Further Education

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 18th November 2015.

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Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Conservative, Chippenham 5:48 pm, 18th November 2015

I thank my hon. Friend for echoing my comments.

The school is also running a growing deficit, which is putting a real strain on its finances.

Spending on 16 and 17-year-olds is 22% lower than spending on 11 to 16-year-olds, and spending on 18-year-olds is a further 17.5% lower. I urge the Chancellor to address that in the spending review, and to ensure that funding for 16 to 18-year-olds is brought into line with the Department’s ring-fencing. It is a shame that the debate was not delayed until after the spending review, when we could have had a more productive and informed discussion.

We must bear in mind, however—and I do not think this point has been stressed enough by Opposition Members—that a good FE offering is not just about funding We need to consider far broader issues in our education system, and think about its links with our national productivity. I therefore welcome the Government’s productivity plan. Increasing funds will not fix everything. Today’s debate only serves to highlight the fact that Labour seriously believes that simply throwing money at a problem will be a cure-all when it really will not. The truth is that we have a crisis in our career education system. We still have no tangible link between the education system and the workforce, because our school funding system is still a postcode lottery. The Government are trying to resolve deep-rooted, complex issues, and the topic of the debate is therefore far too simplistic.

Having spoken to local businesses throughout my constituency, I am well aware of the recruitment challenges that they face, given the lack of appropriate skills. According to a recent survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, six out of 10 companies said that skills shortage was a threat to their business in the United Kingdom. Simply pumping money into FE will not resolve the problem. It is true that courses have been removed because of a lack of funding, but because students may opt for other courses, they are not always financially viable. So what is the answer? Do we pump money to them to prop them up, or do we encourage our students to opt for the courses that will lead to jobs?