18 July 2016

Paul Eeles, Chief Executive of Skills and Education Group, comprising emfec, gives his thoughts on the changes that have taken place over the past academic year and his hopes for the next Parliament.

As we come to the end of this academic year, I am amazed at how much has changed in the further education landscape, particularly in the last couple of months.

In recent weeks alone, we have not only seen a new Government take the helm, but have also heard plans for a restructuring of technical and vocational education which will affect the further education and skills sector.

We are extremely proud that the hard work of our member colleges and their students is finally beginning to be recognised on par with academic-focused institutions.

While there is still a long way to go, the policies changes which have begun taking shape over the past academic year have put further education and skills well and truly on the educational map, and have shown that the government is committed to ensuring all young people have a chance at following a high-quality educational pathway.

Over the course of the last year, we have seen the government debate policies for a number of crucial areas impacting FE: careers education, social mobility, technical pathways, apprenticeships, and adult education, are just a few which spring to mind from recent debates.

Each time one of these key areas is debated, we as a sector are given a platform on which we can share our successes, strengths and also our areas of weakness with Parliament and with the wider education sector.

But this platform is not sufficient without a commitment from the Government to continually make the FE sector part of its wider education policy and integrate it seamlessly into the skills agenda. Our FE colleges and training providers are crucial in helping to solve the skills gaps, supporting local labour market needs, and in preparing young people to forge successful careers.

It is vital that the government continues to provide colleges and FE stakeholders with a voice throughout these ongoing debates and they ensure that our institutions are not only resilient, but provide young people with the choice, flexibility and quality they need when making choices about their future careers.

That is why I am particularly pleased to see that the Department for Education will once again resume responsibility for further education and skills, which we see as recognition of the vital partnerships which take place between schools and colleges to ensure a smooth transition to post-16 learning and beyond.

This is also a crucial opportunity for us to really engage with the outcome of the inquiry into careers advice and guidance, and ensure there is a formal, government-backed process which ensures young people are given information about their future opportunities and the equality between vocational and academic pathways.

Following the outcome of the EU Referendum, we are certain that there will be changes which affect our members, but we are uncertain at present what these changes will be. The potential loss of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) among others will be a blow to the sector if the government is unable to secure alternative funding. We hope the government will act quickly to address this and ease the concerns I am sure many of you have.

What does remain certain is that emfec, will continue to lobby and work with MPs on behalf of our members to ensure that colleges in the East Midlands and across the UK are continually able to deliver high-quality learning to the people who need it most.

We are looking forward to working with the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, the new Secretary of State for Education, and we are excited to be an organisation, which brings together school to adult learning at a time when the government is recognising the value of doing the same.

We hope that the new Parliament will bring a detailed and ambitious plan for how the reformed Department for Education will bring together these different stages of learning while recognising the diversity, strengths and individual needs of each of them.

I wish all of our members a happy and restful summer break and look forward to continuing our work together in the new academic year.

Paul Signoff Webstory