Speech

Matthew Hancock: Association of Colleges conference 2013

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Matthew Hancock spoke to the Association of Colleges conference on traineeships, apprenticeships, standards and qualifications.

When I stood last year, just a month or so into the job - I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of enthusiasm.

One year on, I’m still just as enthusiastic, though with a new baby, maybe less of the bright-eyes.

It’s been quite a year.

A year ago, I told you that my college had been there for me when I needed my A levels, and that I’d be at your side now.

And over the past year I’ve been to dozens of colleges, played wheelchair basketball at Portland College, worked the lathes at BAE in Preston.

I’ve wired set top boxes at Virgin Media and filleted fish at Billingsgate Market; made pizza at Pizza Express in London.

So if nothing else, I’ve mastered the makings of a great night in.

I’ve travelled from Cornwall to Northumberland and back, and loved every minute.

A year ago I also told you that I’d learn from you and listen to you. And I’ve certainly learned a thing or two. About the importance of turning up on time, especially when launching a policy about getting kids to turn up on time.

About the sheer hard work of a sector that never sleeps.

Most of all, I’ve been impressed by young people I’ve met. Hard-working and dedicated, eager to learn and keen to work.

We in this sector know just how motivating it is to help people find their inner talent.

I’ve found that myself too.

This time last year, I took on my own apprentice.

From a quiet 18 year old, he has blossomed into a confident and competent young professional - sucking up knowledge and developing his skills.

Most important of all, he managed to say all the right things when quizzed by the Prime Minister on what I’m like as a boss…

Andrew completed his apprenticeship last week, and he’s here in the audience today: Andrew - you have shown me very clearly the motivating power of apprenticeships. It has been a privilege to work at your side.

Perhaps the most moving moment of my year was travelling back to West Cheshire College, my teenage stomping ground.

It has changed almost beyond recognition - with an incredible new state-of-the-art campus - but it showed me again that high standards, and high ambitions, are the key to unlocking every young person’s potential.

At 16, West Cheshire College set me on my path.

Today, in government, it’s guiding me still.

I know how valuable the further education sector can be - because I’ve been there.

And as your minister, I pledge anew my determination to champion, challenge and celebrate vocational education to be the best it can be, to help everyone reach their potential.

The value of education and enterprise in a changing world.

As we all know, the need has never been more pressing.

All around us, the world is changing fast.

The OECD has shown us that, like it or not, we compete not just with traditional powers in Europe and North America, but with rising powers in Asia, South America and the Middle East.

As a former economist I know most important asset is not infrastructure, nor natural resources, but the skills, knowledge and expertise of its population; the education of the next generation.

But it’s more important than the economics.

It’s about the future life chances of everyone in our nation. Education is the best protection against unemployment, social exclusion, crime. Education is the best way to participate fully in our culture, our heritage, our democracy.

That OECD report ended for good the debate about whether or not ever-rising exam results have meant ever-rising standards. And the news wasn’t good.

Only in Britain are young people less secure in the basics of literacy and numeracy than the older generation.

And yes, this is a problem of economics, but it’s a very human problem too.

Because to succeed, every individual - every one - needs and deserves to have high expectations set so they can reach their potential.

Needs, because to succeed in life everyone needs the attributes employers value.

And deserves, because education has intrinsic merit too, allowing our fellow citizens to transcend the circumstances of birth.

We are failing our fellow citizens if we fall for what the Americans call the soft bigotry of low expectations.

It falls to us to ensure expectations are set high, so every student is stretched, and acquires the attributes that employers value.

In a jobs market where what you earn depends on what you learn, we want to make sure that our skills system is rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers: preparing people for the world of work.

So enterprise, and the skills needed for work, are central to our reforms.

Enterprise is at the heart of our approach to expanding advice and guidance too.

Inspiring students, motivating and mentoring, lifting people’s eyes to the horizon, showing the full panoply of opportunities that are available. This is what good advice and guidance is all about. It means real employers, enthusiastic about their own careers, in schools and colleges. It is an agenda for inspiration and preparation for work.

