FE's future 'hangs in the balance', claims Labour's Chuka Umunna

Darren Evans

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The future of the further education sector “hangs in the balance”, yet ministers continue to "duck" questions on the subject, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to TES, Mr Umunna said adult education was at risk of “disappearing entirely” because of government cuts.

He spoke out after tackling business secretary Sajid Javid on the future of FE during oral questions in the House of Commons earlier today.

During that exchange, Mr Umunna challenged the secretary of state to guarantee that no colleges would close as a result of the £450 million cuts to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) budget.

Mr Javid said it was important that all colleges had the resources to do their jobs.

Mr Umunna told TES: “The future of further education as we know it hangs in the balance, and next week’s Budget could have the biggest implications for adult education of any delivered in living memory.

“Sajid Javid has refused to rule out that under his plans, colleges will be forced to close.

“Adult education and skills provision is a vital component of social mobility and boosting productivity, but has already been cut to the bone because of the choices the government has made and now it is at risk of disappearing entirely.”

“Ministers must not be allowed to duck legitimate questions on the future of FE by simply talking about apprenticeship provision.”

Mr Umunna further asserted that on-the-job training schemes for existing employees had been “rebadged” under the apprenticeship label.

“There is nothing to suggest this trend will not continue, and we will see funding draining away from vital adult education provision towards qualifications that almost four in ten employers do not even regard as apprenticeships,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Umunna told the secretary of state that 70 staff posts were in danger at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, which Mr Javid attended, due to the reduction in its adult-learning funding.

Mr Javid said it was an “excellent college”.

“The important point is that all colleges, not just that college, have the resources they need to do their jobs,” he added.

“We will not put that at risk, especially as they continue to invest in apprenticeships, which are one of the surest ways to give people the training they want and to ensure they have skills that are wanted in the marketplace.”

During the debate, Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said he had been contacted by FE colleges concerned over funding, and asked skills minister Nick Boles to introduce a strategy that would allow them to have a five-year programme.

In reply, the skills minister said: “Long-term certainty would be of tremendous value to colleges, and I will definitely make sure that that argument is made.”

A BIS spokesman said it had “nothing to add” to the ministers’ comments.

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Darren Evans

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