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Education Secretary commits to 'levelling up' FE - AoC responds

09 July 2020

Today, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson gave a speech to the Social Market Foundation outlining his mission for further education and 'levelling up' the nation. In a virtual speech, Gavin Williamson committed to invest in long-term change that will transform the post-16 education landscape. Responding to the speech, Chief Executive David Hughes said: “Today’s speech isn’t about reducing the power and mission of universities, but recognising and supporting the power and mission of colleges alongside universities to meet the education, skills and training needs of every adult across their lives. Our current system simply does not support the half of adults who don’t get the chance to study at higher levels. In fact it relegates them to second class citizens, without the investment and the opportunities to improve their life chances. The Education Secretary’s speech is a rallying call for a stronger, more coherent education and skills system that works for everyone, supports productivity and helps places recover from the pandemic and flourish in the future. All of that requires strong, confident and well-resourced colleges, universities, and schools. For too long, we’ve been fixated on a target set in a different era, by a different leader, when the needs of the country were vastly different. The 50% target felt right then and has now been achieved. It’s time to move on to a more ambitious target, one which recognises that the world has changed and the needs of the country and of its citizens have changed. This current pandemic has shown how important it is that people are supported to train and retrain, to be able to move quickly into new jobs and sectors, and to be protected from long term economic scarring. Colleges are uniquely positioned to be able to do that, but that must not detract from the vital role universities play in our economy and recovery. Levelling up means giving everybody the chance to succeed, wherever they're from, whatever their background and previous attainment, and whatever their ambition. We should neither limit opportunities to study at higher levels nor to re-train at lower levels; we need more support for literacy as well as for technicians, professionals, academics and researchers. I welcome the Education Secretary’s commitment to end the snobbery that places university study as somehow more worthy and important than apprenticeships, technical training or people taking their first steps into better literacy or numeracy. For me they are all vital parts of the system. The FE white paper with the investment to make up for a decade of neglect has the potential to be a turning point for colleges, if it is bold and ambitious. It should build on what already works well, whilst creating a system that is truly committed to lifelong learning, allowing people to be educated, trained and re-trained at any stage of their lives.” You can listen back to Gavin Williamson's full speech here.