Budget 2017: Universities and colleges react to major training boost and free schools announcement

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The Government is promising to invest fresh cash in preparing young people for the new global economy with investment in technical training.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond's budget included an announcement to boost skills training for 16 to 19-year-olds by £500m a year.

Mr Hammond said the move represents the most significant shake-up in post-16 education since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago.

The current 13,000 separate qualifications will be replaced with 15 T-Levels, better suited to business needs from 2019.

Students on higher technical education courses will also be eligible for maintenance loans under the reforms.

Clair Mowbray, chief executive of the National College for High Speed Rail, in Doncaster said: “With the North-East experiencing the fastest productivity growth rate in the country, it is crucial that young people are supported in gaining the skills they need to succeed and contribute towards the region’s growth.

“The new maintenance loans which will be available for learners from 2019/20 are a welcome boost, and will help us to attract a diverse range of learners into the sector - from school and college leavers, to those looking to upskill or retrain. They will complement our bursary scheme which will help eligible learners with the cost of their study.

"We also welcome the introduction of the new T-levels which will help to support our ambitions in technical education by creating a pool of potential learners who are enthused and informed about sectors such as rail, engineering and infrastructure, and confirm that technical education is on an equal footing with more academic routes."

Nick Crew, executive principal at UTC Sheffield, said: “I welcome the strong focus on technical qualifications announced in the budget.

"This will help to provide the high quality skills that the economy needs to grow and create more jobs for young people. This is something that university technical colleges are already doing and which is very different to schools.

“We deliver a curriculum that specialises in technical qualifications and trains 14 to 19-year-olds in the skills that regional employers need. Sheffield is the only city outside of London to currently have two UTCs. They are making a valuable contribution with our students moving onto apprenticeships, careers and university.

"For too long, the education system has focused on academic qualifications at the expense of the essential skills desired by employers. This announcement will help to give technical qualifications the profile and status they deserve.”

Andrew Hartley, business development director at The Sheffield College, said: “Further education colleges make a significant contribution to their local communities and the regional economy by providing work related qualifications for young people and adults. The government’s budget announcement is a vote of confidence in colleges because it recognises the value of technical skills, which are pivotal to getting the economy moving in a post Brexit world.

“Vocational qualifications and training, including apprenticeships and work placements, equip people with skills for work and life. This announcement reflects our commitment to Sheffield City Region’s growth plans with more apprenticeships for employers and the launch of our award winning work experience programme for students.”

Mr Hammond also announced around £320m of funding for 110 free schools - in addition to the 500 already announced - and is urging universities to sponsor them.

Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, Professor Chris Husbands, said: “The university is strongly committed to working with schools and others across the region to raise attainment and aspiration.

“We have committed to further extending our role across the region in our new university strategy. We believe that it makes sense to engage universities across a broad front, working to combat disadvantage and improve life chances across the widest range of schools.”

Mr Hammond also announced £216m would be allocated over the next three years to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools.

The chancellor also said free school transport would be extended to all children eligible for free school meals who attend a selective school.