Further Education

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:36 pm on 18th November 2015.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds 6:36 pm, 18th November 2015

In the last Parliament, the Government committed themselves to and delivered quality and rigour in post-16 education by driving forward 2.4 million apprenticeships. I am dedicated to that scheme, and over the years I have enjoyed employing apprentices and seeing them thrive. I am keen to see the Minister for Skills get to 5 million apprenticeships by 2020, because that is a brilliant aspiration.

West Suffolk college in my constituency of Bury St Edmunds is an exemplar of what the Government are striving to achieve. It is a high-achieving, highly collaborative education forum that works with successful local businesses—Greene King and British Sugar among others—the local Suffolk chamber of commerce, which is embedded in the heart of the college, and, most importantly, the local enterprise partnership. Only recently, the LEP supported the college with £7 million for a STEM centre.

The college concentrates on student opportunities, in accordance with the Government’s drive, and it delivers hundreds of highly skilled apprentices in East Anglia. Jack, whom I have met there, is an apprentice on a welding course. His aspiration is to have his own business, which I applaud. Working with the apprenticeship trailblazers the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, the college offers a skills pipeline to empower young people and combat socioeconomic barriers in the region.

In its pursuit of the Government’s ambitious plans, that college in my constituency is flourishing, so much so—this is a plug—that it has ambitions to become an institute of technology, in recognition of its standards in apprenticeships and its professional sponsorship. However, West Suffolk college, like the Association of Colleges, is asking us to look carefully at how to move forward. It is asking for parity between schools and colleges. We have formed an academy with a sixth-form college, and it seems slightly ironic that the two funding models are not treated the same. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael that we should look at a better entry level for maths and English because it is important to encourage people to move up to a higher level.

The college in my constituency wants to be able to plan for the future with confidence, and it is looking to the Government to allow a three-year funding packing, if possible, so that it can do so. Colleges such as mine are keen to help the Government to meet their ambitions for skills and productivity, and to deliver the Government’s commitment to have more apprenticeships. If the Government can give them certainty in further education funding, colleges will enable the Government to achieve the ambitions they want for our young people and others.