Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

#FEreform - @GavinWilliamson tears up the target to send 50% of people to university, and pledges to build an employer-led, ‘German-style’ further education system – proposals to be set out in the FE White Paper this autumn 

Fundamental reform and rebalancing toward further and technical education is vital if our country is to recover after coronavirus and grow economically, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said today (9 July).

He makes a personal commitment to stand by the “Forgotten 50%” of young people who choose not to go to university, and to invest in long-term change that will transform the post-16 education landscape and level up opportunities for everyone.

Further education is vital to economic recovery – and to reskilling and levelling up the nation

In a virtual speech hosted by the Social Market Foundation, Mr Williamson calls time on the idea that higher education is somehow better than further education and will tear up the target to send 50% of young people to university. He says we should not seek to drive half of young people down a path that, can all too often, end with graduates not having the skills they need to find meaningful work, and instead see FE, apprenticeships and university all as equally valid routes to productive employment.

His pledge comes ahead of the publication of a White Paper this autumn which will set out plans to build a high quality further education system that will provide the skills that individuals, employers and the economy need to grow.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“For decades, we have failed to give further education the investment it deserves. Our universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture, but there are limits to what we can achieve by sending ever more people into higher education, which is not always what the individual and nation needs.

“That’s why this autumn I will be publishing a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities

“As we emerge from Covid-19, further education will be the key that unlocks this country’s potential and that will help make post-Brexit Britain the triumph we all want. I want everyone to feel the same burning pride for our colleges and the people who study there, in the way we do for our great universities and schools.”

Higher education will continue to play a vital role in our economy, society and culture, but it is clear that more needs to be done to make sure more people can gain the skills they need to get the jobs they want.

Thirty-four per cent of graduates end up in non-graduate jobs, productivity is just 4% higher than it was in 2008 and businesses in sectors such as manufacturing and construction report some of the highest skills shortages.

There is growing evidence that underlines the need to:

  • End the focus on taking qualifications for qualifications sake
  • Stop training people for jobs that don’t exist, and
  • Start training them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future

Many of the skills that employers are demanding require intermediate or Higher Technical Qualifications - but only 10% of all adults aged 18-65 hold Higher Technical Qualifications as their highest qualification in the UK. That’s compared to around 20% of adults in Germany and as much as 34% in Canada.

Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice will also earn more than the average graduate.

James Kirkup 100x100James Kirkup, Social Market Foundation Director said:

“Britain’s longstanding cultural bias against further and technical education is socially divisive and economically wasteful. 

“Socially, too much of our national conversation is based on the implicit judgement that people who don’t go to university aren’t worth as much as those who do.  Economically, decades of underperformance on technical education and training, for young people and adults alike, has held back growth and productivity.  

“More support for further and technical education, and more respect for the people who benefit from it, would make Britain happier and richer.”

Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:

“Colleges are the engines of levelling up. They equip people of all ages with the skills they need to succeed at work and drive regional prosperity. But they have been underfunded for a generation. Renewed Government support for our further education system will be warmly welcomed by business.

“These reforms must go hand-in-hand with support for our world-leading and highly-respected universities that are struggling so acutely in the face of coronavirus. The FE white paper is a golden opportunity to join up higher and technical education, drive inclusion and prosperity - delivering the high-skilled, high-paid jobs that communities need now and in the future.”

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, Chief Executive, AoC, said:

“Today’s speech isn’t about reducing the power and mission of universities, but recognising and supporting the power and mission of colleges alongside universities to meet the education, skills and training needs of every adult across their lives. Our current system simply does not support the half of adults who don’t get the chance to study at higher levels. In fact it relegates them to second class citizens, without the investment and the opportunities to improve their life chances.

"The Education Secretary’s speech is a rallying call for a stronger, more coherent education and skills system that works for everyone, supports productivity and helps places recover from the pandemic and flourish in the future. All of that requires strong, confident and well-resourced colleges, universities, and schools. 

"For too long, we’ve been fixated on a target set in a different era, by a different leader, when the needs of the country were vastly different. The 50% target felt right then and has now been achieved. It’s time to move on to a more ambitious target, one which recognises that the world has changed and the needs of the country and of its citizens have changed.  

"This current pandemic has shown how important it is that people are supported to train and retrain, to be able to move quickly into new jobs and sectors, and to be protected from long term economic scarring. Colleges are uniquely positioned to be able to do that, but that must not detract from the vital role universities play in our economy and recovery.

