Parliamentary Updates

  • Current Inquiry

    The Education and Health Select Committees launched a joint inquiry in December 2017 to scrutinise the Government’s green paper on transforming children and young people’s mental health provision. On Tuesday 30 January, The Education and Health Committees scheduled their first two oral evidence sessions on their Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision inquiry and invited Stuart Rimmer, Chair of the AoC Mental Health Policy Group to give evidence to the Education and Health Select Committee. The session was wide ranging and included discussions about apprentices access to support, lack of data, and the need to ensure the Green Paper proposals take into account the need for sufficient resources. The full transcript is available here. Further information about the inquiry is available here.

  • Further Education Provision

    Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

    What steps his Department is taking to improve the quality of further education provision

    The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills (Anne Milton)

    We have done a number of things in this area. The area reviews have been an opportunity for every college to reorganise and merge, and we have approved £300 million of restructuring money. Plus six grants have been made from the new £15 million strategic college improvement fund. We have appointed seven national leaders of further education, and the work of the FE commissioner, a vital role, has also been extended.

    Peter Aldous

    I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. Colleges such as East Coast College are doing great work that will improve social mobility and productivity, but they need to be properly funded. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps that have been taken to ensure that that is the case so that colleges can deliver a high-quality, rounded curriculum?

    Anne Milton

    Funding is important, which is why I mentioned those figures. The strategic college improvement fund will be very important. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth merged to form East Coast College, which is a much more financially independent institution. We are also putting £500 million a year into technical education to increase the hours of learning for more than 50% of those on technical routes; providing £20 million to help teachers prepare for those routes; and continuing to protect £4,000 a year for 16 and 17-year-olds. I am very aware, however, that this is a complex sector delivering a wide range of courses in quite difficult financial circumstances.

    Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

    I thank the Minister for her efforts on behalf of Exeter College, which, as she will know, was inexplicably not granted the contract by the Skills Funding Agency to provide apprenticeships through small firms. I would like her to continue those efforts, working with officials from her Department and the agency, because if this is not rectified, or a way ​through found for this, it will do serious damage both to the provision of apprenticeships in the Exeter area and to Exeter College, which is one of the top performing colleges in the country.

    Anne Milton

    I know that the right hon. Gentleman has worked very hard on behalf of Exeter College. I praise my officials who continue to work with individual Members to ensure that these problems are ironed out.

    Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab)

    Wakefield College opened its advanced skills and innovation centre late last year. It is a brilliant new centre to help entrepreneurs start up their own businesses. The one cloud on the horizon is the excellent work done by the college through the national collaborative outreach programme, which is still up in the air following the fiasco of the Minister’s Department over the setting up of the Office for Students. When will she announce the funding for the years going forward and when will my excellent staff be able to continue that good work?

    Anne Milton

    The hon. Lady is right to praise the work of Wakefield College. Such colleges are real exemplars of what can be achieved. I appreciate the importance of outreach work, and that is particularly important when we consider social mobility. I am happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Lady at any time.

    Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)

    Does the Minister agree that sixth-form colleges, such as Richard Huish College in my constituency, are an extremely valuable part of our education system, making the great link between education and employment? Will she kindly meet me to discover whether, in the tertiary review, funding might be available from age 16, rather than starting at 18?

    Anne Milton

    I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend; it would be a pleasure. I was recently at the conference of the Sixth Form Colleges Association. Sixth-form colleges do an excellent job, and I will do everything I can to support them.

    Topical Questions

    Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)

    Wirral Metropolitan College failed to secure funds for non-levied apprenticeships from April this year, despite a positive Ofsted report in October 2017 which highlighted the fact that it is a key player in economic and social development in the region. Concern has been expressed about a number of colleges that are currently meeting the needs of employers but have missed out in the procurement process. Will the Minister ask the Education and Skills Funding Agency to look again at the application ​from Wirral Met, to ensure that the college can continue to work with employers to deliver vital skills training in Wirral?

    Anne Milton

    We are looking into how we can ease colleges and independent training providers through this process. I should point out that we received more than 1,000 bids totalling £1.1 billion. There will always be providers who are disappointed, but we will be working with those colleges to smooth the transition and ensure that they can provide the valuable training that will ensure that young people have the skills that they need.

    Emma Dent Coad (Kensington) (Lab)

    T6. In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, our bereaved community needs its local education services more than ever. I was pleased to see that the proposed merger between Kensington and Chelsea College and Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College has been ​halted, and that an overdue consultation on the future of Wornington college is to be opened. Will the Secretary of State act to secure the financial future of a community-led college along with a diverse and locally representative board, if that is what the consultation requests?

    Anne Milton

    I was delighted to meet campaigners along with my colleague from DCLG, and I congratulate the Further Education Commissioner on stepping in and having numerous meetings. I know that he is anxious to keep closely in touch with the hon. Lady to make sure that we get the right solution for this precious college—this valuable resource—which has been around for many, many years.

    The full transcript is available here.

  • The Education Select Committee heard from the IPPR, Young Women’s Trust and Sutton Trust at the first oral evidence session of the inquiry in to the quality of apprenticeships and skills training.

