Matthew Hancock speech to Association of Colleges conference

Minister Matthew Hancock speaks to the Association of Colleges conference, 20 November 2012.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP

Two months ago, in this hall, the Prime Minister gave a speech about the need for Britain to compete in the global race. He talked about how every one needs to reach their personal best, and how we must not leave anyone behind.

He reminded us that our young people must be equipped to compete - not just with our European neighbours - but with ambitious, innovative, and determined countries all over the world.

This is a very specific challenge for everyone in this room, and it is that challenge that I want to talk about today.

Over these past months, I have been hugely impressed by the go-getting and dynamic leadership of the best FE and sixth-form colleges.

I know that you are among the most innovative and responsive of any delivery arm of Government. I know that in this room there is the capacity to do so much more.

I have a very clear view about what my main role has to be as Minister of Skills. It is not to complain or be a constantly niggling critic. Instead, I want to be the unequivocal champion of further education.

I’m quite unusual in politics. When my school didn’t offer the A levels I wanted, I went along to West Cheshire College instead.

You were there for me when I needed you. So I will celebrate, eulogise, proclaim and publicise the triumphs in colleges every day across our land, not just because it is my job to do so - but because I know the value of what you do from my own personal experience.

But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t also tell it straight when I think things need to change. Now I don’t want any change for change’s sake. But I know you sense a deep unfairness. You feel it in your hearts. I feel it too. It’s a sense of injustice that you deserve a better press, deserve the same recognition as schools and universities.

Well let me say this, I passionately believe that can happen. There is no reason set in stone why technical education should not be seen as on a par with or even more virtuous than university, like it is in Holland or Germany.

But I also believe this: there is only one way to make that happen. The route to recognition is for every college to be as good as the most outstanding college is today.

It will come only when teaching in FE is uniformly high quality, only when every college is as enterprising as the Gazelle group, when every college reaches for the stars.

Outstanding education is the route to outstanding acclaim. I want to see every college an outstanding college. I want to see all teaching as inspiring as the best. I will work with you, support you, stand up for you, and yes, challenge you in that goal. And together we can get there.

For the public at large, the most trusted sign of excellence in education is a positive Ofsted report. School inspection has existed in England since the year Queen Victoria came to the throne.

And I am at one with Sir Michael Wilshaw when he reminds us that ‘Satisfactory is not satisfactory as it’s not good’. Ofsted is challenging. I know that. It’s meant to be.

But the response must surely be: to raise standards, to improve teaching, to perspire, to aspire, to inspire and I am at your side.

I have seen for myself what our best colleges can achieve, working with engineers in Sheffield to train world class nuclear technicians, developing inspiring Peter Jones Enterprise Academies, Joining employers and universities to sponsor new innovative studio schools, UTCs, and academies. I have seen for myself at the skills show here in Birmingham the amazing talent on display, honed and thriving through competition.

When I see excellence I want to spread it. When I see innovation, I want to learn from it. When I see barriers to progress, I want to break them down.

Over the past two years, under reforms pioneered by my brilliant predecessor, you have taken hold of the freedoms and flexibilities you now have. From next year, a reformed funding system will, I hope, give you yet more flexibility in how to provide outstanding education. But we all know there is more to do.

So I want to outline plans in four priority areas where I see the need for further reform:

  • Apprenticeships;
  • traineeships;
  • qualifications; and
  • standards.

Let me briefly take each in turn.

First, Apprenticeships.

Since 2010, over a million people have started an Apprenticeship, half a million of them in the last year. And while this increase in quantity is very welcome, we must ensure they are higher quality, more rigorous, and focused on what employers need.

I hope that employers come forward with innovative proposals for higher quality Apprenticeships in the second round of the Employer Ownership Pilot we launched yesterday. And Doug Richard will before Christmas say how we can go further, in a report I hope we can embrace.

Second, as Apprenticeships become higher quality, that will leave a gap. Around the country I have been impressed by the work of many colleges to give young people the skills they need to get and hold down a job, with work pairings, and joint ventures with the Youth Contract and JobCentrePlus.

But we must do more.

