Jonathan Gullis is the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North. He was previously a secondary school teacher.
A young person in my constituency looking for a decent job, a successful career, and a rewarding future, now has a government more determined to help them succeed. The Prime Minister’s inspiring speech in Dudley set out our ambitions to bounce back better. The Chancellor’s jobs plan sets out imaginative financial support for employers who want to take on a trainee or an apprentice. With £2.1 billion for six-month work placements, cash incentives of £2,000 to take on young apprentices and a massive expansion of traineeships, the Government will be investing in skills and productivity as it gets people back to work. Then came the speech from Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, on the “forgotten 50 per cent” which signalled the start of a generational change in education for the over 16s.
Half of our young people have been “forgotten” because the focus has been, for far too long, on getting 50 per cent of them into universities. Yet around a third of graduates are in non-graduate jobs. In his speech, Gavin Williamson makes a passionate case for expanding those excellent non-university outcomes and opportunities with a complete overhaul of the post-18 education system. Not tinkering at the edges but deep structural change. German-style employer-led qualifications that create clear links between curriculum and career. The first T levels in Childcare and Education, Construction, and Digital, will be rolled out in September. Microsoft and Deloitte have had direct involvement in the standards and design of the digital T level. That means young people complete a course, the equivalent of an A level, that fully prepares them for a good job and a decent wage. It’s worth noting that five years after completion, a higher technical apprentice earns more than the average graduate.
Williamson’s announcement yesterday adds more detail to the planned FE White Paper that was first announced in May to the Education Select Committee, of which I am a member. I look forward to seeing our plans to transform further education colleges to be leading centres of excellence for their region, develop higher technical qualifications that will be seen as excellent alternatives to degrees, and take a scythe to the confusion of low quality and duplicated qualifications that exist at present. £200 million has been fast-tracked out of £1.5 billion announced in the spring to help refurbish and rebuild FE colleges this year and the Government must ensure this is deployed as rapidly as possible, to upgrade our colleges and get our construction sector working.
This is about cultural change. In Williamson, we have an Education Secretary who is at last willing to say that the emperor has no clothes. A university system where 34 per cent of graduates don’t get graduate jobs, that subsidises unlimited courses in media studies, and where you can get a 2:1 degree without a GCSE in English and Maths does not and cannot deliver the skills that this nation needs. We need to reject the snobbish attitudes that made our children feel that if they didn’t go to university then they had somehow failed. Abolishing the Blairite target to send 50 per cent of young people to university is totemic: it is a Conservative government that will deliver better education, leading directly to better skills and good jobs.
What we have seen from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and the Education Secretary is a government taking real action, spending significant amounts of money to deliver more choices, more chances, and more careers, to young people in Stoke-on-Trent, and to countless other areas in the Midlands and North.
A government that is willing to challenge the established orthodoxies that hold young people back and entrench disadvantage across the country – and to deliver for the people and communities that lent us their vote for the first time in 2019. When we came into Government in 2010, we delivered a series of educational reforms that embedded high standards, accountability, and good discipline, in the school system, sound Conservative principles that have benefitted millions of children. Now, if we follow through on the promises of the last two weeks, we have the opportunity to deliver a set of solid Conservative policies for the post-18 system that will have a similarly beneficial impact for our country.