Association of Colleges is the national voice for further education, sixth form, tertiary and specialist colleges in England. We represent almost 95% of colleges – our members educate and train 2.2 million people in England each year.

AoC has responded on behalf of the further education sector to two of the government’s flagship education policies, announced by the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP at today’s Conservative Party Conference.

T Levels – new capital fund

The Secretary of State’s announcement of a new capital fund to support the first T Level colleges in 2020 is a sure sign that the government is pushing ahead with its plans.

That’s good news, because we know just how starved technical and professional education has been over the last decade. Young people and adults deserve more investment, employers need more people with technical skills and the economy will suffer without reforms. 

As a country with an ever-widening skills gap and increasing uncertainty in industry as Article 50 edges ever closer, we must get this right. That is why we are working closely with the Department for Education to provide the necessary challenge and support and to ensure that they engage with colleges where so much of the expertise lies, on what students need and what employers want.

The DfE is committed to co-design and that is critical for successfully implementing what are complex reforms in a confused ‘system’ of qualifications and routes.

We also supported a survey about the capital and workforce needs of colleges which provided the evidence for this new investment. It shows that they are listening to us.

We must though be realistic as well. T Levels, particularly in the early years, will involve relatively small numbers of young people. There will remain hundreds of thousands of 16-18-year olds and more than a million adults in colleges across England on different routes that also need capital and better revenue funding if we are to deliver a successful economy and strong communities, post-Brexit.

The government can’t continue to overlook these in the hope that T levels will be a silver bullet solution. In isolation, they will not be. There is a genuine commitment across government to deliver a world class technical education system. To do that, we need to invest in every college, across the breadth of their students.

Centres for Excellence – improving functional mathematics skills

There are 9 million adults in England with low levels of basic functional skills and over 200,000 every year reaching 16 without reaching the GCSE grade required.

Every single college works strenuously to support their students to improve their literacy and numeracy, despite low levels of funding and other barriers. So, we welcome today’s government announcement – not just of additional funding, but of the recognition that colleges are best placed to support people to achieve the skills they need to be successful in work and in life.

The Centres for Excellence focus on teaching and learning is an opportunity to spread best practice far and wide; lessons learned can be shared locally, regionally and nationally.

However, we are in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. If we want to keep great teachers teaching, government needs to not just focus on teacher development, but teacher pay – and that requires proper investment in colleges. ​

For many students there are many barriers, academic, personal, societal, that have led to them not achieving the basic functioning skills in maths and English which they need to be successful in work and in life.

The Centres for Excellence work to explore how best to support students will be central to their roles.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC)

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