It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate because I have a long-standing interest in the FE sector. As Chair of the Education Committee, I am interested in ensuring that we drive through the apprenticeship programme, making sure that people have choices post-16 and tackling the productivity challenge in this country during this Parliament.
I am pleased to say that my Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee held a successful conference on productivity, which identified the need for an innovative FE sector. That is at the core of this discussion: we need to encourage innovation in the FE sector and to ensure that it is of a scale and scope that matches the demands of employers and professions. “Technical, professional and higher” is a good way of describing the FE sector that we need for tomorrow. I will make my contribution with that theme in mind.
We must ensure that apprenticeships have traction and that they have parity with academic learning. It seems to me that the gold standard award approach is absolutely right. The Government should extend that to make it a national apprenticeship award so that there is consistency across the field and a recognition that quality is the hallmark of a good apprenticeship scheme. We should encourage the FE sector to engage in that.
We need to think carefully about sixth-form colleges. The shadow Secretary of State suggested that UTCs and other things were excluded from the area reviews, but, actually, through the regional schools commissioner mechanism, they are not. There will be engagement. I think it would be extremely advantageous were we to allow sixth-form colleges to become academies and part of multi-academy trusts.