It’s time for us skills providers to strike back

Feb 11, 2014


The philosopher Descartes famously said: “Cogito, ergo sum,” – “I think, therefore I am.” In my case the expression is, “Specto Question Time ergo non sum” – “I watch Question Time, therefore I am not.”
I settled down with my bowl of popcorn and my glass of alcohol-free wine (ahem) to watch last Thursday’s edition of the programme and was delighted to see our very own skills minister Matthew Hancock and public sector economist Professor Alison Wolf among the panelists. 
The programme was coming from our fellow Mid Kent College in Gillingham. There were the questions about:
 “Should state schools aspire to being as good as the better independent schools?” (Answer: Obviously they ought – and in some cases they already are).
“Should there be more women in Parliament?” (Answer: Also obviously, yes. If democracy is to represent us all it has to be representative of us all).
I waited with bated breath for the question the panel and the place were made for: the question of how to improve the level of skills in our economy. 
How can it be that the skill level of our workforce can be of such fundamental significance to the nation and yet nobody seems bothered to talk about it? 
Be under no illusion, it is Britain’s FE colleges which are doing the “heavy lifting” here. Three million people are educated and trained at colleges every year. 
Almost twice as many 16-18-year-olds study at colleges than do in school sixth forms. Half of all Foundation Degrees are taught in colleges along with 85% of HNCs and a third of entrants to Higher Education get there via colleges.
It’s time to get radical. It’s time for skills providers and those who depend on them to strike back. I propose the awakening of a collective consciousness of FE colleges, private training providers and voluntary groups which also deliver skills training. 
We should link arms with our sisters and brothers in business and industry who are so in need of skilled people and apply for tickets to Question Time en masse to bombard the platform with questions about the skills gap, about funding and about greater collaboration for the benefit of young people across education. 
We must remind people that this is a £7 billion sector we’re talking about and that as minorities go we’re one of the big ones. I cannot think of a similarly sized grouping within our society which is so crucial to our national wellbeing and yet so little discussed or even considered when the big decisions are made.
So thank you, Descartes, but my new motto is, “I’m FE, therefore I am.. worthy of discussion.”
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