Skills Minister announces first new FE College for 20 years

Speaking at the Plaisterers’ Hall, London on 30 April, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock pledged to end the divide between vocational and academic education.

Beginning with the statement ‘people need the right skills to get jobs, and employers need skilled people to grow’, the minister went on to outline what the government will do to narrow the gap in esteem between vocational and academic
education. Mr Hancock’s speech centred around addressing two challenges:

  • The divide between academic and vocational education, and
  • The divide between education and work.

The first, he said, is about attitudes and the relative value of vocational and academic education.

But traditionally, this divide has been more than a mindset – it has extended to government policy, resulting in low expectations and standards within the vocational education sector.

Mr Hancock emphasised the government’s drive to restore rigour in the sector, by re-introducing high quality technical education, backed up by sound English and maths teaching. Since January, the government has announced the creation of new colleges in important sectors like rail, nuclear and software. These elite institutions will ‘blur the line between vocational and academic’. They will take learners from an early age, but go up to higher education level. They will be the best in the world, on a par with the best universities.

The first new FE college in 20 years, Prospects College of Advanced Technology (known to us all as Prospects Learning Foundation, our member GTA in Essex), will involve employers as never before, said Mr Hancock. It will provide cutting-edge technical education in engineering, aviation, rail and construction to young people over 16. Prospects will train 1,000 students and 1,200 apprentices, making it one of the biggest GTAs nationally. Neil Bates, CEO, told us ‘We are delighted that a GTA will be the first new FE College to be incorporated for 20 yrs. GTAs are specialist technical organisations whose governance is provided by employers. This is employer ownership at its best. Where we tread I hope others will follow…’

We have, said the minister, record numbers of young people in apprenticeships. The government wants the ‘new norm’ for young people to be a choice between university and an apprenticeship, ending the divide between vocational and academic education.

In response to the second divide, Mr Hancock said that the government had introduced traineeships, to bridge the gap between education and work. It had set up Trailblazers, and further extended employer ownership, ‘giving the power to employers to shape training’ to meet the needs of business.

GTA England and GTAs are keeping close to the action in Trailblazers, participating in two of those in the first phase. We will keep you informed of progress, both here in the newsletter and through face-to-face feedback at members’ days.

Please get in touch if you want us to raise issues on your behalf. To quote David Sherlock, Chair of Trustees at Prospects College ‘the door is open for GTAs …’

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