Government should play “an active role” in improving further education, the skills minister has said.
Speaking at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference in Birmingham this morning, Anne Milton said “by the sector, for the sector” was "not, on its own, always the best response" to driving up the sector's performance.
“I want government to be playing an active role," she said. "To be clear, I don’t think that government always knows best, or can do this on its own. But just as an active role for government is central to our approach to industrial strategy, we need to adopt the same mindset when thinking about how we achieve the world-class FE provision that we need. “
This would not mean the government would, for example, tell colleges how to get industry professionals into colleges, the minister told delegates, but instead would mean the government asking “what can we do to help meet the very different needs of the sectors, employers and local economies that you work within?”
Milton adding there were also some issues where government had “a unique set of levers and resources that can help find solutions to shared problems”.
“We can see that in the positive changes coming out of the area review programme, and support for restructuring. It is why Richard Atkins, the FE commissioner, is working with more colleges to ensure that the right support for improvement is in place.”
'Responding to challenges'
Ms Milton also told the conference the government’s aim was not just creating great colleges: “It’s about how those colleges – your colleges – can respond to the most critical social and economic challenges that we face as a country today: tackling disadvantage, and making a success of whatever changes and challenges our country needs.”
Further education was also central to the challenge of delivering a prosperous future for this country after Brexit, ensuring the UK had “an adaptable workforce with the skills and opportunities to thrive”, she added.
“The reform of technical education will be at the centre of our response to those challenges and we will be saying more about that later this month, including as part of the government’s industrial strategy,” said Ms Milton.
Ms Milton admitted that she could not reveal whether the FE sector would be getting any additional funding in the autumn Budget later this month, but said: "All I can be is a champion for FE." The minister added: "You want more funding, and I will always lobby for that."