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Confident, optimistic and ambitious

15 November 2016

The Association of Colleges' (AoC 's) Annual Conference is a staple in the further education (FE) calendar. After attending it for many years as a delegate, this is my first one as Chief Executive of AoC. Over the 20 years that the conference has been running there have been times to celebrate and times to worry. This year, I want the feeling to be one of confidence and optimism. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic and positive. We have a Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening MP, and a Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Robert Halfon MP, who understand colleges and what they offer to people, communities and employers. They are both very clear about the role colleges need to play in the education system and I expect them to show that in their contributions to conference. Just last week, for example, Justine Greening gave her commitment to put the same focus on technical education routes as there has been on academic routes for many years. The Brexit vote has cast the spotlight on current and likely future skills shortages which are likely to increase with the likely slowdown in skilled immigration. As a result, more must be done to support people to train and re-train over the duration of their careers. And that's where colleges come in. I want colleges to be confident, optimistic and ambitious as they are well placed to upskill Britain’s workforce. They already support 3 million people every year, enhancing life chances, enabling social mobility and improving productivity. To make this happen though, there needs to be additional investment into our sector. That's why next week's Autumn Statement from Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is so important. At the very least he must commit to the funding outlined in last year's Spending Review. AoC has submitted a number of recommendations on how this should be increased. In particular, the Government should look to increase spending on education and training to 5% of GDP from the 4.5% currently. We must help all 16 to 18 year-olds to get the best start to their lives and careers but that alone is not enough. The Government must also deliver the funding and plans to enable more training opportunities for adults who are already in work. Colleges are the key to a successful economy, especially as we leave the EU. The Government must now invest in our people and in our country’s success.