John Hayes is Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning

On forming a Government in May this year, one of our first decisions was to take £200 million out of the Train to Gain scheme and invest it in projects that we know are successful: Apprenticeships and Further Education.

The £150 million that went to Apprenticeships will help give 50,000 people a chance to boost their skills and experiences in work. They are going to be given unprecedented opportunities to access training and start on the path to employment.

I believe, as my colleague Vince Cable believes, that there should be no artificial dividing line separating higher education from further education and vocational skills. As I said, when I announced the first wave of college freedoms at City and Islington College in June, the line between further and higher education should be a permeable membrane, not an iron curtain.

As soon as people start to treat the various styles and levels of learning as discrete entities, they also begin to erect the sorts of arbitrary barriers that stop learners moving from one to another, barriers that are the antithesis of the ideal of lifelong learning. And, of course, the people worst affected by these barriers are the most disadvantaged in our society, those furthest from learning and with fewest chances for progression.

It was with this in mind that the Business Secretary and I went to Working Men's College in Camden two weeks ago to announce which colleges would see the benefits of the £50 million that I announced in the summer would be spent on building projects.

Many colleges who are receiving this funding have been let down in the past, causing disappointment and distress to students and staff alike. We wanted to give something back to them and this new investment will give them something to be proud of.

The £50 million recycled from Train to Gain is now supporting 149 colleges in projects they have told us are important to them. These range from small refurbishment jobs to building new laboratories or improving disabled access.

It is a sign of our belief in the sector but also of our appreciation of its independence. As I have said many times, people who actually work in colleges and training centres are perfectly placed to understand their own needs and how to meet them.

I intend to keep trusting to the sector and looking for more ways to give it the autonomy that will help it develop as never before, and make an even more prominent contribution to our culture and economy.

What this past month has also taught me is the wide remit of further education and differences it can make to people from all walks of life.

Friday 24th September marked the end of our Offender Learning consultation, which will inform a wider discussion about the future direction of the criminal justice system.

We have been looking at all areas of learning both in prison and in the community to see what works and what does not work. Undoubtedly there is a debate to be had on the most relevant and worthwhile courses and the role they can play in cutting offending rates.

Crime costs this country £60 billion every year with nearly a sixth of that coming from reoffending.

Teaching people new skills gives them a renewed sense of purpose and there is certainly an economic argument for making sure we get this right. Not only will a more efficient system ensure we are getting value for every pound of taxpayers money spent, but it will help to reduce what is spent on offenders in the community in tackling crime and in other areas such as benefits.

As our economy grows it is more important than ever that we tackle the skills gap and equip people of all ages and abilities with the tools they need to succeed and open the UK up for business once more.

What I have been doing this month, from college funding to reviewing offender learning, from visiting Apprentices at Nissan in Gateshead to discussing the ongoing Skills Consultation, has been with this focus in mind. I am determined to raise the profile of further education and skills and highlight its important role in the social and economic life of this country, and will continue to do this as we move into autumn and beyond.

John Hayes is Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning

Read other FE News articles by John Hayes:

Skills Minister John Hayes reflects on a busy time for FE

Skills Minister John Hayes unveils a new future for Further Education

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