The chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee has claimed that the government “doesn’t give a toss" about FE.
Speaking at the Further Education Trust for Leadership's symposium today, Labour MP Iain Wright said that while the sector was "essential" to economic prosperity, it wasn’t being treated as a priority by a government which perceived the sector as a “sort of bit in the middle”.
“I think FE and the role of FE should be at the very heart of our business and skills policy," he told the audience. "I think in terms of the way in which it can drive economic growth, it can improve living standards for large parts of the population but also, linked in with that, [providing] social mobility for a whole range of different people is absolutely essential. This is good for business, and it’s good for society.
"FE has a massive, positive role, and on that basis it should be a big priority. And I feel it’s not... Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I think government is letting go of FE, by showing that it doesn’t give a toss. And I really worry about that, because schools are seen as education, universities are seen as a priority, and there’s a sort of bit in the middle that’s not considered to be important whatsoever. And actually [it] could be the real difference between economic growth and failure, social mobility and social inertia. Making sure FE is a priority in our business and skills policy I think goes halfway towards trying to solve some of the challenges that we have."
'A numbers game'
Mr Wright also told delegates that he was concerned that learners were being caught up in a “numbers game” in relation to the government’s drive to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.
He said: "One of the key drivers of the department, one of the key objectives of the secretary of state, and the centrepiece of the government's skills policy, is the achievement of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. I'm concerned that it's just a numbers game and the government will do anything - whether it's rebadging, whether it's disregarding equality - as a means to be able to say 'we've achieved 3 million [apprenticeships by 2020]. And that's not good."
"[Also] no-one knows what the apprenticeship levy is going to look like. Colleges and employers are going to have to start putting into place structures and processes in about six months' time, and they're doing it in a vacuum of darkness. I just don't understand how the sector will be able to react," he said.
This afternoon, skills minister Nick Boles spoke about the government's apprenticeship plans in the House of Commons. He told MPs: "Businesses and colleges should be congratulated for helping apprenticeships move from strength to strength. I am hugely proud of the success we have achieved together and look forward to even more young people getting the chance to work hard and get on."