New arrivals and familiar faces
David Cameron has set up his new Cabinet – his first without any Liberal Democrat. So what does this mean for colleges? To start with, we have the continuation of Nicky Morgan as Secretary of State for Education. Since taking over from Michael Gove last summer, she hasn’t had a lot of time to make any big changes. Now is the time to see what she will do. One of the first issues she will face is pressure around funding cuts. As we’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, the fact that the Conservatives haven’t ringfenced the education budget for 16 to 19-year-olds is a big concern for colleges. Spending on 16 and 17-year-olds is 22% lower than 11 to 16-year-olds, and 18-year-olds in college receive an even worse deal, despite them often needing additional support. But here’s the point. Ringfencing the budget will cost very little, because of the demographic changes – over the next three years the numbers of people aged 16 to 18 is going to fall. This means that the monetary impact of ringfencing will be relatively low to the Government, but the potential damage not doing so could have on a young person’s career aspirations is huge. This week has also seen Sajid Javid take over from Vince Cable as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. There are differing views about Vince Cable's performance as Secretary of State, but what we can say is that he always took a great interest in colleges and the impact they have. I’m sure that this will continue with the new Secretary of State. He will also be supported by the returning Nick Boles. In the last 15 years there's been quite a bit of turnover in Skills Ministers so it's good to have continuity. Pleasingly, Mr Javid studied in a college, and so has first-hand experience the positive impact these institutions have on people. One of the things we think will be key to him is the balancing of apprenticeships with other training and employment opportunities. The promise of three million apprenticeships was a prominent feature of the election campaign, and reiterated by the Prime Minister on Friday. Colleges will play a central role, with the Government and employers, in realising this ambition. It will be a challenge, particularly to make sure that quality is maintained in line with the increased quantity. It can be achieved if Government and others can persuade sufficient numbers of employers to recruit an apprentice. We will also need to ensure the careers advice, delivered by schools, gives a thorough explanation of the opportunities provided by an apprenticeship. The role of the new Careers Company will be vital. But we will be working hard to make sure the apprenticeship increase isn’t to the detriment of other opportunities. There are many millions of adults who are not eligible for an apprenticeship, but still need to be able to access training. This includes part-time workers and those looking to return to the workplace or change career. The adult skills budget is central to this, but has been severely cut over the last few years. We will be working hard to highlight the importance of this, and try to save it from extinction. The next months, and five years in general, are going to be an interesting time for colleges. We will be working hard to build strong relationships with the Ministers, and other Members of Parliament, to keep colleges on the political agenda. Chris Walden is AoC's Director of Public Affairs and Communications.