Further Education

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:32 pm on 18th November 2015.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston 6:32 pm, 18th November 2015

I will not go into funding, because we have heard much about that during this debate.

Earlier today, Members in this Chamber heard my hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop read a list of hundreds of job losses additional to those caused by the devastating cessation of steel production. This country continues to de-industrialise, with manufacturing going to countries that subsidise such production. Generations of families in Middlesbrough will have worked in the British steel industry. Education and skills retraining will be necessary to assist them in searching for employment and in attracting alternative employment opportunities. My constituency has suffered the same experience, and I feel for those people. I also know of numerous success stories. Deep coal miners and glass workers have gone on to achieve degrees, including master’s degrees. Some have become entrepreneurs and some have set up businesses providing services.

I want to talk about adult education and training. The Workers Educational Association is under threat. It has been educating adults for over 100 years, and millions have benefited from the programmes and courses that it has provided. The WEA provides opportunities for many for whom school was not a positive experience, and that can be, and has been, a real and effective second chance. It is imperative to maintain the vital service provided by the WEA, and I sincerely hope that it survives the BIS review.

Sixth-form colleges are an educational success story. Sixth-form college associations representing colleges across England tell us of those that are outstanding providers of 16-to-19 education, outperforming academy sixth forms and educating more disadvantaged students, yet receiving less funding. Sixth-form colleges also offer superior value for money by delivering better outcomes than academies at a lower cost to the public purse. All that is achieved with a greater proportion of students eligible for free school meals: 11% of sixth-form college students are eligible for this benefit at the age of 15, compared with only 8% of students in academies.

The Government need to address the indefensible VAT anomaly from which sixth-form colleges suffer. I have listened to what further education colleges have said in condemnation of the previous Labour Government, but they funded the St Helens FE college. It is a wonderful piece of architecture and I invite hon. Members to come along to see it. This excellent college is innovative, providing education and training where and when it is needed. For instance, a course ran at 7 am in Dock Road, Liverpool and was paid for by employers for 200 Chinese-speaking adult pupils. However, the course did not meet the tight criteria set by this Government.

Flight Hospitality chartered a plane for the use of the college. However, like many FE colleges, the college struggles to hire maths and English tutors as it cannot compete with schools. The Government need to support FE colleges to recruit such tutors, rather than making further cuts to their budgets. Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak.