Further Education

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 18th November 2015.

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Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education) 6:50 pm, 18th November 2015

When any question is asked in this House, from the Government side we hear about reforms—reforms to institutions, standards, leadership and incentives. In this debate my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, made an extremely interesting proposal for sixth-form colleges to be allowed to convert to academy status, and I know that Ministers will have listened to that.

My hon. Friend Caroline Nokes spoke about the economies of scale that large college groups can enjoy, and which enable them to support enrichment programmes. My hon. Friend Jo Churchill spoke passionately about apprenticeships and applauded Jack’s ambition to set up his own business. I have no doubt that that ambition will be fulfilled. We heard from my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan, and I enjoyed visiting a college with her before she was elected. She made a good argument that we must encourage students to opt for courses that will help them to get good jobs, and that is exactly what the introduction of destination measures will achieve.

My hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer spoke of Cambridge Regional college, which educates more than 5,000 apprentices. I point out to her and the House that colleges currently win only 37% of the funding for apprenticeship training, and there is no reason why they should not win more of that growing funding stream. Yesterday, I suggested to the Association of Colleges annual conference that we should work together with colleges to help them to achieve two thirds of the much larger budget for apprenticeship funding that will be in place once the apprenticeship levy has been introduced.

In what was without doubt the best speech of this debate, my hon. Friend Mrs Main rightly said that Opposition Members should be careful before they sneer at apprenticeships in hairdressing and retail. We know that level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships increase people’s incomes by, on average, 11% and 16%, and Conservative Members will not sneer at those people and their hard work.

From the Opposition side of the House, we hear about money. It is their stock answer to everything. Indeed, it is their only answer to anything. The shadow Secretary of State waved a bloody shroud based on nothing more than her wild speculation about the spending review. Karin Smyth made a reasonable point about the need for some funding to support the implementation of the conclusions of area reviews, and she will be aware that we already provide interim funding for colleges in financial difficulties. We are absolutely aware of the need to provide funding to support the implementation of area reviews.