Gavin Williamson’s speech on lifting FE’s ‘potential’ through the white paper: The full text

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The education secretary has promised that the imminent FE white paper will bring an “end to getting a qualification for its own sake” and ensure that training reflects the “changing needs” of employers.

Gavin Williamson said further education will “no longer be hiding its vast potential under a bushel” following the reforms, while making a keynote address at Association of College’s FE summit this afternoon.

He added that the white paper, due for publication before the end of 2020, is a “vital opportunity for us all to collaborate further, so that FE delivers for all those it serves, its students, its local employers and for its communities”.

Here is his speech in full:


“Good afternoon. Thank you David for that kind introduction and for inviting me to this Summit. Although Covid has taken a wrecking ball to so many planned events this year, it’s great that we are all able to be here in spite of it.

In fact, these virtual conferences and meetings have been among the unexpected success stories of a very difficult year.

Minister Keegan was only telling me the other day that she continues to be astonished by the innovation you are showing on a daily basis to blend both online and face-to-face tuition and to keep students learning.   

There’s been a tremendous response on the part of the entire sector and I want to congratulate you and thank you for everything you’ve done, and what you continue to do, to make sure young people get the best opportunities to build and shape their futures.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, and it certainly doesn’t surprise me, that you have been so resourceful in finding a way through the many challenges that Covid has presented.

This is what you in the FE community do so well… adapting what you do to meet local social and economic needs…

We will be hearing more about how important colleges are to their local communities later this afternoon, when the Commission on the College of the Future launches its report for England. Before we do, I would like to talk about our ambitious plans for the sector.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, reforming our further education sector has been a particular passion of mine. Ever since I was appointed Education Secretary, I have been determined to raise its status and earlier in the summer I set out a broad vision for bringing Further Education in from the cold. It was a fairly long speech but don’t worry, I’m not going to talk for quite so long today.

In that speech I explained how we intend to end the outdated perception that anyone who goes down the further education route has somehow come up short.

I’m not alone in this crusade. It is a mission that is shared by the Prime Minister. As you know, he launched his game-changing Lifetime Skills Guarantee in September, and I will look at how that is going to help reset the post-16 landscape in just a minute.

Young people really need to know there is more than one route to success. They must be given a real choice. At the moment too many of them feel that the only worthwhile choice is studying for a degree.  

I want further education and higher education to be thought of as two sides of the same coin, both as highly regarded and as well-resourced as the other.

But I know I’m preaching to the converted here. Of course you’re the last people I need to convince that this sector has so much more to offer.  

A word you often hear in relation to education is ‘potential’. We’ve all got it, although some may have more of it than others. But potential is not just a human asset, it’s a social one, it’s an economic one and it’s certainly a business one. Potential is what can turn base metal into gold.

What we have with further education is a classic example of a sector that is failing to reach its potential.

I am as determined as you are to reverse that. To make sure it realises its true potential that it has to offer the whole country.

We have already taken steps to strengthen further and technical education… We are rolling out T Levels; we have transformed apprenticeships by working directly with businesses; we have made a massive investment in our FE colleges and are investing £290 million for our flagship Institutes of Technology…

We have announced £1.5 billion package over five years in capital spending to refurbish further education colleges. This level of investment will enable colleges to give their facilities a much-needed makeover.

In the last spending review I secured an extra £400m for 16-19 further education to make sure people don’t have to move for high quality education and that employers will have skilled people right on their doorsteps.

Our network of Institutes of Technology will lead the way on delivering higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths – skills that will give this country a competitive edge not just in the industries of today, but, more importantly, those of tomorrow.

These are radical, long-term changes and they are going to transform the life chances for every young person and adult in the country.

This is not merely a response to the pandemic, this is a continuation of our whole-hearted commitment to level up every inch of the country.

This country is bursting with potential… this is how we are going to unlock it.

As the Prime Minister announced, from next April we will introduce a new funding promise as part of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee. We will now fund technical courses for adults as a equivalent to A level, and which will teach skills that are highly in demand.

They’ll give anyone who left school without an A-Level or equivalent, the qualifications they need, when they need them. They will help people to change jobs and to find work in some of the exciting new sectors that this country is developing.

The guarantee will give every student a flexible, lifelong loan which entitles them to four years of post-18 education. The measures will embed greater flexibility in the technical education and skills system to support not just young people but adults who need to retrain and upskill at any point in their working lives.

The Prime Minister spelt out how we are going to build a skills economy, one that that’s going to drive productivity and help us recover from the pandemic. He outlined plans to bring closer alignment between further and higher education to end the outdated distinction that one is better than the other. 

These are the foundations on which we are going to build a new higher technical education offer.  

So how are we going to start to make these plans a reality?

I’m so pleased to say that the Independent Commission on the College of the Future has echoed many of these ambitions and I was very interested to read its report on the United Kingdom and will be equally interested to study its report on England in more depth.  My Department really values the discussions we have had over the past year with the Commissioners.

With its focus on people, productivity and place, the Commission has set out how it sees colleges delivering lifelong learning and the kind of support that learners, employers and communities will need to survive  but also, and more importantly, thrive in the future.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that according to the CBI, this is a future in which nine in 10 people are going to need new skills by 2030…That’s only a short time away and we have to act, and we have to act quickly.

Everyone is going to need access to part-time, adult and technical education as the economy and jobs change.  Training isn’t something that you do once and then forget about. Training is something that everyone is going to need to do at various points in their lives, to upskill or acquire new skills. 

The colleges of the future will have an absolutely key role in making sure we can do this by working with employers to ensure that education and training reflect changing needs, and to help drive business – help them change and help them innovate.

As a signal of our commitment to FE we will very shortly be delivering a White Paper which will build on our vision of a world class skills system in England.

This will be centred on high-quality courses which are based on employer-led standards. There has been far too much training for jobs that don’t exist, so we will bring an end to getting a qualification for its own sake.

In its place there will be a wholesale re-balancing of academic and technical education. There will be a stronger alignment with what our country and the economy needs.

We will look to colleges to play a leading role in developing skills in their areas, in responding to local economic need and acting as centres for business development.

I would like to say at this point how much I value, really value, the discussions we have already had and how much I am looking forward to working closely with you to see all our aspirations for FE come to fruition. The White Paper is a vital opportunity for us all to collaborate further, so that FE delivers for all those it serves, its students, its local employers and for its communities.

I spoke earlier of potential and its power to transform lives. I can promise that FE will no longer be hiding its vast potential under a bushel…

Instead we will see it for it is: a pathway to a career that brings job satisfaction and fulfilment; a skills revolution that will enable businesses to thrive and finally, as we emerge from this awful pandemic, a clear route to a dynamic and prosperous new future.

We do not have a second to waste this potential any longer and I am determined that we will not do so.

And together, by working with you, we will deliver this revolution in further education that we all so want, we all so desire, and we have all so long waited for.

Thank you.”






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