Many people in the town and across the country will be gearing up for exam results. Whether at school or college, August can be a daunting time for many people, particularly young people, deciding on what to do next for their future.
It is really important that post-16 provision – what happens after GCSEs – is geared up to ensuring that a young person has a variety of choices at a local level to ensure that whatever he or she wishes to do, there is an institution with a real specialism and expertise to allow the student to achieve a qualification and get onto a good career.
For a town which is relatively small, Hartlepool is remarkably well served for post-16 educational provision. Students have a wide range of choices as to what and where they can study, from Hartlepool College of Further Education, to nationally renowned specialist creative courses at Cleveland College of Art & Design, to sixth form centres at English Martyrs and Dyke House as well as Hartlepool Sixth Form College.
This might – and I stress might – be subject to considerable change. In the days immediately before Parliament broke for the summer, the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement. This is often a way to sneak out sensitive or controversial information without anyone really noticing for a while. The Minister for Skills published a policy statement essentially setting out a restructure of post-16 education and training, through a series of area-based reviews.
It is clear from the Ministerial Statement that things will change, and that colleges will close. The statement says that the Government wants an approach which will, in their own words, “enable a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers”.
I don’t want to scaremonger, and I don’t want present and prospective students and staff of institutions to believe that a certain college in Hartlepool is in imminent danger of closing.
However, it is very clear from the Government’s statement that there will be fewer colleges and that the focus of the review will be on FE and sixth form colleges, rather than academies.
It is also difficult to assess from the current situation precisely what an area-based review will consist of. Will it be focused on Hartlepool?
This seems unlikely. Will it be a review based upon the five local authorities that make up the Tees Valley – including Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Darlington?
Does this mean that there is the intention to have only one or two large institutions servicing the education and training needs of tens of thousands across Teesside?
How on earth will this work, given that the state of public transport provision in the area is pretty dire. How will it take into account the fact that many students from the collieries use Hartlepool colleges, and people from our town travel up to East Durham College if the course and circumstances suit them? I’m not sure an area-based review will consider these views adequately.
It is vital more than ever that young people have the access to education and training provision that allows them to achieve their ambitions for a skill, trade and career.
Young people, and the country in the future, which will rely on these young people’s skills, will not be best served by an unthinking approach and push towards college closures and fewer, larger institutions, in which tutors might not know their students and which fail to achieve the savings and the skills breakthrough the Government thinks it will.