What discussions she has had with education providers on area-based reviews of post-16 education and training provision.
I wish I could claim to have run the London marathon, like my hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families. I went on only a two-mile run this morning and it nearly finished me off. To answer the hon. Lady’s question, I have regular meetings with post-16 education providers about area reviews and all the issues that those throw up. I am also holding meetings with hon. Members once area reviews produce recommendations for any changes in provision in their area.
A particular concern of my constituents is mergers between colleges and the potential for young people in rural and suburban areas such as mine to be forced to travel long distances to get to college. What funding would be available from the Department for students forced to travel further as a result of closure or amalgamation of their courses? Would the Department consider reinstating the education maintenance allowance?
The hon. Lady will be aware, first, that any of the recommendations that come out of an area review that might include proposals for a merger have to be accepted by the colleges themselves. They are independent corporations. In my constituency I also have a very sparsely populated area with towns 25 miles apart so I understand full well the issues surrounding travel to course provision. Colleges can use funding, including the bursary funding, to contribute towards transport costs, but it is ultimately up to the college to decide whether it thinks that move is going to be good for it and its students.
Will my hon. Friend update the House on the position of area-based reviews of colleges which are in special measures? At the same time as colleges are being encouraged to merge, inspectors and the people involved are not allowing such mergers to take place.
I am not aware of the particular case that my hon. Friend refers to. If he wants to write to me, I would be happy to meet him to discuss it. In general, we do not want mergers to be rushed into before an area review has had a chance to look at the provision in a whole area, but we do not want to stop institutions making arrangements that help them address problems, so I am happy to look into the situation with him.
The Government want to promote apprenticeships in post-16 training and colleges, yet the proportion of apprentices with learning difficulties or disabilities decreased from 11% to 8% between 2010 and 2013. With the area reviews ongoing, an Ofsted report has just said that
“monitoring and evaluation of FE and skills provision for high needs learners…were ineffective.”
How effectively will the interests of young people in those positions, and those of children on the autism spectrum, be addressed, especially if area reviews force them to travel further to study in new environments? Will the Minister specifically guarantee decent outcomes for young people with disabilities?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important question. I recently had an excellent meeting, facilitated by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller, with groups representing deaf people, and I will shortly be holding a round table with groups representing people with other kinds of disability. It is essential to ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunity of apprenticeships and other forms of technical education, and we are determined to do that.