Theresa May: FE has been ‘overlooked, undervalued and underfunded’



The Prime Minister delivered a speech this morning in response to the much anticipated Augar review on post-18 education. Theresa May spoke passionately about the strong case for much more investment in FE, which in her own words has been “left overlooked, undervalued and underfunded”. FE Week was in attendance and has transcribed her speech in full:

 

“Your report is a ground-breaking piece of work. Because it is one that in compelling detail the challenges confronting all of us who care about post-18 education in all its forms.

It’s a sector that since 2010, the government has consistently supported. We’ve increased the funding flowing to universities, delivered more high-quality apprenticeships, developed brand-new technical qualifications on a par with A-levels.

Yet as we have just heard, there remains much to be done.

The UK boasts some of the finest universities in the world. Universities that we can be proud of and all governments should pledge to support and protect.

But in technical education, we have fallen behind other leading nations. Our further education colleges have the potential to transform lives and grow the economy, but the FE landscape can be confusing to navigate.

Too many students, parents and employers see FE as a second-best option

Too many students, parents and employers see FE as a second-best option and successive governments have failed to give it the support it needs. For nearly 20 years, there has been a relentless focus on getting 50 per cent of young people into HE.

Yet most have lost sight that the original target referred not just to university degrees; it quite rightly covered the whole higher education spectrum, including vocational and technical qualifications.

And that’s why in February last year, I set Philip a clear yet ambitious challenge: to break down the false boundaries between further and higher education.

To look at all the options open to young people and to say how they could be improved and how the state should support students so every school leaver, and indeed every adult learner, can follow the path that is right for them.

With today’s report, Philip and his expert panel have provided a blueprint for how those improvements and changes could be carried out.

As we’ve heard, it makes many recommendations across FE and HE, the proposals on adult and lifelong learning are also important.

Decisions about whether and how to implement these recommendations will not fall to me, but to the next government.

But regardless of the debate to come, there can be no doubt this report represents a major landmark. And that the data, analysis and insights it contains will help us to deliver a post-18 education system that truly works for everyone.

That needs to begin with further education.

Our FE and technical colleges are not just places of learning, they are vital engines of both social mobility and of economic prosperity; training the next generation and helping deliver our modern industrial strategy.

But for too long, FE has been allowed to stagnate with student numbers falling. With MPs, civil servants, and yes, even journalists overwhelmingly coming from university backgrounds, it’s no surprise, perhaps, that attention has drifted away from other post-18 options.

I found it rather telling that despite the wide-ranging remit of the panel, in the years since the review was launched, the debate around it has concentrated almost exclusively on what it will mean for universities.

As the panel argues, this focus on academic routes, at the expense of all others, has left FE overlooked, undervalued and underfunded.

Routes into and through our colleges are confusing and opaque.

There is no equivalent of the clear, straightforward and comprehensive UCAS system.

And this system isn’t just bad for students, it’s bad for our economy. By failing to equip more of our young people with the technical skills they will need to compete in the jobs of the future, we have hampered our ability to compete on the world stage.

Businesses here in the UK regularly tell me they struggle to find workers with the technical qualifications they need, but their rivals overseas have no such problems. As the report says, in Germany, 20 per cent of the workforce holds a higher technical qualification. Here in the UK, just four per cent of 25-year-olds could say the same.

Behind that statistic lies an immeasurable number of opportunities missed and potential wasted both for individuals and employers.

We will have to invest much more in FE, the buildings, the equipment and of course staff

So reinvigorating FE is vital if we are to help all develop the skills they need to get on, and if we are truly to make a success of our modern industrial strategy.

Now as Prime Minister, it is something I have worked hard to do. Let us make sure there is an education and training place for every 16-19-year-old who wants one. We’re rolling out T-levels, new high-quality technical qualifications on par with A-levels. We’ve committed to Institutes of Technology in every major English city and this year announced the first 12. And we are creating more high-quality apprenticeships that deliver for students and employers alike.

But while these reforms have made a real difference, it is clear that if the half of young people who do not go to university are to have the skills they need for the future, then we must go further. It’s not enough to simply say that FE and HE should be seen as equals. As the report argues compellingly, to make that happen we will have to invest much more in FE, the buildings, the equipment and of course staff who are expert in their field.

And making a success of FE is not just about an increased funding, it’s about giving these young people a genuine choice about their education. So more also needs to be done to ensure that further and technical options are every bit as attractive a path for students as more academic options, including by reforming the sector so colleges can thrive.

That will mean more specialisation and collaboration, while also continuing to make sure all young people have access to a college in their area. And reforms to ensure the courses offered by colleges deliver the skills that are needed by local businesses.

And of course, we also need to make sure that only high-quality qualifications are on offer.

That FE students are appropriately supported by government and that the route to FE is as streamlined and clear as possible, just as it is for universities.”

 

FE Week editor Nick Linford got the chance to question the Prime Minister after her speech. Telling her she sounds like she’s in opposition when she describes investment in FE, he asked: “Why hasn’t more happened before now? And why are we waiting for a spending review?”

