SPEECH ON FURTHER EDUCATION FUNDING

Thank you for putting me on the list, Sir Roger. It is lovely to be in a Chamber in which, for once, everybody is largely agreeing with each other. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on having introduced today’s debate, and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on the cross-party campaign to get this issue on the agenda ahead of the spending review. Even in these uncertain times, we must continue to fight for causes that we believe in. This is one I believe in, because I had something to do with further education many years ago before I went off into the realms of drama—come to think of it, I am back there now.

I will focus on the much-welcomed introduction of T-levels, which provide a multi-faceted and practical approach to education and prepare students for the needs of industry. Successful delivery of T-levels requires teaching staff with specialist industry expertise, up-to-date equipment, and smaller class sizes, all of which require more funding. For T-levels to be viable, the Association of Colleges believes that we need to introduce a base rate of £1,000 per student as a minimum. We need to get those T-levels right, as they provide the knowledge ​and experience needed to open the door into skilled employment. Such a potentially transformative scheme cannot be delivered on the cheap: a higher level of investment must be maintained.

I want this scheme to be a success, because I am sure that it would be particularly popular in my Clacton constituency. My area of Clacton lags behind the average in Essex and the national average for the number of members of the workforce without any qualification at all, which is why I encourage the Government to invest more in adult education. In fact, the only area in which we in Clacton beat the national average is the number of people who are economically active but have no qualifications; they make up nearly 10% of our workforce. I know from my conversations on the doorstep that people in Clacton have a real appetite for further education, and we have a great facility in Adult Community Learning Essex. I encourage the Government to take investment in adult learning seriously. It will pay great dividends in many areas, especially those such as Clacton, where many small and medium-sized enterprises are crying out for a skilled workforce.

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