anything between 50% and 60% in the budget for adult education, as well as cuts in the budgets for further education and sixth-form funding—which, of course, is why the “Raise the Rate” campaign has been doing what it has been doing. The truth of the matter is that, as Amanda Spielman said,
“I am firmly of the view that the government should increase the base rate for 16 to 19 funding in the forthcoming spending review.”
We really do have to go down that route. We cannot repeat the situation of being marched up to the top of the hill and down again, as we were with the Chancellor.
There are so many aspects of tonight’s debate that I could talk about, but I do not have the time to do so. However, I particularly want to ask the Minister whether she is going to do anything to make sure that the Augar review rebalances the rates between students in FE and HE, and whether that will be a priority in the spending review. We also know about the issues with the financial health of colleges and insolvency; what is the Minister going to be doing in that area? We know that policy makers have not looked holistically at that area, and we need to have that holistic approach.
Because this Government have failed to take a holistic approach, because they have not looked at human capital as well as physical capital, and because the advanced learner loans have been a continuing disaster, we need to have a transformation. We need to have parity of esteem, and that can only be achieved through the sorts of structures that the Labour party are proposing: the national education service and the lifelong learning commission. Having spent 20 years as a lecturer in the adult learning sector, and having seen the powerful effect of FE in my own college in Blackpool, I believe that there is no better way of dealing with this issue than having that step change, not just of funding, but of vision and structure.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate, and I offer particular congratulations to the A-level politics students of Brockenhurst College for having started the petition that underlies it. I think we can all agree that securing a debate in Parliament is a pretty impressive piece of A-level project work.
No, I only have 10 minutes. I am so sorry.
The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) mentioned the Augar review, and he should be in no doubt that I have fed my feelings about further education into that review. It is an independent review, and we await it with anticipation; somebody asked about timescales, but I do not yet know when it will report. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, we certainly are not building any new colleges. Institutes of technology, which are possibly what he was referring to, are collaborations. That is not about new buildings; it is about collaborations between FE and HE.
I cannot rehearse all the valuable arguments that have been made, but we sometimes forget that despite all the challenges that FE faces, 81% of colleges are rated “good” or “outstanding”. However, I know that Ofsted has raised concerns about the financial stability of the sector and how finances constrain what FE colleges and sixth-form colleges can do, and of course we have heard a great deal about that today. The petition that underpins this debate was launched as part of the Association of Colleges’ campaign, “Love Our Colleges”—which I do. Campaigns such as this and “Raise the Rate” have helped raise the profile of this issue, and we have had 18 speakers today.
The hon. Member for Cambridge is right to talk about divisions; divisions in society underlie this whole debate. He is also right that further education has been left behind, not just in terms of finance but through the domination of the higher education sector, which has crowded out any conversation about further education and how crucial it is. We must ensure that everyone, whatever their age, background or prior educational attainment, can access the best opportunities that are available.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) mentioned those with special educational needs. As we all know, the further education sector offers a particularly high-quality opportunity to make sure that those young people have a chance to get on in their lives. To talk a little bit about mental health, I am acutely aware of the particular stresses that disproportionately affect young people in further education. We are creating new mental health support teams to address those needs, and we will work with colleges to identify and train designated senior leads for mental health to oversee mental health and wellbeing, with appropriate back-up support available. That is an important innovation.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) rightly pointed out that people develop at different stages in their life; it does not all happen for people at the ages of 16 or 18. For many people, school has not worked well. Examinations at 16 and 18 have not shown their true potential, and the door needs to remain open for those people. In my view, everybody has potential; everyone has skills, and is able to get a job or career and get on in their life. What they need is the opportunity to develop that potential.