College Funding DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Sir John HayesMain Page: Sir John Hayes (Conservative) - South Holland and The Deepings)
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.
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?
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 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.
Break in Debate
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.
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.