"Levelling up means giving everybody the chance to succeed, wherever they're from, whatever their background and previous attainment, and whatever their ambition. We should neither limit opportunities to study at higher levels nor to re-train at lower levels; we need more support for literacy as well as for technicians, professionals, academics and researchers. I welcome the Education Secretary’s commitment to end the snobbery that places university study as somehow more worthy and important than apprenticeships, technical training or people taking their first steps into better literacy or numeracy. For me they are all vital parts of the system.

"The FE white paper with the investment to make up for a decade of neglect has the potential to be a turning point for colleges, if it is bold and ambitious. It should build on what already works well, whilst creating a system that is truly committed to lifelong learning, allowing people to be educated, trained and re-trained at any stage of their lives.”

tom bewick 100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:

“The Federation welcomes the vision for post-16 education and skills that the Secretary of State set out today. 

“It has been more than a year since the Philip Augar review reported and there has been a significant vacuum open up in FE policy during this time.” 

“Gavin Williamson says there are a ridiculous number of qualifications. What he doesn’t mention is that it is successive government policies over the decades that have driven these numbers. Awarding Organisations have simply responded to what the government and the market has demanded of them. Over 5000 qualifications have not certificated since 2015. We would welcome therefore a debate about how we streamline and tidy up the qualifications landscape. But this can’t be at the expense of genuine choice for learners and employers, as opposed to a top-down system driven by Whitehall diktats and civil servants deciding what is best for people. 

“We look forward to working with ministers on creating a world-class system for England. It needs to be an English-style approach and solution, not some imported German-style technical education model that will just never work within the context of England’s very unique education and skills ecosystem.” 

Ewart Keep 100x100Professor Ewart Keep, Co-director of SKOPE and an emeritus professor in the Department of Education, Oxford University, and Commissioner on the Independent Commission for the College of the Future, said:

“Colleges are central to a skills-led recovery and vital to meeting long term challenges. Today’s commitment to transform post-16 education presents English colleges with the opportunity to be part of a balanced system that empowers them to deliver better life chances for everyone and support productivity.

“A clear and central role for colleges in a coherent post-16 system is needed to secure access to training and jobs for young people and adults. Strong colleges, schools and universities in every community must each play their part within a well-understood ecosystem to address the economic challenges of businesses and individuals. After a decade of neglect for colleges in England, we now have an opportunity to invest in a new system and infrastructure so that by 2030 colleges will be fundamental to the upskilling of individuals, improved productivity, and strengthened communities.”

Amanda Melton 100x100Amanda Melton, Commissioner on the Independent Commission on the College of the Future and Principal and Chief Executive of Nelson and Colne College Group, added:

“It is crucial that we set up our colleges to meet the challenges of the future – from climate change to the changing world of work. No college can achieve the impact we need alone, so a new system must be based on the principle of collaboration, working in new ways with each other, the wider education system, and employers.

“Today’s announcement has to be the start of a road map for the next 10 years for colleges, with a vision for their strategic role in meeting the challenges we face. Building on this announcement for English colleges, we also have a unique opportunity across the UK’s four nations to further develop college systems that will deliver for people, employers and communities. We will be launching our vision for the future of colleges across the UK later this month.”

Jo Grady 100x100UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Further education is in dire need of funding, but that is because the Conservative governments of the last decade have decimated it. Hearing Gavin Williamson lament the lack of funding for colleges is as astonishing as it was to hear universities minister Michelle Donelan complain last week about record student debt levels on the back of £9,250 annual tuition fees introduced by the Conservatives.

‘Promising to scrap the 50% target of young people going to university might secure a headline but the road to our recovery from the current crisis does not involve cutting the proportion of young people accessing education.

‘The government should be encouraging people to attend all forms of education, not picking artificial winners in a market it has created, nor denigrating university education at a time when the sector desperately needs support.’

Alistair Jarvis100x100Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“To suggest there is an arbitrary maximum number of people who should be able to pursue higher education is denying aspiration – what is important is that every student has the choice to follow the path which is right for them to best fulfil their potential.”

“Increasing support for further education is an important move but it would be a mistake to view post-18 education as a binary choice between supporting either higher education or further education. Both universities and colleges have important and mutually supporting roles to meet skills needs in the post Covid-19 economic recovery. The benefits of universities and colleges are felt in local communities across the UK, increasing social mobility, creating jobs and supporting local businesses.”

“Over 40% of courses currently offered by universities have a technical, professional or vocational focus, and are equipping people for vital careers in the public sector such as nursing, to meeting the skills needs of growing industries from robotics to green energy. A university degree enhances an individual’s job prospects and boosts future salary by an average of £9,000 a year.”

