College Funding Debate

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College Funding

Emma Hardy Excerpts
Monday 21st January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 6:27 p.m.

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.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 6:32 p.m.

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.

Sir John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 6:34 p.m.

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 and I defended its budget.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 6:37 p.m.

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.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon - Hansard

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.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy - Hansard

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.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 6:39 p.m.

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.