I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on securing this debate on such an important topic. We have heard powerful arguments on further education funding, which I myself will come to shortly, but we should first take a moment to recognise the real achievements we have seen in further education in the past few years.
All Members here today will have some fantastic colleges and sixth forms in their area. In Bexley, we are fortunate to have a campus of London South East Colleges, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills visited last year. She toured the campus, met students, apprentices and tutors and observed a number of lessons and activities. The college appreciated the visit, as it enabled it to showcase the outstanding work done by students, the facilities, and the plans to help upskill people in our area.
Much has been said about the financial challenges that further education establishments face. Although further education seems to be the poor relation of secondary and higher education, we must not forget that in the “Further education and skills inspections as at
We need to realise that these colleges are the engines of our future economic success. They provide the young people we will need, when we leave the European Union, for the future of our economy, and the opportunities for our country to thrive in the global world.
We need to address the T-levels that are coming in, which we welcome. The £500 million investment, however, will not fully materialise until 2023 and, when it does, the majority of students will still be doing academic or applied general qualifications.
We need to ensure that further education establishments provide opportunities for older, as well as for young, people, and for social mobility. In my view, social mobility is absolutely key to the future of our country, and FE is the engine that can deliver it.
Time is short. There are so many more issues I would like to raise, but I will not repeat what colleagues on both sides have said. We hope that the debate will give more ammunition to my right hon. Friend the Minister in her campaign with the Treasury, to ensure that we get the extra funding we need for the FE sector. Education funding at all levels should, of course, be seen as a necessary investment for our country and should be increased, but FE colleges in particular should be a priority.