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), who is always eloquent, gave us probably the most succinct description of the problems we face. Higher education has dominated Governments of all political persuasions; everyone, including the media, talks incessantly about higher education, and I well remember that at the hustings at my local university during the 2017 election, I was asked about tuition fees. My response was, “What about the 50% who do not go to university?” That did not go down terribly well, but I felt strongly about this issue then, long before I took on this job. My right hon. Friend probably answered his own question about apprenticeships: we were determined to raise the quality of apprenticeships, to make them high quality, relevant to the workplace and, critically, designed by employers. Such major reforms have inevitably resulted in a reduction in the numbers of apprenticeship starts, although that has started to turn around. There has been a rise in the numbers of level 4 and 5 and degree apprenticeships, and they are becoming a route of choice instead of full-time higher education courses, which is excellent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) rightly pointed out the additional maths premium. I am not going to go through a whole raft of all the things we have funded, but she is right that overall funding has not kept up with costs. She is also right that playing party politics does not help. I urge Members from all parts of the House to work together with me and with each other to ensure that we make the case. With the post-18 review looking at HE and FE, and with us also looking at the sustainability of the sector, that joint working is critical.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned the cross-party nature of the debate and asked about underspends. It is likely that the Department answer will state that any underspend is recirculated among other departmental priorities. I will see whether there are further details on that, but the money stays within education— although like him, I would like to see it spent on further education. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) asked me what the priorities are. I make no particular judgment about the various educational sectors, whether that is higher education or schools, but we hear a lot about schools funding and tuition fees and we do not hear much about FE. He also asked about the case for that funding, and there is a clear economic case and a productivity case. As a country, we cannot afford not to adequately fund the education of 50% of the population to ensure we have the skills we need. On a very personal level, it is about social mobility, community growth and the fact that everyone deserves a chance.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) mentioned mental health provision, which I have referred to, and the complex other needs of students in FE. Part of the case we need to make is that young people and adults often come into FE because their lives have been complex. Their learning needs are often not straightforward. Teaching and learning are only part of the job that FE staff do. There are often many other needs that must be met before any learning can begin to take place. I congratulate him on his thoughtful and collaborative approach. He is right that I need the help of all Members.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) is a real champion of her local college. She rightly raised the role that the college has played in her community, and it was a delight to hear her say that. That role is not measurable and is difficult to define, but it is of immense value. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) probably summed it up better than many. The hon. Lady talked about lifelong learning and how 35% of jobs are likely to disappear in the next 10 years due to automation. The national retraining scheme, where we are doing a lot of research into what works, has received £100 million from the Chancellor. There is collaboration between the TUC, the CBI and Government to address exactly the issues she raised.
I have talked about the sustainability of the further education sector and FE funding. In the run-up to the spending review, it is time to articulate the case for FE. We talk about it not being school or university, but we need a clear vision that everyone can get behind. We have identified some key issues about how we can put FE on a sustainable footing and deliver quality. There are many questions that we need to ask. How do we ensure a high-quality further education offer in each local area so that young people and adults have opportunities to develop their skills and employers can access the training and skilled recruits they need? We want FE to be sustainable. We know that area reviews have done some of the work, but there is probably more work and more collaboration to do. The 16 to 18-year-old population has been declining for several years, but we will see an increase after 2020. By 2028, there will be a quarter more 16-year-olds than there are today, so the problem is coming up behind us.
T-levels do not distract from the issue; they are an add-on. Often in parliamentary questions I give an answer about how much we are spending on T-levels. It is important. It is not a substitute for core funding, and I am aware of that. We also want to see a better and more visible offer for people at level 4 and level 5 in technical education. The Secretary of State emphasised that in his speech last month. What is the role of FE and HE institutions? What is the role of learning and grant funding? Those issues are all bound up in the post-18 review. There are also the key steps we have to take to help colleges recruit and train the teachers they need.
I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge again for securing the debate and I thank everyone for their contributions. I reassure Members that I will take the issues away and continue to champion FE as we prepare for the spending review. I reject any suggestion that I do not care about further education. I did not go to university; I went by a route that included further education, and I am the first to challenge the intellectual snobbery that pervades much of the mainstream media and broadcast media. We have to turn that around. I want a society where it does not matter where someone came from—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).