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'Change your approach' to deliver more apprenticeships, Nick Boles tells colleges

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Colleges “will not be insulated” from funding cuts in the chancellor’s spending review next week, skills minister Nick Boles has said.

Addressing the Association of Colleges’ annual conference in Birmingham this morning, Mr Boles called on colleges to “change your approach”, and be “more flexible, more entrepreneurial and quicker off the mark”. He also set colleges a target of increasing the proportion of apprenticeships that they deliver to two-thirds of the total number by 2019-20.

For 2015-16, just 37 per cent of apprenticeship funding will go to colleges, compared with 60 per cent to independent training providers, Mr Boles told delegates.

“I salute the outstanding work of some of the private training providers who have raised standards and enabled companies of all shapes and sizes to take advantage of apprenticeships,” he said.

“But, as your friend, I have to ask you this: why on earth are you letting these guys nick your lunch? Now today I want to ask you to raise your sights…Now I’m not going to intervene to somehow stop private training providers from winning that business, but I want to help you give them a very good run for their money and secure a much larger share of that revenue stream than you currently do. And I’m absolutely confident that you can do it.”

Mr Boles also told the conference that he could not offer “any advance insight into what is going to happen in the spending review”, but said: “Those of you engaged in further education will not be insulated from further spending cuts."

He added: “I believe that you are better off, stronger together rather than fragmented and vulnerable.”

Referring to the area reviews, he said there was “a limit” to the help available from government to help out colleges with “long-running deficits”.

Mr Boles continued: “If I am to persuade the chancellor to give us the money to support colleges through difficult years, I need to be able to show it that colleges are taking the initiative, are taking some difficult decisions that do involve some difficult change and restructuring, but are reorganising themselves to be stronger for the future.”

But although he said there was an opportunity for colleges to “prosper as institutions”, Mr Boles added: “You do need, most of you, to change your approach. You need to be more flexible, more entrepreneurial, and quicker off the mark. You will need to ask employers what they want and work out how you can provide it, not just offer them what it is convenient for you to deliver.”

He continued: “Apprenticeships are the future. And I want the FE sector to lead the way.”

To applause from delegates, AoC chief executive Martin Doel told the conference in response that the sector had “played a bigger part in reducing the deficit than any other part of education. The sense that we're not protected is how we’ve felt for five years.”

The college sector also “gets the fact the apprenticeships are going to be extraordinarily important,” Mr Doel added.

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