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#LoveOurColleges: Why does it always rain on FE?

'The message heard in Westminster was clear. Ignore colleges at your peril' George Ryan reports from lobby of Parliament

Students and staff gather in Parliament Square for the Love Our Colleges rally

'The message heard in Westminster was clear. Ignore colleges at your peril' George Ryan reports from lobby of Parliament

The issue of college funding was taken to the heart of government today in the biggest demonstration in support of further education for over a decade.

Staff and students travelled from up and down the country, from Grimsby to Preston, Leeds to London, with some hardy folk having to get up at 3am to get the coach down.

Union officials estimated that 3,000 college supporters marched through central London, bringing lunchtime traffic to a standstill as police closed roads the make way for the protestors.

The wet weather failed to dampen spirits with placards and umbrellas on show in equal measure, as the soggy protestors made their way past Trafalgar Square and along Whitehall to Parliament Square.

'Optimism clearly in the air'

The noise of the crowd picked up as the march paused outside Downing Street on the way, with protestors determined to let their voices be heard by whoever was in Number 10 – although Theresa May was busy undergoing a grilling from MPs over Brexit for the weekly Prime Minister's Questions at the time.

One principal, Gerry McDonald from New City College in east London, took the decision to close the college for the day to allow staff and students to join in the protest. The college also took out a full-page advert in the Evening Standard in order to publish an open letter to the government calling for better funding for FE.

Optimism was clearly in the air given the booking of an open-top bus from which the speakers would address the soggy crowd. All aboard the FE omnibus was a hotchpotch of the great and the good from the world of FE.

'Oh Jeremy Corbyn'

The NUS students’ union, Shakira Martin warmed the crowds up with chants of “What do we want? FE funding. When do we want it? Now!” and spoke about her time as a student at Lewisham College in south London that set her on course to becoming the leader of the students' movement.

Welcomed to the podium by chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”, the Labour leader was on friendly territory as he spoke to an enthusiastic crowd.

In what could be described as a meandering, but well-meaning speech, the leader of the opposition covered everything from arts funding to his time as a shop steward in the former union of public service employees. It was greeted well from those assembled outside Parliament, though.

'The time for better college funding has come'

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner also spoke with passion and conviction and introduced her boss as “the next prime minister” - although, going from the response she got, some in the crowd may have felt that former adult education student Rayner has a better shot at getting the keys to number 10 than Mr Corbyn.

In a sign of cross-party support, the Lib Dem’s education spokesperson Layla Moran, a former teacher, addressed the rally, as did ex-Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.

In a particularly impassioned speech, the principal of City and Islington College in north London Andy Forbes spoke about the tough decisions leaders had to make because of government cuts. His voice faltered as he spoke about the rounds of redundancies he has been forced to make because there are not enough funds to keep people on.

As the crowds dispersed all that was left was a muddy field resembling Glastonbury, strewn with discarded placards, which were collected by union representatives. What remains, though, is the message that will surely be heard loudly and clearly by ministers opposite in the House of Commons: The time for better college funding has come. Ignore these calls at your peril.

George Ryan is a reporter for Tes covering FE

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