Politicians from across three major political parties gathered yesterday to welcome the NUS students union's new report on further education.
The report, entitled "Students shaping the Post-16 Skills Plan", calls for a more “student-centred approach”, and was officially launched by the students' union in Parliament. It recommends the creation of student and apprentice panels to sit alongside employers and co-lead on the design of standards and assessment plans for the 15 new technical education routes. It also says a student representative should sit on the board of the Institute for Apprenticeships.
The report, a preview of which was revealed by Tes this week, also calls for greater financial support for students – and an increased focus on careers information, advice and guidance.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who attended the launch, said Shakira Martin – the union's second president not to have gone to university in 95 years – had made "the academic argument for FE".
“FE does a tremendous job and your report, I think, outlines some of the work that FE does in terms of the broad base," Ms Rayner said.
"Some of the things that your report recommends like the pastoral support, the financial support, that ability to get in on those functional sills as well so that you can accept and get on some apprenticeships [I support], because at the moment many young people can’t get access to those courses now and get on that first rung of the ladder," she added.
'Making education accessible for everybody'
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Vince Cable, who was approached by NUS last year to help with the report during his time out of parliament, said student voice was crucial in the report's design.
“I think the first point I would stress is the importance of the student voice,” Sir Vince said. “A lot of things in the FE sector are decided by management and the students are required to fit in with it. We’ve just been through a quite difficult area review process. I saw it first-hand as a governor of an FE college in my former constituency, as it then was, and saw this happening, and the idea that students would have a view on it was certainly not considered terribly relevant, and ultimate decisions of amalgamations has been made without their voice being heard, and the importance of having that voice.”
Former skills minister and chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon, said the report was "important" and that "in too many schools they refuse to teach pupils about apprentices".
Shakira Martin, president of the NUS, said: “Special thank you to Vince [Cable] for his support in the report, and also thank you to Gordon [Marsden] and for Robert [Halfon] for coming. When I [started] as national president I made a promise that I was across all parties because I understand my college and my platform to represent 7 million students from different voices, different political backgrounds, but for me it’s about making education accessible for everybody to achieve so cross-party recognition and support having it here...means a lot to me and my membership will be very happy for that."
She added: "The biggest thank you actually goes out to the students, the staff the apprentices and the experts [who have] actually helped us gather this evidence, because without them we would have nothing to base our research on, and particular thanks [goes] to the adult and send learners because I’m really, really happy we were able to capture those voices and include those in these recommendations.”
For a full list of the report's recommendations, click here.