Member Sue Zadock, MP Barry Sheerman and AMiE President Josie Whiteley
The visits to Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman and Paula Sheriff, MP for Dewsbury, were part of the National Education Union’s EfFEctive Education project, which aims to make all MPs aware of the vital importance of colleges.
Barry and Paula were clearly very passionate about education. Barry has held a number of education-related positions in his 30-year career, and was chair of the Parliamentary education and skills committee from 2001 to 2010. He remains committed to asking the difficult questions, such as holding the Government to account for its constant policy change and funding decisions.
Few MPs studied at a college, and many aren’t aware of their local college and the challenges it faces very day.
Paula’s public service background, with experience as a nurse in the NHS and her role as a shadow health minister, means she understands the importance of having proper funding to support both the education and also mental health of young people attending colleges.
Both listened to what we had to say about the challenges facing the sector, and reassuringly, it was clear they know about FE, understand it and care about it.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of many MPs. Few studied at a college, and many aren’t aware of their local college and the challenges it faces very day. And there are many. Funding has been cut every year for the last seven years – it wasn’t brilliant to begin with – there is a recruitment and retention crisis, and forced resits of maths and English GCSE (only a third of students pass) are consuming resources and contributing to behaviour problems with some learners.
Many colleges are on the verge of financial collapse.
When 62% of 16-18-year-olds attend a post-16 college, it is time that more MPs realised what is being risked by continually underfunding a sector that is supposedly going to solve the predicted skills gaps we will have post-Brexit.
The Government’s Industrial Strategy seems to assume that this will automatically happen in colleges, yet they are being starved of the money and the resources to deliver. The funding cuts, mergers, area reviews, wholesale reform to apprenticeships, the introduction of T-levels and so on, all cause serious uncertainty and prevent proper strategic planning. Many colleges are on the verge of financial collapse.
When there is not enough money to go around, something has to give.
Kirklees College, which has campuses in both MPs’ constituencies, was recently graded Good but it now consulting on proposals to restructure because of funding problems. Jobs may be at risk. When there is not enough money to go around, something has to give. Usually that something is staff, which has a direct impact on students.
The local sixth-forms, Greenhead College and New College, are graded outstanding, but are also impacted by funding constraints. NUT-section member Sue Zadock, who works at New College, was also at our meeting and spoke passionately about the difficulties they are facing every day to deliver high-quality teaching. She was particularly unhappy about workload, and the accountability drivers taking the focus away from students.
Why on earth would any Government that claims to value education, training and skills – and views Ofsted grades are important - force those establishments into a position where they are unable to continue their excellent work?
Invite your MP into your college. Show them what you do and explain the difficulties you face. Tell them what one thing would make your job easier, and what the biggest barriers are for learners.
Barry and Paula agreed to ask some questions in Parliament on the issues we raised with them, which is great. In addition, Barry said he would he would push for a debate about sixth-form colleges in the House of Commons, and we will urge him to focus on post-16 funding.
I’d urge you to invite your MP into your college. This is particularly important if you are in a constituency where your MP has never visited your college. Show them what you do and explain the difficulties you face. Tell them what one thing would make your job easier, and what the biggest barriers are for learners.
You can also provide your MP with a question to ask in the House of Commons. If you are interested and need some help with this please contact Janet Clark, National Education Union policy adviser.
You can be a part of this too – please contact your MP and let’s make our voices heard on behalf of all our Colleges.