Monday is the start of Colleges Week! This is a chance to celebrate the role colleges play in the country’s education system and the fantastic work that they do.

Colleges touch the lives of a huge cross-section of our communities – people of all ages, from a wide variety of backgrounds with exceptional and special needs. They guide young people through qualifications, mentor and support them, give them the skills they need for the next step in their lives. They help build the skills of the workforce for the jobs of today and the cutting-edge jobs of the future.

I will take every opportunity to always highlight the fantastic work that you do

I have met so many students and teachers from our colleges. Among them are apprentices showing me their plastering skills; people learning English as a second language; food-science-degree apprentices; agriculture students in the lambing season; engineering apprentices; and digital marketing students, to name but a few. And they all have one thing in common: their passion, enthusiasm and commitment to what they are doing. That attitude to their study comes directly from the teachers and support staff. Colleges are drivers for change, drivers of social mobility – building the confidence of the learners in their care. They are simply the best.

Colleges educate and train over two million people a year – from basic skills to higher-education courses. Just over half a million adults took English courses and a similar number took maths. Most of the higher-level technical education is taught in colleges, and their role is now changing with the teaching of the first T-levels in 2020. I want colleges to be agile, dynamic educators and trainers, who are able to respond to the rapidly changing world of work we now face. 

Once fully rolled out, we will be spending an additional £500 million each year on T-levels, and we have recently announced a further £38 million to help the first T-level providers invest in high-quality equipment and facilities. We are supporting the Taking Teaching Further programme, which will add capacity to the existing brilliant FE workforce and give industry experts a chance to join this workforce and pass on their skills to the next generation.

Helping people from some of the most deprived areas pass exams and gain qualifications takes time and commitment. Giving people with special needs a chance to acquire skills takes particular expertise. Giving someone maybe a second, third or even fourth chance requires dedication. I know what colleges can do and I am very aware of the funding pressures they face. My message today to those leading and working in colleges is that I will take every opportunity to always highlight the fantastic work that you do – in the words of this week’s slogan, I will “Love Our Colleges”.