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 entirely agree. I think that career education is one of the key issues that we need to address, and that is one of the reasons why I became a member of the Education Committee.

Yes, we should ring-fence further education funding, but we also need to recognise the true utility of vocational courses. We need to stop pushing students towards the traditional academic routes, we need to start treating children as individuals rather than mass statistics, and we need to work to shift the stereotypes that are attached to jobs and courses. Otherwise, the true value of any money that is spent will never really be utilised.

I believe that the best way to reform further education is to bring together local businesses, further education colleges and universities, and enable them to shape curriculums to the needs of local economies. University technical colleges make that leap, and we need more of them, but we also need to apply the same approach to schools and further education colleges. If we are to do more to support businesses and build a workforce for tomorrow, we must reform education today, and I welcome the Department’s recognition of the need for such reform. I welcome the introduction of area reviews, and the move towards institutes of technology and specialisation in colleges.

No one would oppose more investment in our further education system, but the question the Opposition have yet to answer is, “Where will we get the money from?” Will we get it from the NHS, secondary or primary education, or the police? We cannot “magic” money, and we need to stop using the education system as a political football. I urge the Minister to do even more, and to explore creative opportunities that would enrich our educational offering by working with businesses and community consortiums to fund courses and resources, and, in particular, helping local economies with specific needs. Wiltshire, for instance, is crying out for more support for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects and design and technology. That would enable us to help with the supply and demand of our local labour markets and our education system.

Simply pumping money into a system is a very simplistic answer to a complex question. If we are to improve and better fund our education system, it is vital for us to improve the link with business and the stake that business has in the system, and we need to look for new ways to boost funding from that link. After all, business and the economy have the most to gain from a productive, highly educated and skilled work force.