HC Deb 04 July 2002 vol 388 cc377-8
3. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Pursuant to her answer of 29 April 2002, Official Report, column 579W, to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), what monitoring systems she has put in place to measure the effect of the additional funding for the FE sector on recruitment and retention of staff. [64398]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis)

Research on the implementation of the teaching pay initiative in further education colleges shows that it has been used to support the recruitment of new teachers in skill shortage areas. It has also enabled colleges to convert casual staff into permanent salaried employees.

Mr. Prentice

That is all right so far as it goes, but how can we justify the huge pay gap that is opening up between FE lecturers and secondary school teachers? Will the Minister address a particular problem in my own constituency, where the only sixth-form provision is in Nelson and Colne college? Such students are receiving about £1,000 less in the way of resources than if my constituency had a sixth-form secondary school. That position is not sustainable and cannot possibly be justified.

Mr. Lewis

The Government's policy is to close the gap between funding for colleges and for schools, but the reason for the size of that gap is the massive extra investment that we have put into schools in the past five years. We are implementing a wide variety of initiatives to ensure that a recruitment and retention problem in FE does not arise. In addition to the teaching pay initiative, golden hellos will be introduced from the autumn, and we intend to pay off the student loans of new teachers in shortage subject areas. I should also point out that total FE funding has risen by 26 per cent. since 1997. We accept the need to tackle the gap, but we have put significant extra resources into FE.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I listened carefully to that reply. Will the Minister say whether strong representations have been made to the Treasury to ensure that the comprehensive spending review will address in the coming year the problem of the funding difference that exists for pupils aged over 16 and for those who have left school? Only further education colleges can cater for the latter. The Minister must know the frustration that is felt by the principals of FE colleges, who we all know do good work. However, they feel that their hands are tied behind their backs and that the work that they could do providing access to education for older pupils especially will be hampered until there is significant movement towards establishing parity between schools, post-16 education and FE colleges.

Mr. Lewis

It is not for me to disclose details of the Department's submission to the Treasury for the comprehensive spending review—at least, not if I want to remain in my post for much longer.

Of course, we recognise the central role played by further education in achieving our economic and social objectives. That has to be in the context of the reform agenda for further education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined that a couple of weeks ago. The "Success for All" document dealt with reforming further education, and we have combined that reform with investment.

The matter is not simply about closing the gap between further education and school funding. We must also raise standards in the FE sector, and the Government must contribute by making significant additional investment.