Anne Milton, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships - Full Speech (Hall 1, Opening keynote session)
Thank you Steph for that very kind introduction, and for giving me the opportunity to speak here today.
My professional background before I entered politics was in the NHS: but I have to say that it is hard to think of a group of professionals delivering a more important public service than the people in this hall today.
Personal insight from Worldskills.
I would like to start by briefly sharing some of my memories from the Worldskills competition which I attended a few weeks ago. I was blown away by Team UK. They did fantastically well – competing on the World stage for skills and achieving great things.
Let me tell you about just one of the wonderful young people I met: Ashley Terron.
Ashley nearly didn’t become an apprentice. At school, his teachers encouraged him to go to University, apprenticeships were never mentioned as an option. Ashley was fortunate that his dad employed apprentices so he could see the benefits of training on the job. He secured an apprenticeship with Redrow, one of the largest house builders in the country.
Ashley was named the world’s best young bricklayer at WorldSkills Leipzig in 2013. He went on to complete a degree in Construction Project Management at the University of Salford. And he is now senior site manager at Redrow, managing a team of apprentices - as well as continuing to volunteer training members of Team UK in bricklaying.
We must ensure that the young apprentices who did so well in Abu Dhabi are able to follow in Ashley’s footsteps, and become an inspiration to others.
Vision - where we want to be
Ashley’s story, and those of others like him, are why I am passionate about my job. They are why I am here today, why we are all here today. Our commitment to a public service that transforms the lives and life chances of young people and adult learners. Our ambition for the sector, and for great colleges.
High quality, resilient and confident institutions with a clear mission and values, and outstanding leadership. Colleges in every community with excellent teachers that change the lives of others through learning, and give the country, business, industry and the public sector the skills we need.
But our ambition should not just be about 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.
Social mobility and Brexit
You know, and I know, how powerful further education can be as an engine of social mobility. That is also at the heart of the DfE’s mission: extending opportunity, and unlocking ambition for everyone.
For young people that have struggled at school, and who lacked access to the support and opportunities enjoyed by many of their peers. For those that want to take a high quality and challenging technical route. For those that want to get a degree in their local community. And for those whose path to learning has taken a different route, or who need to retrain to develop their careers.
You know, and I know, that further education is central to the challenge of delivering a prosperous future after Brexit. Ensuring that we have an adaptable workforce with the skills and opportunities to thrive. Supporting the growth of innovative, productive businesses. And making the most of local strengths in communities across the UK.
The reform of technical education will be at the centre of our response to those challenges; we will be saying more about that later this month, including as part of the Government’s industrial strategy.
Meeting those challenges – working together
For me, meeting the challenge of both making sure people are, and feel, they can change the direction of their lives - becoming socially mobile - and tackling our skills shortages are at the core of my ambition for the sector.
We all need to be focused on meeting those challenges – colleges, government, the wider FE sector, and employers as well. You want to do that within your institutions, in your communities. I want to play my part within government, by acting as your champion. And I will always bang the FE Sector drum.
But having a shared purpose is not sufficient on its own. We will only succeed in meeting those challenges by working together.
At the Skills Summit later this month we will be focusing on developing our partnership with employers. Today, I’d like to talk about our partnership with you.
I know that words like “partnership” and “working together” come with historical baggage. There have been times in the past when our partnerships have been tested. I can understand that, given the changes that we have faced in recent years. And I can also see that the drive for freedom and autonomy has, on occasion, put too much distance between us.
Looking to the future, we need to build on what works well at present. But as we face new challenges, the way in which we work together will also need to change.
I am not coming to you with a blueprint for how our partnership should work from now on. Instead, in a spirit of dialogue, I want to talk to you about what I think are three emerging themes.
Support from Government
The first of those is support: from Government, for the sector.
We are, and will be, asking a lot of you over the next few years. It is only right to make sure that you can get the support that you need.
Wherever we can, we want to deliver that support by harnessing the capacity within the sector. Improvement through collaboration, rather than competition alone. That’s what we are doing with the National Leaders programme, and through the new Strategic College Improvement Fund.
Where that capacity for support does not already exist within the sector, or needs to be strengthened, we will invest, strategically, in its development.
An Active Role for Government
Second, I want Government to be playing an active role.
To be clear, I don’t think that Government always knows best, or can do it on its own. But just an active role for Government is central to our approach on industrial strategy, we need to adopt the same mindset when thinking about how we achieve the world class FE provision. “By the sector, for the sector” is not, on its own, always the best response to many of the biggest challenges we face together.
For example, when we implement our Manifesto commitment to attract experienced industry professionals to work in FE colleges, it won’t be Government saying “we know how to get industry professionals into colleges, and this is what you must do”. Instead, it will be Government asking: “what can we do to help meet the very different needs of the sectors, employers and local economies that you work with?” That might be helping you to test out ideas or share good practice, or communicating nationally with employers, sectors and professionals.
That’s one example of what I mean by playing an active role. But there are also some issues where government has 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, as FE Commissioner, is working with more colleges to ensure that the right support for improvement is in place.
Whole system co-ordination
The third building block is looking at the whole system.
We need a better co-ordinated approach, both within Government, and between the Government and the sector. I am looking to the new College Improvement Board, chaired by the FE Commissioner, to help deliver that in strengthening quality, for example.