    Key things of interest:

    • Social Mobility Commission figures reveal that only 10 per cent of apprenticeships are taken by young people eligible for free school meals, a demographic that makes up 13 per cent of schoolchildren. MPs were told that the public funding going into the apprenticeship system is not sufficiently incentivising employers to take on people who may have struggled earlier in life.

    • Concerns were expressed about Ofted's ability to regulate and inspect the growing number of apprenticeships, given that funding gap. Ofsted has called for extra funding to ensure that it effectively monitors growing number of new apprenticeship providers.

    • Joe Dromey, Senior Research Fellow, IPPR voiced support for the apprentice premium which mirrors the Pupil Premium in schools by providing funding for disadvantaged young people who want to undertake an apprenticeship.

    • Lack of affordable childcare and high transport costs, as well as the perception of low wages, were significant barriers to more women and people from deprived backgrounds becoming apprentices.

    The full transcript of the Committee meeting is available here.

  • Members of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee held a hearing to consider whether some young people might be better off not going to university.The committee is concerned that the UK may be producing too many graduates, with evidence that more than half of the UK’s workforce feel they have skill levels that are higher than needed to do their job.

    Key things of interest:

    • Between 2015 and 2016, the proportion of businesses concerned about filling high-skilled roles increased by 14 percentage points to 69 per cent. 
    • Employers look for experience when recruiting, followed by vocational qualifications and then academic qualifications.

    • The apprenticeship levy has been subject to widespread criticism, with more than half of employers saying that a more flexible training levy would be better.

    • Brexit has caused employers to significantly cut their recruitment of graduates, resulting in a fall in the number of new graduate jobs for the first time since the financial crisis.

    The full transcript of the Committee meeting is available here.

  • The Public Accounts Committee summoned witnesses from the DfE, the Student Loans Company Office for Students.

    Key things of interest

    • DfE plans to find arrangements for 1,200 or so apprentices who are with Carillion over to new apprenticeships with CITB
    • The courts gave Learndirect‎ a super injunction in May without taking evidence from Ofsted or Government which meant that Ofsted weren't even able to discuss the report with other officials. The injunction prevented Ofsted from their normal practice which is to publish a report before a complaint has been resolved.

    • MPs expressed concerns about the monitoring the attendance of students, amid ongoing concern about high dropout rates from alternative providers and allegations of fraud in the student loan system. DfE intends to collect data from universities and other higher education institutions on a termly instead of yearly when the new Office for Students’ regulatory framework comes into force in 2019-20.

    The full transcript of the Committee meeting is available here.

  • Lord Willetts and Lord Browne, who led the review of higher education funding that paved the way to the trebling of fees to £9,000 in 2012, appeared before the Treasury Select Committee’s inquiry on student loans on Wednesday 13 December. MPs asked them what regrets they had on funding policy following the drop in part time student numbers. The number of entrants to courses that are less than half of full time has fallen by 56 per cent since 2010-11, according to the latest stastics released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England earlier this year.

    The full transcript of the Committee meeting is available here.

  • The Education Select Committee published written evidence for its inquiry into value for money in higher education, covering topics such as vice-chancellor and senior management pay, the impact of student debt and value for money, and the support available for disadvantaged students. The public evidence session held on Tuesday 12 December questioned witnesses including representatives from the NUS, Office for Students (OfS) and the Sutton Trust. Key points of interest:

    • The level of some vice-chancellors' pay is the subject of legitimate public concern according to the Chief Executive of the Office for Students. Nicola Dandridge told the Committee that new rules meant that anyone being paid more than £150,000 a year be required to justify it.
    • NUS vice president told the Education Select Committee that it was important to ensure that universities spend their money in the most open and transparent way. Student maintenance grants for lower income students which were scrapped last year, should be reintroduced as a key priority.

    The full transcript of the Committee meeting is available here.

  • There was an interesting debate led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the role of education in building a flourishing and skilled society during which many Peers raised the importance of colleges. There were many contributions from peers (crossbench and cross party) about the role of colleges, and a number of follow ups we’ll pursue regarding meetings and engagement.

    In Lord Agnew’s closing remarks as responsible Minister, he said a couple of things worth noting regarding investment in FE and VC/Academy pay:

    All this requires a genuine partnership with employers of all sizes. To this end, we held a skills summit on 1 December to bring businesses together on a statement of action to boost productivity by bolstering local skills. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, our commitment to further education is underlined by our plans to invest around £7 billion in the FE sector during this academic year.

    The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked about the pressing issue of vice-chancellors’ pay. The Government’s view is that exceptional pay can be justified only by exceptional performance. To that end, we are consulting on behalf of the Office for Students on a new requirement for governing bodies to publish the number of staff paid more than £100,000 a year. On the issue of academy CEOs’ pay, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I have written in the last week to a number of academies where I felt the published pay of chief executives was too high and asked for the governance procedures around those awards. I feel very strongly about this subject and will continue to pursue it.

    To read the full debate, please click here.