John Hayes: An Address to the Association of Colleges Annual Conference

A keynote speech to the Association of Colleges Annual Conference, 15th November 2011.

Thank you Kirsty [Wark] and good afternoon everyone.

It’s always pleasant when I’m able to begin a speech with congratulations.

I’m sure you’ll all want to join me in congratulating Kirsty Wark on the impressively high levels of skill in the kitchen she displayed recently by reaching the final of the BBC Celebrity Masterchef competition.

That was quite an achievement. The daytime television enthusiasts among you who have seen the show will know that its catchphrase is

Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this”.

Speaking of great achievements, a second helping of congratulations must go to the UK team that competed at last month’s WorldSkills competition who are here today.

I’m sure most of you know how fiercely competitive WorldSkills is. Yet our team, over half of whom were apprentices or former apprentices, won 5 Gold medals, 2 silvers, and 6 bronzes, plus 12 Medallions for Excellence. That placed us 5th out of 51in the competition, ahead of Germany, France, our best-ever finish.

One of our gold medals was for cookery.

And I can say with all due deference to Kirsty that cooking really doesn’t get tougher than that.

If the members of the team would like to stand up. I’m sure that everyone here would like to take a closer look at the best of the best our skills system can produce and people who represent the level of achievement to which all our learners should be able to aspire.

And I’m sure we’d all like to show them our appreciation.

Given the fall from the state of grace with which we’ve all been struggling almost since the beginning of time, I understand why few human beings see as many reasons to be cheerful as I do.

But we can all be cheerful about the progress the further education sector has made; is making. Progress through the changes we’ve made since coming to Government.

It’s good to remember just how much needed to change.

For how long FE was neglected.

It’s easy to forget just how far we’ve travelled together over the last 18 months.

Just how many petty restrictions we have swept away,

Just how many pointless quangos are no longer around to interfere with your work.

And just how many more apprentices are there gaining the skills and experience upon which they can build good careers and fulfilled lives?

By the way, anyone who has still to be convinced of the importance of Apprenticeships could do worse than read the Institute for Public Policy Research’s new pamphlet Rethinking Apprenticeships, which is being published today and to which Vince Cable, Martin Doel and I all have contributed.

There is always more we can do. But a record 442,700 apprenticeships starts is an achievement of which you can be proud and the Government can be proud too.

Last year, when I spoke to you, I set out our vision of a free sector supporting growth and social renewal.

Today I want to describe not only the journey we have been on together since then. But also the next steps.

Of course, I know that in the FE sector new beginnings have never been in short supply. Over the last 10 years we’ve had

Four skills strategies, two FE strategies and the Leitch Review.

Three Acts of Parliament, the old LSC agenda for change.

And countless Secretaries of State, and even more FE Ministers.

I hope you agree that since we came to power the message has been clear. And it’s not all down to me, despite the compliments from the Secretary of State for Education; he deserves so much credit for all he is doing. FE – no longer the neglected middle child between schools and HE, but the prodigal son.

And the strategy I formed with you, for you, at the outset holds firm.

Because the simple truth at its heart holds true; it is this: If we want skills provision sufficiently responsive to meet dynamic economic and social needs, power must rest in your hands.

In framing our plans, having listened to you over the years, I had no doubt about your capacity to respond to the most radical change in the assumptions about FE in recent years.

This is systemic change. A paradigm shift; a sector that moves quickly.

I am so proud of what you have achieved. Thank you.