We need to ensure that targeted support for quality improvement works in tandem with wider support for FE teachers and leaders. We need to harness the insights from inspection by Ofsted to help identify improvement needs. We need to reform the accountability system to make it work better. And we need to ensure that our ambition is matched by providers who are financially resilient.
Partnership is a much over-used word. But if meant, if felt by both sides, if it is meaningful, genuine and balanced, it does work.
This is a hugely exciting and challenging time for colleges and for FE, as it is for government. You want more money and I will always lobby for that. But we are where we are.
What I know is that together, we have a shared ambition for all of our learners, for all of our communities and for our country.
Together, we have a determination to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.
Together I know we can make this happen.
Thank you – I look forward to your questions.
Carole Stott, AoC Chair - full speech (Hall 1, Opening keynote session)
Welcome AoC conference 2017
On behalf of the Association of Colleges a very warm welcome to our 2017 conference.
I’m really glad that our Minister Anne Milton has been able to join us this morning. It’s very encouraging to hear a minister talking so positively about our colleges, and about acting as our champion. Equally important I think is the desire to develop real partnership and dialogue. I hope and believe that during the next 2 days and beyond we can continue a constructive dialogue about how we achieve our shared objectives.
As the regular AoC conference goers among you will know, this year we are trying the new two-day format. This is based on very clear feedback and requests from our members so we hope that this new format meets your expectations. We’ve certainly tried to pack in as much relevant content as we can within the shorter timescale; and we look forward to getting your feedback.
For those of you attending your first AoC conference, a very special welcome. We’re delighted that you’ve joined us and we look forward to meeting and talking with you over the course of the next two days.
I believe it’s very important when we come together like this that we recognise and celebrate our many achievements and as ever we have much to celebrate this year. So I was delighted to hear the minister talk of her experience with Team UK and WorldSkills, who last month returned from Abu Dhabi with medal haul of twenty, placing the UK 10th of the 59 competing countries. . WorldSkills UK is a partnership involving all parts of the system and supported by government. It’s a partnership where colleges have played such an important role in supporting and achieving this success.
This evening we will be holding our AoC Awards dinner. We will be hearing about the very best and most innovative practice colleges across the UK have to offer in our Beacon Awards. We’ll see great creativity of our students in our video award. And we will be hearing the amazing and inspirational stories of our student of the year award finalists and Gold award winners.
The minister has described central role of our colleges in skills, and what that means for colleges, for government and for our country. I am sure that this will be a recurring theme of this conference. As I said this time last year, this country needs its colleges. This has never been truer and I believe and hope that it is becoming more widely recognised and understood.
I firmly believe that each and every one of us has something to learn and something to contribute as we explore and discuss this during the next 2 days. It feels as if the challenges we face in our colleges, our communities, our countries are becoming ever more complex; and with a pace of change that creates a sense of real urgency. And while there may be variations in our local contexts, the challenges are ones that we share.
I suspect that everyone in this hall working in our sector will be feeling that the past year has been especially tough and challenging. But the college sector is still one I feel very proud to be working in, and I know that many of you feel the same. Proud because every day we help to improve lives of our individual students; help to strengthen our local communities and the many businesses we work with; and make a real and positive contribution to our success as a nation, both economically and socially.
Our work has both an immediate and long-term impact. Our colleges belong in the heart of their communities. Collectively we have a breadth and depth of reach which is unmatched: over 3 million students of all ages and from every part of society, and over 150 thousand businesses of all shapes and sizes working with and through our colleges to develop talent and improve opportunities.
All of this makes our colleges central to achieving the government’s stated aims of improving productivity AND social mobility. Colleges are central to a successful economy because with our breadth and depth of reach we are developing talent and skills across the existing and the future workforce, and helping plug the skills gaps faced by business.
We have just heard the minister talking about social justice. The State of the Nation report on social mobility set out very clearly the depth and the worsening state of social mobility in our country. SoS Justine Greening has set social mobility as the DfE’s guiding mission. Such a mission speaks to the very core of our values and our work as a sector. Such a mission requires a long-term commitment that is serious about developing the talents of all members of our communities. It requires a deep understanding and commitment to those communities. Education, skills, the labour market and local economies must all be tackled in a coherent and enduring way. Our colleges sitting at the heart of their communities must be an essential and central part of any strategy to tackle this deep seated problem.
So I firmly believe that we have real opportunities that we need to grasp on behalf of our students and our communities. Given the proper support and respect that our colleges deserve, we can work with government on their mission for improved social mobility just as we can work with them and with our local businesses to help tackle the productivity slump. This absolutely speaks to the heart of our core business and core values. Tackling these twin challenges requires partnership, commitment and perseverance.
As we’ve heard this morning there are encouraging signs that government is ready to work in real partnership with us. I know that many of you here will already have been involved in helping to develop thinking around T levels and we’ll have an opportunity to hear more about plans for this and other initiatives during the next two days and beyond.
Of course the challenge is enormous and we can do better. And in particular colleges can do better if we have the right conditions to help us. That includes the proper and fair funding that our students deserve; and proper investment for our colleges if we are to prepare the next generation for their careers. Alongside this we need the right policy and regulatory framework to support our work. This together with fair and reasonable funding will help deliver our ambitions for our students and communities.
As we come together to discuss and debate these important issues today and tomorrow I hope that we can also agree how AoC together with all its member colleges and partners can join together and act collectively to get a better deal for our students and our colleges. We all have a part to play. Acting together we are a powerful force for good.