So we will bring forward a new traineeship, combining a rigorous core of employability, maths, English and work experience, with a great deal of flexibility around everything else. I want this to support the best of what’s available, help raise the participation age, and give a clear sense of progression into an Apprenticeship.

Alongside traineeships, we must also reform the way our skills system and our benefits system interact. How can we justify a system in which we pay people, so long as they don’t train, rather than support people so long as they do? It’s bad for the economy, it’s unfair on young people, and it has got to stop.

Third, high quality education needs stretching and valuable qualifications.

The QCF is here to stay as an organising framework post-19, but we must be more rigorous about what’s on it, and about what we in Government are prepared to spend scarce resources on.

For vocational education to be valued and held in high esteem we must be uncompromising about the value added of vocational education.

Today we are publishing a revised list of approved vocational qualifications for 14-16 year olds, covering courses taught from next September.

We are also supporting the work of the Royal Academy of Engineers on new engineering qualifications that will both fit the new system and be stretching and rigorous. I’d like to see more august, employer-led bodies like the Royal Academy step up and design the qualifications employers need.

And as you know, as well as reforming qualifications at 16, we are working on plans for colleges directly recruiting pupils aged 14 and 15 to be directly funded.

But whatever the age of the learner, I share with Alison Wolf the view that we must encourage the use of the most rigorous and valuable vocational qualifications. And I also share her view that far too little genuinely occupational education takes place among 16-18 year olds.

We all know that the route for academic kids is straightforward. But those who choose not to take the academic route too often are encouraged into a general applied qualification, instead of properly considering the value of an Apprenticeship or a rigorous occupational qualification.

So in the coming weeks we will publish a consultation on how to identify the highest value vocational qualifications for 16 to 18 year olds, just as we have done for 14-16 year olds.

In it we will also consider what more we can do to encourage the take up of Apprenticeships and occupational - as opposed to general applied - qualifications.

And of course we must consider what this means for adult qualifications too.

For vocational qualifications to be seen to be stretching and strong, they must be stretching and strong, and that’s what I hope to achieve.

Finally, standards.

I have already set out proposals for a guild, led by you, to build up inspirational teaching and a stronger sense of professionalism and pride. Today I am setting out plans for high quality colleges to achieve a Chartered Status for Colleges.

And of course raising standards means tackling poor provision too. We need to be firmer in tackling educational and financial failure, and turning underperforming colleges around.

And so students and employers alike can see performance for themselves, I can confirm that, from this year, we will introduce common standards and measures of performance between schools and colleges.

Both will be expected to meet minimum standards. A levels and vocational qualifications are different, so they will be judged separately from each other. But each will be judged in the same way for all institutions. We said we’d introduce a level playing field, and we will.

And there is one area where Britain should lead the world, but where sinfully we have allowed ourselves to fall behind. Here in these islands, we invented the English language that now dominates the globe. It is the global language: of trade, of culture, of diplomacy, and of the arts. And our history is littered with many of the advances in mathematics too.

Yet too many of our young people cannot read or write, or add up properly. This is a scandal and it must change.

We are reforming schools, and exams at 16, to make this happen. That great revolution will take a generation. But we don’t have a generation. And it often falls to you to pick up the pieces.

So to show the value we attach to English and maths, and to make sure you’ve got the resources to deliver, today I’m announcing we are doubling the amount we pay for adult English and maths functional skills, and for English and maths within an Apprenticeship. English and maths are the foundation of learning and we must succeed.

These four priorities: traineeship, Apprenticeships, standards, and qualification reform, they are all aimed four-square at raising the value, the esteem, and the regard of further education and skills.

Recognising only the best vocational qualifications. Increasing support for English and maths. Stronger Apprenticeships. And new traineeships to help young people into a job. I will do what it takes so every one can play their part.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a young man, and honoured to be your Minister. And while this job is hard, it is hugely motivating too.

For I am passionate about giving everyone in our country the best possible start. I am passionate about what you do for your students every single day.

We have not been dealt an easy hand of plenty. And I can’t pretend the road ahead is not tough.

But I know that the innovation, dedication, and inspiration in this room can get us to our goal.

And along that road, I am at your side, every step of the way.

Published 20 November 2012