A leading North East college has called on the Government to put greater focus on technical, vocational education to ensure local businesses get the skilled workers they need.
Gateshead College is concerned that a continued devaluation of technical training is being perpetuated and encouraged by both the current funding levels for FE (further education) and the methodology used.
College management believe the current funding system is one of a series of factors leading to a mismatch, creating a workforce that is not necessarily qualified for a fast-changing jobs market.
Rapid changes in technology combined with the emergence of new, innovative industries places huge demands on the 16-19 educational landscape.
Judith Doyle, principal and CEO at Gateshead College, says: “Not only must education providers be fleet of foot in responding to the changing demands for skills but they must be able to help re-train and re-skill the people who need new skills later in life.”
The FE sector – and Gateshead College in particular – is trailblazing this approach to learning, she says in a submission to a House of Lords Select Committee looking into the economics of education and vocational training.
She says: “The government has talked about the importance of employer-leadership in building the curriculum. That is exactly what colleges like ours have been doing for many years to ensure young people leave with the skills to gain employment.”
Colleges such as Gateshead, she says, play a critical role in preparing students to enter employment at every level supporting the economic needs of the region. Funding to support adult education and skills training is also critical to this, but funding for this has been subject to severe cuts in the past five years.
“For adults, there is a disparity between the funding of 19-24 year olds and over 24 year olds; the methodology is transfixed with qualifications, which are often out of date and do not match the requirements of local business and industry,” she says.
Primary and secondary school funding per pupil has doubled between 1998 and 2016, while FE funding has been cut by 50pc over the same period. Funding per pupil at school is on average £6,300 compared to around £5,600 per FE student. In addition, bespoke training for niche business needs are costlier to organise and deliver.
Judith Doyle says: “Funding is not the sole issue. We need to re-think how careers advice is delivered to pupils. The impact of the recently introduced Careers Advice Bill remains to be seen but significant change is needed to ensure all young people have access to high quality and impartial careers advice.
“The current funding system supports and actively encourages schools to retain young people and unfortunately the provision of sixth form studies is not necessarily planned with jobs in mind.
“A more seamless approach between schools, including primary and secondary, and FE is needed to enable all young people to recognise and play to their strengths and be well prepared for a rewarding future career.”
Funding changes are key, says Gateshead College, but they must be accompanied by a series of other changes to ensure the post 16 education sector is more responsive to jobs needs and better able to support and encourage technical routes into industry.