Further and Higher Education

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I shall speak mainly about my local further education college, but before that I want to pay tribute to my local university. The university of Greenwich hosted a business forum in partnership with me, the local chamber of commerce and the Greenwich Enterprise Board. We had discussions with a number of local businesses about the business opportunities in our area resulting from the regeneration of the Thames Gateway, the developments on the Greenwich peninsula, the investment in our local transport infrastructure—essential for Crossrail—and, of course, the Olympics. Furthermore, we have heard recently that the tour de France may pass through our borough.

There are a lot of opportunities for businesses and a lot of training needs, and the university of Greenwich was instrumental in bringing those people together. It is working extremely hard to be part of the local community and to play its part in supporting local businesses.

Last week, I visited my local community college—Greenwich community college—and spoke to the principal, with this debate in mind. I want to highlight some innovative things that the college is doing for my

local community and for businesses there. The key change in further education is flexibility. For too long, we have had straight corridors of education that do not necessarily join up with the needs of businesses. Those are the forms of education that we provide and the routes that we have traditionally gone down, but when students leave college and seek a job, they find that their qualifications do not match up with business needs. That is why the Government’s train2gain initiative is essential, as is the flexibility of FE colleges in recognising and meeting the training needs in their local community and marrying them up with the needs of local employers.

I will give an example of flexibility in meeting needs at community level. I have spoken about this before in the House, but it is an excellent example of the community and further education coming together. I chaired the neighbourhood renewal programme in the south of my constituency. One of the schools had a head who was very energetic and wanted to engage with the whole community, not just the primary school pupils. Her idea was to introduce an adult learning centre in the primary school. She managed to beg, borrow and steal some cash, but the neighbourhood renewal programme came along and provided the financial impetus to make the idea a reality.

I presented the prizes at the school at the end of the year. We went through the nursery year and all the years of the primary school, but then we got to the adults. In the same presentation, we gave prizes to mums, dads and grandparents who had taken part in basic skills training or family learning, or had worked for GCSEs, as a consequence of the community college becoming involved with the local primary school to provide those education opportunities for the whole community.

When I spoke to the parents afterwards, I asked what had got them involved. First, it was the mutual support from other parents in the school and, secondly, they saw their children moving on to secondary education as an opportunity for them to seek employment. One turned round and said to me, “You lay on the training and I will do it, because I am going to get a job when my child is more independent and in secondary school.” Other parents wanted to improve the education of their children. By improving their own education, they were able to pass that on and assist their children. Some felt that there were gaps in their education that they had never filled, and they were going back and filling them.

In terms of raising aspiration on the whole estate, improving the opportunities for the children within the school and improving the economy—because people were making themselves more employable—I could not put a value on the relatively small sum that we put in to furnish the premises and buy the computers, but we need more of that flexibility in the further education system.

As I have already said, there are enormous opportunities in my area. The development of the Thames Gateway, the Olympics, the development of the peninsula, Crossrail and the docklands light railway coming to Woolwich mean that people will have greater opportunities to seek employment, and they will need the training opportunities to make the best of that situation.

My local FE college is also making a great effort to build links with local businesses. It provides training to 20 small businesses through the train2gain programme, as well as to 20 medium-sized businesses and 17 large businesses in a variety of sectors, including care, catering, engineering and construction. It has even trained classroom assistants, which takes us back to the school that provided the adult learning centre. Some parents there have improved their qualifications to the point where they are training to become classroom assistants—putting back into the local community some of what has been invested in them.

The large companies that are being supported by my FE college have a range of training needs in customer services, team leading, heritage and visitor services, and business administration, but the key area where the college has been very innovative in its approach is sports and leisure. The millennium dome is now owned by Anschutz and, as we speak, a 36,000-seater stadium is being built within it, which will provide a venue for one of the major events of the 2012 Olympics. In the intervening period, major sporting events, pop concerts and a range of leisure activities will be held there. There is the potential for a casino to be built in the dome, and many hotels and leisure and recreational facilities will open up in the area.

Some years ago, my FE college positioned itself to provide training in that field. It got together with Charlton Athletic football club and opened the London Leisure College, which is based in the Charlton Athletic stadium. It provides training for the whole range of leisure, tourism and recreational activities, and has also entered into partnership with Greenwich Leisure Ltd.

I am very proud about that, because when I was a member of Greenwich council, without getting too political about it, a certain Government were determined to close down many local authority facilities. One way that we got round some of our financial difficulties with our leisure centres was to set up an arm’s-length co-operative, which became Greenwich Leisure Ltd. and is now one of the biggest leisure concerns in the country, as well as one of the most successful co-operatives.

