Education administration: transfer schemes

Part of Technical and Further Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:21 pm on 9th January 2017.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills) 9:21 pm, 9th January 2017

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise, but, as I think I said in Committee, I do not want to put a straitjacket on colleges. The principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College acknowledged that there might be different requirements for different colleges. Nevertheless, there should be as much financial expertise as possible in further education colleges. When there is real financial leadership, those colleges will always be in good financial health whatever the funding pressures.

We forecast that, by March 2017, we will have spent a total of about £140 million on propping up colleges facing extreme financial difficulties. That money should have been spent on education and training priorities. While we envisage that only a very small number of colleges will ever find themselves insolvent, providing protection for learners and clarity for creditors is a crucial part of what we are trying to do, and of our responsibility to support the sector.

Since the Committee stage, we have been in a position to publish for consultation the Secretary of State’s draft strategic guidance. Following our conversations about the importance of incorporating the views of students in the running of the institute, it will come as no surprise that the guidance sets out our firm expectation that the institute will establish an apprentice panel by April this year. The panel will report directly to the board, ensuring that the learner voice—the apprentice voice—is at the heart of the institute. I am glad that Gordon Marsden is encouraged by our approach. We also intend to publish for consultation, before the institute becomes operational in April, an operational plan for the institute which will set out in more detail how it intends to carry out its functions.

As for the insolvency elements of the Bill, we discussed in Committee the protections given to students through the special objective, and the possible ways in which the education administrator could ensure that disruption to students’ studies was avoided or minimised. In particular, we discussed whether the particular regard that the education administrator must have to the needs of students with special educational needs and disabilities should be extended to any other groups. I also recognise the importance of taking account of the needs of care leavers, recognising that they may need additional personal or pastoral support to deal with any uncertainty or upheaval should their college ever be subject to insolvency. Such support is best provided for each individual by a local authority-assigned personal adviser. As I said earlier, we will take steps to ensure that the guidance being produced for local authorities on their corporate parenting responsibilities includes advice on the role of personal advisers in the event that the young people for whom they are responsible attend colleges that enter education administration.

There is much to be proud of in our current system, given that 71% of FE colleges are good or outstanding and more than 50% are in good financial health, the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in education or taking up apprenticeships is at a record high, the reforms made following the 2011 Wolf review have raised the quality of qualifications, and 88% of students were recorded as having a sustained education destination in the year after key stage 5.

We know that high-quality further education can have a truly transformative impact on young people. That is why we announced as part of the spending review that we will protect the 16-to-9 national base rate of £4,000 per student for the duration of this Parliament. By 2020, if we include the adult education budget, the 19-plus apprenticeship funding and advanced learner loans, more funding will be available to support adult further education participation than at any time in England’s history.

The measures in this Bill will build on the key priorities, enabling students to make better choices about their future, with the opportunity to gain qualifications valued by employers that will secure their future prosperity and that of our nation.