Last Saturday, 23rd June, I travelled to Wellington College (new territory for me!) to speak at the annual Sunday Times Education Festival- and luckily managed to avoid the controversy… As regular readers of my blog will know, I am deeply involved with education issues, chairing the All Party Universities Group and having a background in the education sector, so I was extremely pleased to have been invited to this prestigious event.
The festival was huge, with hundreds of different events. My stream was all about further education, something which I think is vitally important in helping people to get the sort of job they would like, whether through an apprenticeship or work based learning, and no matter what their age. My session was entitled ‘You’re hired! Creating a skilled workforce for the 21st century’: I’m not sure whether the Apprentice reference was intentional or not!
I was incredibly impressed with the buildings and grounds in Wellington College- it was like seeing how the other half live! I arrived just before two o’clock and was shown to the room where our session would be taking place. Other speakers in my event included Eugene Incerti, Head of Apprenticeship, International Skills Development Team at National Apprenticeship Service and Pauling Odulinski, Principal of Aylesbury College.
I spoke about the need for the skills which further education teaches to clearly link in to the skills which are wanted by employers- after all, a major purpose of further education is to make people more employable in the sectors they want to enter. Further education has a vital role to play in social mobility. It is especially important at the moment with so many jobs being cut from the public sector by the Government, as many over 24 year olds are looking at ways to gain new skills and get back into employment. Over 24 year olds now have to take out a loan for level 3 qualifications, which particularly affects women and those on low incomes. The problem is worsened because of the high number of the workforce in places like Durham who are or were employed in the public sector, and the lack of Regional Development Agencies (since the Tory/ Lib-Dem government abolished them in 2010) because now there is no clear strategy for skills and growth in particular areas.
The panellists and audience members were mixed, with members of teaching organisations, staffing bodies and even students themselves present to listen to and debate ideas about the role and future of further education. I could tell there were quite a few teachers present, with a big cheer being made when I said that teachers need more support with the Government’s proposed changes to further education funding potentially threatening their future employment.
After the session, and a chat and coffee with people who attended, I went for a brief walk around the grounds of Wellington College. Luckily the rain held off for long enough for me to admire the site and appreciate the peace, before heading back to Durham.