HC Deb 18 March 1999 vol 327 cc1247-8
6. Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

What support he is providing to further education colleges to raise standards. [75580]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. George Mudie)

We are determined to ensure that standards are raised in further education colleges. To sustain that, we established a standards fund of £35 million this year and £80 million next year.

Mr. Hope

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Young people and mature students alike in my constituency are very much looking forward to the planned growth in further education. The Tresham institute, which serves many people in Corby, wants to play its part in raising skills and standards. It is concerned, however, about the pressure on it. As my wife, a senior lecturer at the institute, tells me every Friday when I go home, the institute has made 30 per cent. efficiency improvements in the delivery of further education. Will quality be maintained during such growth, and will the pressure on staff to deliver be too great? Will my hon. Friend assure me that growth will not be at the expense of quality and that the contribution that staff make to delivering that increase in standards will be recognised?

Mr. Mudie

As one who is married to a head teacher, and given that the banning of the subject of education in the household adds to domestic bliss, I sympathise with my hon. Friend. We are very determined on standards. We shall unashamedly maintain pressure on further education colleges. We are intent on widening participation. We have a national target of an additional 700,000 students in higher and further education by 2002. We do not accept that the introduction of more people will lead to a drop in standards.

When I met some college principals yesterday, I refused to accept that standards are affected by widening participation. We do understand that many people will come in with needs and problems, and that those must be accommodated, but the funds that we have put in to facilitate access and the money that we have put into the support fund will help further education colleges in that task.