So, the new National Careers Service will expand its offer to schools and colleges, making it easier for employers and educators to engage. Schools will be held to account by Ofsted for engaging with the world of work, and new destination data - with a level playing field across schools and colleges - will make it clear to all where its working and where it’s not. Careers Academies, Inspiring the Future, and business in the community are part of the answer: helping real employees engage and inspire.

As well as advice, a focus on enterprise means a clear-eyed focus on the skills, experience and qualifications which employers want; on higher standards, higher quality and higher ambitions for every learner.

How do we do that?

Last year, I described my task in government - quite literally, T, A, S and Q.

Traineeships, apprenticeships, standards and qualifications.

One year on, my priorities are still the same. Traineeships, apprenticeships, standards, qualifications.

With enterprise as the golden thread running through each one.

Today, I’d like to look at our progress - and set out my plans for the time to come.

Let me briefly take each in turn.

T is for traineeships.

My first priority was to establish traineeships.

When I started this job, I was hugely impressed by what some colleges were doing to prepare young people for the world of work - collaborating with employers to give young people the skills needed to get and hold down a job.

But too few colleges were offering these services; the funding was complex, and incentives skewed.

So I announced here last year that we would “bring forward a new traineeship, combining a rigorous core of work preparation, work experience, maths, and English, with a great deal of flexibility around everything else.”

Twelve months later - that’s what we’ve done.

More than 500 training providers are taking on trainees this year. Household names have already signed up to offer work experience.

I said last year that I wanted to start quickly, and expand later – and that’s what we’ve done.

Since August, we’ve made an extra £20 million available for young people of 19 and above, and for under 18s we’ve made clear that if you recruit more students than you are funded for, this will be recognised in the allocation you receive in the next year.

Helping everyone reach their potential means supporting those with special educational needs. And for young people who aren’t ready for a full traineeship, our new supported internship study programme is now available. Supported internships raise expectations and are already providing a pathway to employment for young people with complex special needs. At Shipley College in West Yorkshire, all but one of the young people involved found employment.

Traineeships and supported internships are designed with a laser-focus on tackling youth unemployment. They’ve had a great start and there’s more to come.

Next, apprenticeships.

When I stood here last year, I said that we wanted apprenticeships to be “higher quality, more rigorous and focused on what employers need”.

Last month we announced our detailed plans to achieve just that.

For the sake of every young apprentice - and every employer welcoming an apprentice into their workforce - it’s vital that we get this right.

Rigour - with new high standards that stretch apprentices further, with higher expectations for English and maths, more assessment at the end, and grading throughout so excellence can be celebrated.

And responsiveness - ensuring that apprenticeships deliver the skills and expertise which employers want and need.

So lengthy, convoluted, unnecessarily complex frameworks will be gone - replaced by new, short, clear standards, written by employers not bureaucrats.

Work on the first eight trailblazers is well underway with closer collaboration than we’ve seen for generations.

This is reform for the long term - and new apprenticeships will be developed, and start to be delivered, alongside the current system.

Of course, a focus on quality doesn’t mean restricting quantity.

On the contrary - there are more apprentices today, working for more employers and in more sectors, than ever before.

All in all, over one and a half million apprenticeships have been started since 2010.

In fact, just the other week an apprentice contacted me on Twitter - there’s a sentence that no skills minister could have said 5 years ago - to call himself “one of the lucky 1.5 million!” - and said it was “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made”.

Last year, 11 people chased each apprenticeship place; and there were 1.4 million online applications to the Apprenticeship Vacancy website.

And with reforms to ensure the training is closer to employers’ needs, I’m confident yet more employers will see the enormous value of taking on apprentices too.

For the first time in decades, we can say that for young people going either to university or into an apprenticeship is becoming the norm. It’s a huge cultural shift in our country.

For colleges it is a huge opportunity - and colleges have a vital role in making it happen.

So, traineeships to get people into work. Apprenticeships to train people in work.

But they, and FE across the board, needs higher standards of quality too.

