23/03/2016 07:31 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 05:12 GMT

A Quiet Budget for FE - With Further Change on the Horizon

After recent years during in which budget announcements have seen some fairly brutal cuts take their toll on Further Education, it was something of a relief for the sector to emerge from Mr Osborne's speech to Parliament last week relatively unscathed on this occasion.

That said, with the economy overall on course to be smaller in 2020 than originally forecast, the current landscape of austerity looks set to continue, which in turn could have ramifications for our sector.

Alongside the budget announcement came the Government's white paper: Education Excellence Everywhere, which sets to outline plans to re-cast the system over the next five years. Although there was little reference to post-16 provision in the paper, it did earmark the upcoming Careers Strategy Policy, possibly arriving during the summer this year, which could have implications for the provision of vocational and work-based learning - in addition to a possible white paper focused on skills.

As ever, the outlook for FE is much like the British spring time - changeable.

If anything, the continued commitment from this Government to developing the breadth and quality of apprenticeships shows that there is most definitely an opportunity for colleges to prosper as expert providers.

That commitment has been demonstrated by the announcement made after the budget speech which outlines a 10%, Government funded, top-up to support the apprenticeship levy.

This news suggests policy makers do not share Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Ofsted, views having recently described apprenticeships as 'adding little value' for learners or employers.

Indeed, the apprenticeship market is currently moving at speed. There is increasing demand and appetite for high-quality programmes which can deliver excellent outcomes for students and businesses alike. To this end, I am 100% confident that working with businesses in partnership to develop specialised training programmes is the way forward and demonstrates the need for education to focus on outcomes for students that meet market requirements, rather than isolated accreditations and awards.

With this budget announcement and subsequent report arriving during National Apprenticeship Week, the timing could not be better. For example, attending the National Apprenticeship Show here in Milton Keynes this week, I had a great opportunity to see the enthusiasm for work-based learning, from students, businesses and, perhaps most importantly, our own teams responsible for planning and delivering the education aspects of the curriculum.

If we can harness that passion for individual subjects and dedication to delivering excellent outcomes, we as a sector and an individual provider are perfectly positioned to demonstrate to Sir Michael and his team of inspectors that FE colleges are not the 'large and amorphous' institutions described in his recent speech to the Commons Education Select Committee rather we are the power houses of economic growth and social mobility underpinning the success of our communities and our regions.