'Vocational skills are my priority', says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson at Leeds City College campus opening

Yorkshire needs a “world-class” vocational and technical education sector to match its high quality university offer if Britain is to close the productivity gap with other European nations, the Education Secretary said.

By Ben Barnett
Monday, 9th September 2019, 7:00 am
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson at the formal opening of the new Quarry Hill campus at Leeds City College. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson at the formal opening of the new Quarry Hill campus at Leeds City College. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Speaking on a visit to Leeds to officially open the new £60m Quarry Hill campus at Leeds City College, Scarborough-born Secretary of State Gavin Williamson said driving improvements in further education was “very much my priority”.

The former Defence Secretary and University of Bradford graduate who only took over the Education brief in July, said the skills drive was particularly important to deliver the next generations of workers in areas of the country like Yorkshire where manufacturing is a core industry.

His comments came after the Government announced a £400m funding package for colleges and sixth forms in the 2020-21 academic year, and a further £100m to support the sector’s pension costs.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson formally opens the new Quarry Hill campus at Leeds City College with Colin Booth, chief executive and principal. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Mr Williamson, who described the new Leeds campus as “an absolute exemplar of how we should invest in 16-year-old plus youngsters”, told The Yorkshire Post: “The vocational offer in Yorkshire is absolutely fantastic but I want to get it better.

“Yorkshire folk always want to be beating everyone else, so we want to be driving that here in Yorkshire. Leeds City College is a brilliant statement of ambition... but we want to be pushing this.

“We have got world-class schools here in Yorkshire, we have got world-class universities and we want to have world-class vocational and technical training here as well because by combining all of that together, it’s a world-beating proposition.”

The Cabinet Minister and South Staffordshire MP added: “I want to see this country, whether it is in manufacturing, the service sector, beating every other country in Europe and the only way we are going to be able to do that is to get the right investment in the further education sector.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Andrea Jenkyns MP meet students at Leeds City College. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

“The only way that we are going to be able to close the productivity gap that exists between this country and many others... is investing in people and making sure people have the right education and the right skills to succeed.”

The Education Secretary said “a lot” of the new government investment in further education would go to improving the educational offer in cities, but that “every school” will get more money over the course of a three-year deal.

“This extra funding is for all people who are providing education for 16 to 19-year-olds and that can be sixth forms, schools across the country, but a lot of it will be targeted going to further education.

“A slice of that funding is about making sure we have the right vocational skills, and of course a lot of that is delivered through further education colleges,” he said.

As reported in The Yorkshire Post, poor educational outcomes are “dogging” many seaside towns, where ages are almost £5,000 lower than other areas, the Social Market Foundation said in a recent report, warning that this was a factor in why coastal communities had fallen further behind the rest of the UK economy.

Mr Williamson, who went to school in Scarborough and still has family ties in the area, said he wanted further education in coastal parts of the country to benefit from the new £400m funding package too.

“To me, what is completely obvious for all these communities, not just Scarborough, Whitby and Filey, it’s many coastal communities right around the country, is that education is a key factor in terms of driving the aspirations for the area and the ability of those areas to succeed,” he said.

New campus is a city-wide boost

Leeds City College’s new Quarry Hill campus, is a “great” investment in the future of Leeds, Gavin Williamson said.

It has been purpose built to train future employees in sectors from healthcare and public services, to creative arts and digital games development.

At Friday’s official opening the Education Secretary joined Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns in taking a tour of the campus with Colin Booth, chief executive of Luminate Education Group, which leads the college.

Afterwards, he said: “It’s vital for Leeds to continue the trajectory of a vibrant, growing city. It needs to make sure it has got the skills to build on that growth and you couldn’t get a bigger statement of ambition than Leeds City College.”