Further Education Colleges are an essential part of the education system.

New College Stamford is one of 266 colleges in England educating 600,000 16-19 year olds, 300,000 apprentices, 1.4 million adult learners and 150,000 higher education students each and every year.

We play a vital role in our communities, we help people of all ages to make the most of their talents and ambitions and we drive social mobility. We also support businesses to improve their productivity and we are a demonstrable driver of economic growth.

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that colleges and college staff transform lives.

Since 2010, however, further education colleges have - uniquely in the education system - been targeted for austerity and funding cuts, dealing with an average reduction in funding of some 30% whilst costs have increased dramatically through increases to the national living wage, the apprenticeship levy, higher pension contributions and inflation.

New College Stamford, like all other FE colleges, has had to make cut-backs, resulting in a drastic and hugely regrettable drop in learning opportunities for adults and teacher pay at less than 80% of schools.

Our brilliant and dedicated staff at New College Stamford have received only one pay rise of 1% in the past four years – not because we want to go this way, but because the funding cuts have left us with absolutely no option.

This is why unions, students and colleges are coming together to support Colleges Week, 15-19 October.

Earlier this week in her conference speech our Prime Minister, Theresa May, signalled the end of austerity. The message is timely - Colleges Week is our opportunity to call on government for better investment in colleges, and fair pay for college staff.

During Colleges Week we will be promoting the ‘Love our Colleges’ campaign through a range of activities on and off campus. And on Wednesday17 October a group of New College Stamford students will be in London taking part in a national day of lobbying.

This will include a march from Pall Mall to Westminster, followed by a rally in Parliament Square and a meeting with our MP, Nick Boles, at the Houses of Parliament.

Almost all of you will have friends and family who are part of the further education alumni. Many of you reading this today will have studied in a further education college, just as I did back in the 1980s and again in the 1990s!

You will remember the friends you made, the support of your tutors, the knowledge and skills you gained, and the role further education has played in shaping your life and career.

Some of you will have become further education students later in life as adults, perhaps to help you move your career in a different direction or gain promotion, perhaps to learn new skills such as IT and computer use so that you are equipped for our changing world, maybe even to experience the health benefits of stretching your mind and learning something new.

Whatever your motivation, and whatever the nature of your further education study, you will be able to relate to our campaign for fair funding.

Please support Colleges Week. Write to our local MP, Nick Boles, to tell him how further education has made a difference in your life.

Ask him to support our campaign for better investment and fair pay for our staff. Help us to keep on transforming lives, contributing to our community and supporting our local economy.

It’s time for positive change!

Janet Meenaghan, Principal and Chief Executive, New College Stamford

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