FE sector reacts to Williamson being given skills remit

The AoC says the move is a 'very positive sign that the words of support will soon be followed by new and significant investment'

Prime minister Boris Johnson appoints education secretary Gavin Williamson to further education (FE), skills and apprenticeships brief

After almost a week of speculation, the Department for Education has confirmed that secretary of state Gavin Williamson will be responsible for the further education brief himself. 

The DfE said that giving the Williamson the lead on FE and skills reflected prime minister Boris Johnson's commitment to the sector. 

It's a move few expected – so what does the sector make of it?


Background: Gavin Williamson appointed education secretary

News: Six facts about new children’s minister Kemi Badenoch

Quick read: 5 big problems for Boris Johnson's education ministers


What does it mean for FE funding?

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that giving Williamson responsibility for FE was a sign the significant funding could follow. 

“Since receiving the keys to Number 10 last week, Boris Johnson has talked consistently about the importance of further education and skills," he added.

"We are taking this as a very positive sign that the words of support will soon be followed by new and significant investment in policy, relationships and funding of colleges. The task ahead for us at AoC and for colleges is to keep up the #LoveOurColleges campaigning to ensure that FE and skills do not get lost in wider government business, and that the new leadership continues to see colleges as central to delivering for our economy and communities." 

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association agreed. “The Sixth Form Colleges Association welcomes the government’s announcement that Gavin Williamson will be leading on the FE and skills brief," he said.

"It is heartening that the government has decided to demonstrate its commitment to the sector in this way, and we look forward to working closely with the new secretary of state as he sets out his plans for sixth-form education."

'At the heart of the Cabinet'

Robert Halfon, a former skills minister and current chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, told Tes that he was delighted Mr Williamson would be taking responsibility for skills.

"This means that the skills agenda will be at the heart of [the] Cabinet. It is vital as our education committee report suggested that if our NHS can have a 10-year funding plan, education should have a 10-year plan for our schools and colleges, and a long-term funding settlement. I hope that Gavin makes the case for a 10-year funding education plan in [the] Cabinet," he said. 

The committee's report highlighted that post-16 funding per-student has fallen by 16 per cent in real terms over the past decade, and urged MPs to increase the 16-19 funding rate for the first time in eight years

However not all reaction has been positive. In a damning statement, The University and College Union (UCU)'s acting general secretary Paul Cottrell, said that he didn't believe axing the skills minister role was a wise move. 

He said: "We have gone from having a minister for skills last week to not having one now, unlike universities and schools who have kept theirs.

"We shall have to wait and see if commitments from Boris Johnson in the leadership campaign translate into proper funding. We do not believe losing the dedicated skills minister is a positive step for further education or suggests that the sector is held in high regard by the new administration."

Support from Kemi Badenoch

The DfE also announced that Kemi Badenoch would support Williamson. Badenoch attended an FE college in Morden part-time where she took her A levels. She was also an engineering apprentice before studying the subject at University of Sussex.

Simon Ashworth, chief policy officer for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said that the appointment of Williamson sent out an important signal that the prime minister was serious about his promises for apprenticeships and FE. 

"We would also welcome dialogue with Kemi Badenoch about other pressing issues such as the funding of adult care worker apprenticeships and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education's refusal to approve a level 2 standard for business administration even though her own department is employing apprentices on the framework at the same level," he said. 

Elsewhere in the sector, reactions were optimistic:

 

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