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

"The NEU agrees with Gavin Williamson that FE colleges and apprenticeships play a vital role in the education and training of young people.  
"Ambitious proposals to regenerate the further education sector are welcome. The devil of course will be in the detail and we will need to see what is in the White Paper in September.  

"For any system to work it will have to be properly funded and pay needs to be brought up to the levels of the broader education profession. A chronic lack of funding for FE colleges and lack of employer participation in providing high quality apprenticeships has ill served  young people taking this educational route and needs to be urgently addressed."

Layla Moran100x100Layla Moran  Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson said:

"It's long overdue that Government stopped using a completely arbitrary target as the basis of their post-school education policy. But people working in Further Education could be forgiven for being sceptical about the Education Secretary's commitment given the years of devastating cuts which the sector has faced under the Conservatives.

"The Government needs to step up and recognise the scale of the challenge in front of us. We need investment in early years so we can truly level up, to narrow the attainment gap before kids get to school. And we need to put power in the hands of teachers, to make and own these decisions for themselves.

"The Liberal Democrats want to see a far more ambitious adult retraining programme that will prepare our economy and our citizens for the future."

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy, British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:

“A renewed focus on further education is welcome.  Employers are crying out for more people with technical skills at all levels in the workplace to boost productivity and seize the opportunities of a more digital and automated workplace.  

“Whether taking a vocational, technical or academic route to employment, it is vital that young people, who have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic, get high quality provision leading to fulfilling careers. 

“Alongside formal qualifications, the system must have the flexibility to deliver bitesize learning to ensure all adults can refresh and update their skills as the workplace evolves.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“Further education and apprenticeships have a crucial role to play in widening opportunity.  Apprenticeships in particular have a key role to play in improving social mobility which will be especially important as we come out of the pandemic. Our research has shown that the coronavirus crisis has already had a devastating impact on apprentices, with 61% being made redundant or furloughed, or unable to access their learning. The Chancellor’s announcements yesterday were welcome; the sector requires serious investment to enable young people to receive the training and progression they deserve. 

“We would also like to see many more degree and degree-level apprenticeships available to young people. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to earn while they learn, graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants. These are the bedrock of the German apprenticeship system which the Secretary of State aspires to.”

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, responding to the announcement from the government to reform further education, said: 

“Any new support for further education is welcome, but it’s a bit rich for the government to complain about a crisis in FE that they themselves have created. Funding has been slashed by billions of pounds and support for learners scrapped. 

“Repeated speeches from the Secretary of State calling for a German-style system are no replacement for the investment the sector needs. Attempts to set up further and higher education against each other are damaging and counterproductive. Everyone in post-16 education will tell you what’s needed is collaboration across both sectors to maximise opportunities for lifelong learning so people can develop new skills and have fulfilling lives.

“It is time for the government to move beyond the empty rhetoric and give post-16 education the investment it needs.”

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

"Young people must get the education they need. But the minister's plan has to be properly funded, from early years to adulthood, if it's to work.

"Further education colleges have been starved of cash and kudos for years. The government must win hearts and minds and reverse a decade of savage of cuts. 

"Rebuilding an independent careers advice service is key to helping young people make informed decisions. Anything less will be a very expensive mistake."

Today’s commitment builds on the significant investment announcement by the Chancellor this week to boost the economy and get more young people into work following Covid-19, including more funding to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities available and expanding the Government’s Traineeship programme.

Significant work is already underway to transform the post-16 landscape including by providing more high-quality apprenticeship opportunities, and ground-breaking new T Level qualifications which will be taught from this September.

The first wave of 12 Institutes of Technology are being rolled-out across the country - unique collaborations between further education colleges, universities and businesses offering higher technical education and training (mainly at Levels 4 and 5) in key sectors such as digital, construction, advanced manufacturing and engineering.

Later this year the government will launch a competition to ensure that all of England is covered by an Institute of Technology, making sure everyone has the chance to gain higher technical skills and helping unlock growth across the country.

An additional £1.5 billion will also be invested to upgrade colleges – the largest capital investment in the sector in a generation and will enable colleges everywhere in England to have buildings and facilities that can deliver world class tuition. £200 million of that investment has been made available to colleges this year to enable them to undertake immediate remedial work as early as September.

The new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund will also help get more people into work, as well as giving those already in work the chance to train for higher-skilled and better-paid jobs.


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