Education: Tomlinson Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:06 pm on 16th March 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat 4:06 pm, 16th March 2005

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I rise to speak in the gap. I am afraid that, due to an administrative error, my name was left off the speaking list. I therefore have to be very brief.

I am a governor at Brockenhurst College, an FE college in Hampshire. The Government White Paper on the reform of 16 to 19 year-old education and the forthcoming Foster review are of great significance to my fellow governors and our principal, Mike Snell.

The college has been through many transformations. In the 1950s and 1960s it was a grammar school, and I was educated there. It then became a sixth-form college under Hampshire County Council, and subsequently a further education college. Since that time, it has had two different masters when it comes to funding.

Despite these changes, the governors and staff have always striven for excellence. Last year, our inspection rated us excellent—indeed, in the top 10 in the country. We have since received beacon status. That is the background with which I approach this debate.

As others have said, for those of us involved in education, the Government's decision not to implement the Tomlinson review more fully is very disappointing. It is unlikely, however, that they will now change their mind. We need to ensure, therefore, that there really is a step change. I have a few brief questions for the Minister.

It seems to me that across the board—and I am sure this is true for all of us—we welcome the commitment by the Government to the concept of vocational learning. However, we need two things. We need to ensure a better understanding of what vocational education is. We need some robust research in this, and we need to involve those in higher education. We need to strengthen the vocational system beyond the traditional lines of closer involvement with employers, specialist schools and others in the system.

This is a real opportunity to build on what we have, to raise the status of vocational and skills-based learning. Many people have referred to that today. We need to stop thinking of academic education as being better than vocational—that is what we have been trying to get away from in education for as long as I can remember.

If we are to achieve this, we need to ensure a broad education for as long as possible. I hope that the Minister can comment and expand on this, because it has been one of the themes of the debate today. Can the Minister indicate whether resources will be made available to provide facilities for the improvements that we all want to see in vocational education?

At Brockenhurst, through careful management, we have set up a restaurant on site. It is open to the public, and students are trained in catering and hospitality. We have expanded IT provision across the board; we have drama and media studies; we have off-site adult education; a nursery; workshops where we offer plumbing and building skills; and much more. But it has been a constant struggle to set up and fund such facilities when funding requirements and government priorities are always changing. We need a period of funding stability and predictability if we are to succeed.

I am told that I have to sit down when the Clock shows five minutes to the hour. We are all disappointed. Governments say that they are going to be radical, but only time will tell. Today, however, we are looking to the Minister to demonstrate that the future really will be different, and that schools and colleges will get the facilities they need to go forward in the way that many of us have expressed today.