On Tuesday in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons’ second debating chamber, MPs from all political parties were united in agreeing on one thing, (unusual in the current climate). That we need to better fund further education.
Education has been one of the biggest losers under this Government. Ofsted’s latest annual report stressed that further education had ‘borne the brunt of austerity’ with pupils between 16-18 receiving at least 8% less than students at any other stage of education.
All MPs were in agreement that colleges and sixth form centres are engines for upward social mobility and that education is the most effective route out of poverty. So why has the Government failed to invest in them since 2010?
Further Education has transformed countless lives in our country and nowhere is that clearer than at Calderdale College.
The college started life as Halifax Technical College in 1896 when Halifax was known as the Town of a Hundred Trades. Its purpose, then as it is now, was to train workers for life in the local industries with courses in Textiles, Engineering, Chemistry and Commerce.
Today the college maintains those close relationships with industry to deliver education for the modern workforce and was recently rated number 1 in West Yorkshire for 16-18 achievement.
Whilst the college has aspiration in abundance, not only for itself but more importantly for its students, they have had to make some really tough decisions which run counter to that aspiration due to funding and resources.
College Principal John Rees informs me of the difficulties the college has faced in attracting and retaining specialist staff, especially in STEM subjects due to a basic lack of funding.
Almost all of the College’s community outreach centres have closed, including those in Todmorden, Brighouse and the North Halifax skills centre which was a dedicated centre in an area of high disadvantage which sought to re-engage students in learning through construction trades.
Some adult learning courses have closed altogether including Travel and Tourism, and let’s not forget that tourism is now worth £328 million a year to Calderdale’s local economy. Courses in British Sign Language, Stone Masonry and Dry Stone Walling, Jewellery Design, Ceramics and access to HE in Arts, Photography and Fine Arts have also had to close due to cuts in the Adult Education Budget.
And finally, the college has also had to reduce its ESOL (English for Speakers if Other Languages) provision by 50%. This is despite an increase in the number of learners seeking this provision, undermining the integration agenda.
There are some exciting times ahead for further education in Halifax, but to invest in education is to invest in the future, and there is no sounder investment any Government can make than to invest in it.
MPs sent that message to the Treasury loud and clear this week.