College Funding Debate

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Daniel Zeichner

Main Page: Daniel Zeichner (Labour) - Cambridge)

College Funding

Daniel Zeichner Excerpts
Monday 21st January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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[Relevant document: Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 10 October 2018, on school and college funding, HC 969.]

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:32 p.m.

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!”

It states:

“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?

Mr Toby Perkins Portrait Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:32 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:33 p.m.

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.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:34 p.m.

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:34 p.m.

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.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:35 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:36 p.m.

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.

Mr David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:36 p.m.


Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:35 p.m.

I see my right hon. Friend ready to make some strong points.

Mr David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:36 p.m.

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:37 p.m.

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.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:37 p.m.

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:38 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes the point very powerfully. As I said, I see the divide in my own city. She is absolutely right.

Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:38 p.m.

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:38 p.m.

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.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con) - Hansard

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:39 p.m.

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.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:41 p.m.

Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I am that, at £3,300 each, 18-year-olds are the cheapest people in the world to educate, given that, in my experience, people on an additional year are actually the most demanding to teach?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:41 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Those students suddenly and miraculously become much more expensive when they turn up at university; it is amazing.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:41 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:42 p.m.

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.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:43 p.m.

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:44 p.m.

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.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:45 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:46 p.m.

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.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:46 p.m.

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:47 p.m.

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.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:47 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:48 p.m.

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 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.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:48 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:49 p.m.

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 that 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.

Sandy Martin (Ipswich) (Lab) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:50 p.m.

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.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:51 p.m.

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.”

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend agree that it seems a bit perverse in the days of Brexit to be cutting back on foreign-language provision?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:52 p.m.

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.”

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab) - Hansard

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:53 p.m.

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.

Faisal Rashid (Warrington South) (Lab) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:54 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard

Ah, my hon. Friend is going to interrupt at the “but”— very good. Yes, I am happy to give way.

Faisal Rashid Hansard

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?

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 4:55 p.m.

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.

Sir Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair) - Hansard

A huge number of Members are seeking to catch my eye. If every speaker sticks to six minutes for their speech, they should all get in.