Here’s how May responded:

 

FE Week also caught up with chair of the post-18 education review Philip Augar. Here’s what he had to say:



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7 Comments

  1. May and the Tory government have been attacking FE for the last 3/4 years, T-Levels have been draining the funding and proven to be a mistake, un-wanted and wrong for the sector. Apprenticeships have been bastardised so much they are impossible to implement, assess and confused with T-Levels, also not what the Sainsbury review had in mind. A Level reform does not allow for flexibility for students where the AS/A2 model did. Vocational qualifications were forced to be on performance tables that were not required, wanted or understood by FE other than use of data which is wrong data as the mathematics and conditions of the use and application of ‘G Scores’ is not the correct way to measure a student’s predicted grade. How can a student who has completed various exam based GCSE subjects be predicted a grade in vocational single subject in different environment, conditions and resources? They attempted and failed at implementing exams/external conditions into vocational qualification because this form of assessment does not work for this style of qualification or student. The Ebacc is an Eaton/Oxbridge model that does not suit every learner and by forcing this into schools has starved the creative arts education progression into FE, which is what they wanted from the start despite what they say. They have cut adult funding and accessibility since being in power, power is a term I use lightly, confused, bulling, fumbling around is a better description.
    They have forced their un-education/experience of education policy through regardless, the most unsuccessful, undemocratic, hateful, self-serving and damaging government we have ever had. Let the people who know and are experienced with the FE sector have their voice and listen to them. She has regurgitated the white paper/life long learning from early Labour period, she has even stolen this and only talking about it in this way as she realises, deep down, she has screwed everything up and the Tories have got a battle on their hands to stay in power regardless of what buffoon replaces her.

  2. Professor Bill Wardle

    All very laudable: but unless there is clarity about the role of FE then it will be knocked around according to the vagaries of different Governments policies (if they bother to have one).

    Funding in a policy vacuum is a recipe for instant reduction when hard times bite or alternative scenarios present themselves. So, is FE to be the bulk carrier for school failures especially those not achieving core skills? Or, is it to be at the centre of a coherent dual system (as on the Continent) with distinctive curriculum and qualifications.

    Mrs May did not raise the question, so failed provide an answer. The Auger Review is a place to look and the reduction of the fee should put an end to the price mechanism enabling colleges to provide discounted degrees which are a poor copy of general university degrees. The onus will be on distinctive qualifications with clear link to employment. Throw out TDAP etc and all these false gods and create a dedicated agency such as CNAA was with a focus on the vocational spectrum.

    Above all, the FE sector has to keep the debate alive, so all strength to FE Week!

  3. There has been some positive rhetoric in response to this report but as an outgoing PM a supportive outlook for F.E. and skills may not have the weight we need behind it to positively effect improvements.
    Let’s hope we’ll see some action from the next Government, but can we try to minimise widespread disruption – Please!!

    • I don’t think the Tories should ever be let anywhere near publicly funded education policy ever again.
      One thing Brexit has done is expose a lot of the ignorant, only privately educated, politicians inside the party which the Coalition mostly managed to hide. Now we can see just how many have absolutely no understanding of what public education means or needs.

  4. Professor Bill Wardle

    Whatever the Government complexion, we are still in a world of parallel and confusing (even counter-productive) initiatives. This cannot continue or the new funding, if it materialises, will be undermined.

    Augar suggests more funding for FE: but for what? The strongest argument presented is corrective ie previous under-funding has to be reversed. That’s OK, but intellectually hollow. The future of FE as a vocational system has to be built around big ideas that challenge previous compromises and present the opportunity to create a skills platform for a competitive economy. By God, if Brexit happens, we’ll need one…and quick!

    The danger is funding dilution across the range, rather than focus. As correspondents point out, we co-exist reform in A Levels, T Levels, Apprenticeships, degree structures etc.

    Clarity of focus would determine certainty about qualifications and determine the type of institutions needed. That is a basis for funding according to performance and calibrated targets etc. and a good start on the journey to an effective dual system with parity of esteem and equivalence in funding.

    Currently, the biggest danger is losing the focus of the debate in the middle of the coming political storm. That results in waiting hopefully for an enlightened administration rather than having a clear blueprint for them to follow, regardless of complexion and, undoubtedly, the confused and compromised policies likely to emerge from inevitable political coalitions.

    We could be in this mess by Christmas and, believe it or not, it is likely to be worse than the current muddle.

  5. I wonder which government was responsible for all this? Every week there are numerous reports of FE institutions failing in one way or another. If there were a few this could be brushed away as isolated examples or bad apples. Failure on this scale has to be a failure of government policy.

    I agree with everything said above. I now work in the HE sector but used to work in FE – like most people in the sector I loved the teaching but couldn’t wait to get out of the Kafkaesque, bureaucratic nightmare FE has become.

    The sector has been subject to so many poorly thought-through reforms that it no longer has a coherent philosophy. Everyone is exhausted and cynical. Managers in FE have got so used to perminant revolution that they don’t even question it anymore, they rise through the racks simply by being able to turn on a dime and implement the latest ministerial fad or bright idea – or at the very least arrange the data to look like they have. This is not a culture which promotes innovation or good leadership.

    On the one hand, we are supposed to be delivering high-quality vocationally-focused training, on the other, we are prepping students for more and more external assessments with little/no vocational value. The qualifications are so confused they are achieving none of their stated outcomes, they are poor preparation for the working world and an even worse preparation for further academic study.

  6. Mark Dunne

    Having worked in FE for more than twenty years and seen the gradual destruction of this sector, reading this article makes me glad to see the back of Theresa May and confirms the chaos that exists within both major political parties.
    The obsession of governments to improve GCSEs and A level success rates, controlled through OFSTED ratings and parental fear for their childrens’ futures, meant schools and colleges had no option but to comply. If not, numbers would fall and funding would drop leading to the downfall of that establishment. This dismissal of the value of any alternative is shameful. To all those who had “failed” the state education sector at 16 and to those adult learners who were able to improve their futures by being given another opportunity to learn a new trade or skill or start on a professional career path later in life, progressive governments have cut that lifeline. By dramatically reducing the subsidies available for course fees and the funding of those courses to colleges, they destroyed a valuable strength that our education system once had. The lost generation?…, not just a generation but the ability of those in mid-life to change careers and learn a trade or profession.
    Its time to create an education system for the long term.