Last year, I said that it was a scandal that so many English 18 year olds finished 13 years of formal education unable to read, write or add up properly.

For any country, those figures would be a source of national shame.

For ours - the nation of Newton, Lovelace and Berners-Lee, Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens - they are a crime.

This is a fundamental faultline running through our whole system: from early years, through primary and secondary, into and including further education.

English and maths are particularly vital. Yet England’s performance is terrible in both.

But as you know only too well, FE all too often bears the brunt of earlier failures.

The new requirements to be in education longer, and if you’re in education, for those without English and maths GCSE to keep studying to 18, bear heaviest on FE.

Over the last year, we’ve brought in new policies specifically designed to support you:

New bursaries up to £20,000 for talented graduates wanting to become maths, English, or LLDD teachers within further education colleges.

Support for professional development for up to 2,000 teachers

The new Education & Training Foundation will play a vital role in supporting you in the drive for high standards in teaching & learning. It will be brilliantly led by the inspirational David Russell - whose passion for raising standards and knowledge of what works is unparalleled.

Support for the new Core Maths - supporting schools and colleges to teach new high-quality maths qualifications for students between 16 and 18.

New maths and English GCSEs - with a closer focus on essential skills like spelling, grammar and problem solving - will I hope replace other qualifications as the single, gold-standard Level 2 in all settings across the whole of further education.

I know that many of you are already changing the way you work, to prepare for your new duties and to raise standards overall.

And while English and maths may be the primary vocational exams, the drive for high standards is throughout.

I passionately believe that parity of esteem will come - but will only come when standards of vocational qualifications meet the standards of academic ones.

This is the motivation behind my drive for rigour.

It comes down to this:

  • every child can be stretched, from their level upwards

  • every student gains from being challenged

Just because the skills system must be accessible for all doesn’t mean every qualification must be achievable by all.

So we are:

  • reforming the system to support high expectations
  • reducing emphasis only on completion, important as it is, and focussing as well on destination and progression
  • removing funding per qualification under 18, and funding per learner instead
  • putting the funding for apprenticeships through employers so they can demand the high quality training they need
  • recognising excellence through the proposed chartered status scheme, to be launched in the new year; chartered status will recognise colleges most responsive to the needs of their learners and employers.

The goal of all these is to drive up standards, and to trust you, the professionals, to make the right choices by your learners, while holding your feet to the fire with clearer accountability too.

Accountability means publishing, in a useable format, as much data as possible about schools and colleges’ performance, with a level playing field between different providers, so anyone can compare and contrast performance.

Part of that accountability means tougher intervention where it goes wrong too. I will not recoil from tough intervention on behalf of learners when they have been failed by a college.

If a college is judged to be inadequate by Ofsted, or falls below the national minimum standards, or if the Skills Funding Agency doesn’t think its financial situation is secure enough - we will take urgent action.

I’m delighted that David Collins is our new FE commissioner, who will bring together the advice of the agencies and lead on intervening in failing colleges. He will be able to recommend all options from support for an existing turnaround plan, to closure.

I know David is here today with a delegation of visitors from China, so I’m sure everyone will join me in wishing him well.

I’m sure he won’t take it the wrong way if I say that, with luck, you won’t need to see him.

This combination of autonomy for colleges, coupled with accountability to Ofsted and through much more data, is the route to higher standards and underpins our reforms.

And it’s because we want to incentivise you to innovate that I’m looking to expand the use of technology too.

New technology has the power to transform teaching and learning.

Around the world, teachers are embracing new technology, not as a replacement for the human teacher, but as a hugely empowering tool.

When an algorithm can keep the learning at the pace of the learner and feedback progress to the teacher, and a computer can impart the basics and constantly check it’s being understood, that frees up teachers to focus on what only humans can do:

  • embracing technology involves changing the role of the teacher: less lecturer, more tutor
  • supporting and guiding pupils as they learn
  • developing character
  • mentoring and motivating

Just as blackboards were resisted two hundred years ago because teachers didn’t want to turn their backs to the class, but quickly became ubiquitous, so in a few short years online technology will form a huge part of the way we teach.

