Rather than creating a regime that makes it easier for colleges to become insolvent, government should be investing more in further education, says Angela Rayner.
More than four million people in Britain are learning in the further education sector every year.
The sector plays a crucial role in supporting our young people. Those who are seeking qualifications to move on to university. Those learners who, later in life, are retraining and gaining new skills to get better jobs.
Also, as I know from my own personal experience, it’s helping those people who didn’t get what they needed from the education system the first time around to go further in life.
Going into further education after leaving school at 16 was life-changing for me. It enabled me to gain new skills and qualifications so that I could get work and start to fend for myself and my baby son.
Going into further education after leaving school at 16 was life-changing for me
Most of all, perhaps, further education helped me to understand that I was far more suited to a vocational approach than an academic one.
The vocational skills I gained are invaluable to me even more today when I try to help my constituents as a member of parliament.
That’s why I am passionate about further education and the route it can offer for people from every walk of life to go further and reach their full potential.
So I was hugely disappointed when the government missed a great opportunity to get behind the sector when it recently announced, to as little fanfare as seems possible, a new Technical and Further Education Bill.
Because it is clear to anyone who has read the bill that this Conservative government has no plans to develop a system of technical and further education fit for the 21st century.
Over 20 clauses in the government’s bill are committed to developing an insolvency regime for further education providers. Only under a government that has continually starved the further education sector of the investment it needs would this be necessary.
Last year, a report by the National Audit Office said that the FE college sector was in deficit for the first time in 2013/14; 110 colleges had an operating deficit, more than double the number from 2010/11.
In the same period, the number of colleges assessed by the Skills Funding Agency to have ‘inadequate’ financial health rose from five per cent to 12 per cent. All of this from the party of so-called fiscal responsibility!
Education is the best investment we can make in Britain
Everyone who works in the further education sector will have witnessed the dangerous levels of deficit denial coming from the Tories.
Anyone truly committed to an education system that works for everyone could see the dire warnings in that report and take immediate action to invest in our colleges.
Education is the best investment we can make in Britain, to support young people at every stage of their lives to get the skills which they need to live well and to contribute to Britain’s economic prosperity.
So when I see a government that, looking at the millions of people who rely on the FE sector and how it can change lives, decides that the priority is not investment but to create a regime that makes it easier for colleges to become insolvent, I see a government that is failing in its duty.
As shadow secretary of state for education, I have been urging the government to invest in our young people, to help them get the skills they need to go further. It’s an investment that we know will pay off down the line.
That’s why Labour has pledged to bring back the Education Maintenance Allowance, which would support hundreds of thousands of young people from low- and middle-income backgrounds.
I want to make it clear that Labour will never accept second best for our young people. Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. And instead of turning their backs on a generation, government has a moral, economic and social duty to help make their dreams come true.
This is a government that, instead of investing to build a better future for all, has instead chosen the path of managed decline.
And I for one, will not rest until we see every young person go further.
Angela Rayner is shadow secretary of state for education