GLL works in close partnership with my FE college and employs 1,000 full-time and 2,500 casual staff. It runs 50 centres and is in 12 partnerships with local authorities and businesses. The FE college in my area is its main training provider. All the training opportunities are provided in close co-operation with Greenwich Leisure Ltd. Indeed, it has one of its own leisure facilities on the Charlton Athletic site. The college provides a wide range of training opportunities in the sports and leisure field with GLL.

Across London bridge, GLL provides a range of sporting, recreational and leisure facilities. It has been invited to run facilities for local authorities as well as going into partnership with businesses in the private sector. The London Leisure College provides accredited training and statutory qualifications, including first aid certificates, the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management supervisor’s certificate and pool plant operator’s certificate, the Institute of Qualified Lifeguards pool supervision certificate, central YMCA qualifications for fitness instructors and the Amateur Swimming Association swimming teacher’s certificates levels 1 and 2. It trains approximately 750 people a year in those areas.

The first class leisure level 1 full-time programme, jointly delivered between Greenwich community college and GLL, delivers 60 17-year-old sessional staff through three partners per year, with another 20 planned to be added in 2006-07. The first class leisure level 2 programme delivers 42 qualified 18-year-old permanent employees per year, and a further 28 will be added in 2006-07. The intensive recreation assistant academy contributes 60 new 18-plus fully qualified recreational assistants per year, and a further 180 are planned in 2006.

London Leisure College is London’s leading dual employer. It offers further education collaboration and also designs and delivers learning opportunities and qualifications to meet the needs of the learner and the industry alike. In collaboration with a number of London’s leisure employers—the national governing bodies of sports and the SkillsActive sector skills council, and not just Greenwich Leisure Ltd.—it is submitting a bid to the Department for Education and Skills to become the London regional hub of a national skills academy for the sport and leisure industry.

The college is one of the leading lights in its field. It has demonstrated that by anticipating the regeneration of the peninsula and the Thames Gateway. Understanding what the profile of its end-users is likely to be in terms of that regeneration, it has positioned itself to provide the training opportunities for local people that will enable them to make the most of the huge change that has occurred. Winning the 2012 bid has only added to the success of that strategy, but—there is always a but—as other speakers have said, FE colleges nevertheless face one or two difficulties.

A great deal of money is going into further education, and the changes have been possible only because of that investment. If we look back a short time, we see a completely different picture of FE—the problems were different only a few years ago. Now, the income for the college is focused on students aged 16 to 19, to the detriment of older students, which places the college in some difficulty. I want to draw the issue to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister, because it is causing concern in FE colleges.

The college’s income for the year to 31 July 2006 is approximately £18.5 million, of which £13.8 million, or 75 per cent., comes from the Learning and Skills Council. Of that—I am sorry to bombard hon. Members with so many figures—£8.8 million, or 63 per cent., is for adult learners. For 2006-07, adult funding is forecast to be reduced by £300,000. In real terms, adjusting for inflation and salary increases, that is the equivalent of £550,000. A reduction of that magnitude equates to a loss of 167 full-time equivalent students. The focus on 16 to 19-year-olds is to be welcomed, but there is a knock-on impact.

We should consider the issues in the context of the overall improvements and increasing funding. Let me quote another statistic. There has been a transformation in the unemployment figures in the past nine years. The Office for National Statistics summary for December shows a huge reduction over that time for non-seasonally adjusted computerised claims by those aged over 25 years and unemployed for more than 18 months—83.8 per cent. for the UK as a whole and 81.3 per cent. for London. That has been a consistent factor in unemployment: London has resisted the Government’s attempts to reduce the rate to that for the rest of the country. There is an underlying long-term unemployment problem in London, which must be considered in the context of a massive reduction. There is still a problem, however.

Further education colleges are a key tool in tackling long-term unemployment and providing opportunities for people to train and make themselves more attractive to potential employers. The impact of funding issues on older further education students can only make tackling the underlying trend more problematic. I urge the Minister to take that concern on board. We are right to focus on the opportunities that further education can provide for young people, but we also need to recognise its vital role in providing opportunities for people of all ages who are trying to get the qualifications they need.

If the Minister ever wanted to visit Greenwich community college or the facilities of London Leisure College at Charlton Athletic, he would learn a lot and see what can be achieved in real partnership between businesses, the local authority, training providers and the local community when people have a vision and an understanding of what the community needs.

Charlton Athletic football club has been incredibly far sighted in providing for the community, in its acknowledgement of the ideas put to it by local authorities and training providers, in how it sees its role at the heart of the community as facilitating the big change that is coming about and in the active role it is playing. The further education college is the real driver for what is happening. It set up the London Leisure College to make the most of the employment opportunities that will result from the expansion of the leisure and recreation industry in the area. If the Minister wants to see that at first hand, he will be very welcome.

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