It’s already happening - in all sorts of skills. At the Skills Show last week I was taught on a virtual welding machine. NIACE have published their first adult maths MOOC. LearnDirect’s online English and maths are in widespread use by major employers.

I will play my part - funding capital, incentivising the use of new technology, breaking down barriers.

And to get the most out of these amazing new technologies, we are all going to have to embrace that change.

And I can announce today we are establishing a programme of capital support to further deliver broadband across all colleges, improving bandwidth and resilience. Tomorrow, Vince will have more good news on our long term capital plans.

The FELTAG report will be published shortly, for a full, interactive, online conversation - in the true spirit of new technology.

You know what the best thing is about online technology?

The evidence from the United States shows that it is the least engaged, the hardest to reach, who can benefit the most.

Because online learning is at each individual’s level, because the programmes take you as fast or slow as you want to go, those who would fall behind – and indeed those who would race ahead –get repeated feedback on every page of the course, the repeated dopamine kick of successful learning – that keeps people engaged and on track.

After traineeships, apprenticeships and standards, the final plank of my TASQ is the Q - qualifications.

Because if it’s essential to drive up the standard of vocational courses, it’s even more important to recognise those higher standards in well-assessed, well-respected qualifications.

For too long, that has not been the case. The proliferation of qualifications inexorably drove standards down; too many vocational qualifications were too easy, not measured properly, not assessed or regulated rigorously.

Combined with the perverse incentives of a failed funding system, too many young people were encouraged to study courses based on how easy they were to pass rather than how valuable they are to the individual.

Over the last year, building on Professor Alison Wolf’s excellent report, we’ve started to flush out the stable.

Poor value qualifications for 14 to 16 year olds have already been filtered out, leaving only those which represent real achievement.

Now we’re doing the same for 16 to 19 year olds. New Tech Levels will be taught from September 2014 and will provide a high quality vocational alternative to A Levels, with clear and explicit employer support.

And we will shortly be publishing the first lists of approved level 3 qualifications - those which have won the backing of universities and employers.

From 2016, only those with this seal of approval, the strongest, most stretching courses with real credibility among universities and employers, will be included in new performance tables.

New Tech Levels will count towards the TechBacc.

Consisting of a Tech Level, a level 3 core maths qualification, and an extended project, the TechBacc will be unambiguously challenging - and finally give vocational education the high status it deserves.

We’re going through the same process for adult vocational qualifications too.

In August this year, we removed more than 1,800 qualifications from the scope of public funding.

We are now drawing up new rules - based on Nigel Whitehead’s excellent report - to ensure that a qualification is only funded if it is recognised by employers, has a clear purpose and appropriate content – and will only keep its funding if there is real demand.

These reforms complement our reforms to drive up quality in apprenticeships

Because too often in the past the pre-19, adult, and apprenticeships systems seem to have developed along their own different lines.

Instead, they will be broadly aligned along the principles of rigour and responsiveness to employer need, differing only where necessary.

Ultimately, qualifications matter because they register the skills and knowledge someone has. So the success of our skills system rests on the value of our qualifications. And we ought to be served by the very best qualifications in the world. My goal is nothing less than that.

So, traineeships, apprenticeships, standards and qualifications. Those were my priorities a year ago - and they’re my priorities now.

It’s been a busy year; an exciting one; a pleasure and an immense privilege to work alongside you.

Your commitment, experience and expertise is an inspiration - working day in, day out, year in, year out, to help all in our care reach their potential.

With more freedoms, more autonomy, I want to see colleges more like social enterprises. Responding to your learners and employers, not to the funding system. Yes, training where I pay for it, but directly training for employers too.

Not as a delivery arm of the state, but as the powerhouses of social improvement in your communities, responding to need.

I passionately believe in our purpose. And in the fierce urgency of our task:

  • to drive up standards
  • to raise expectations
  • to bring together the worlds of education and work

For you to do your vocation, so others can learn theirs, and together, we can broaden the opportunities of a generation.