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.
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.
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.
Break in Debate
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.
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.