MP For Reading West, Alok Sharma, met with staff and students to discuss funding in education

Last Friday, Alok Sharma met with our Principal, Satwant Deol and Teacher George Bull, joined also by student Zuzanna Kulczewska to discuss the funding in sixth form education as part of the national #RaiseTheRate campaign. Zuzanna, who studies English, Photography and Psychology A-Levels here, had the opportunity to explain how sixth form college has helped her.

George Bull - How important is sixth form education to you?

Alok Sharma - I think all education is important. It’s very exciting to meet students from my own constituency here today and seeing the facilities that you have on offer. From an overall funding perspective, the government is putting more money in and there are certain areas that we are focusing on but it’s been interesting to hear today of the situation at The Henley College and I will see how it may be possible to follow up.

George Bull- In terms of the role of this level of education and as a member of teaching staff, we see how they develop and how they progress, mature, grow and focus. What do you think the future holds for colleges like Henley, Reading and the country is, do you think? How does this fit in with apprenticeships?

Alok Sharma - I am currently Minister of Employment in the government and when you talk to employers, one of the issues that they will have is, are we providing the sort of education that will help individuals as they move into the world of work?  I think sometimes there is a disconnect where perhaps the skills that we are giving to young people before they get to work aren’t necessarily tuned in with what the world of work requires. We need to think collectively what is it is going to be useful for young people in this college, any other college or sixth form once they’ve finished at university if that’s what they decide to do. How are we going to help and equip them so that they can get a job easily. We’re at the stage where we’ve got a a record level of employment in the country, youth unemployment has almost halved over the past few years, which is great, but still we need to make sure that we’re supporting every single young person as they finish their education and want to move into work. I think that this is a piece of work that we do collectively.

Satwant Deol - Certainly with us at The Henley College we are exceptional at that. It is evident from our heritage, that we put qualifications at the heart of everything we do. We also add to that everything else that goes alongside it like teamworking, social mobility, globalisation, climate change. 81% of our students who have gone on to university have got a 2:1 or higher, which is 4% higher than the state sector average.

Alok Sharma - That’s excellent

Satwant Deol - Also, we’ve got apprentices who have gone into 02, Verizon in Reading, KPMG etc so we’re producing a very good level 3 output for your employment strategy.

Alok Sharma - I was at KPMG at Theale a few weeks ago. After I finished university I trained as a chartered accountant, back in those days that was the route, where you went to university studied a subject then qualified, whereas these days I think people like KPMG, they of course have the graduate entry route but they also take bright young people who’ve decided at 18 they’d rather go straight in.

Satwant Deol- We’re saying to the young people who come to us, we’ll get you to your destination and choice of university but also to small and large employers. What we’re saying to employers is, look at our students, what we create with them and build with them for the future. So people could really look at our model, but unfortunately, looking back at the funding situation, students say; actually I’ll just stick with a qualification as that’s the passport. However the passport actually, is the other skills.

Alok -Absolutely, but it’s also the level of interaction students will have with companies and future employers during the time they’re here.

Satwant - You have work experience alongside your A levels don’t you Zuzanna?

Zuzanna Kulczewska- Yes, I do. I work for this company that sends daily and monthly boxes of food to clients. I take photographs for their website.

Alok - Wow, that’s very impressive!

George - She’s actually gone out and sourced that alongside her A level programme. As a photography course, we’re quite large so have approximately 70 in our first year and 60 in our second year and have try to work out individual apprenticeships or work schemes. Photography is a very competitive market so trying to work all of those things into the programme with a small team of staff is really very, very difficult. From my perspective, as a photography teacher wanting students to go into employment in photography, easing that process would make life for them easier but also for us to access that them

Satwant -  How do you find this college? What made you come here as opposed to Reading College?

Zuzanna - Well, I wanted to gain more experience and skills within a different environment. I didn’t want to stay in my old sixth form college in Theale Green. I wanted to expand my skills and make new friends. There wasn’t enough photography dark rooms and I thought the facilities here were much better.

Satwant - Good. We’re like a small university, we’re like a little Oxford here, how do you feel about that?

Zuzanna - You can adapt more in this setting, rather than staying in school all day you can work around your schedule and do more.

Alok - We were talking about contact hrs and clearly some subjects will have more than others. What happens outside their contact hours? Are students free to go home or do whatever work in the library?

Satwant - We have the library, the Henley town and last year we created 8 professional tutors who are actually helping to give students this passport of employability. We put employability at the centre of everything. What do you do Suzannah, in your spare time?

Zuzanna - I do my coursework in photography, I also go to the SLC (Student Learning Centre) and do my revision in there.

Alok - Ok, so you basically stay on campus.

George - Photography is a very practical course, so the 4 hrs 40 minutes per week doesn’t cover the amount of extra effort that needs to go in. We suggest that a student at home does 30 minutes of their sketchbook every night but then is spending maybe 2 hrs 20 in the department where staff are on hand to help as well. It’s making sure that you’re not helping them just in sessions but moulding them into self reliant learners.

George - Places like Eton College are a charity so they can claim back their VAT. As a college we are not a charity but would benefit from that. What is your opinion on this?

Satwant - However as an academy we can.

Alok - You are very welcome to formally write to me to suggest that and I’m happy to put that forward to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and make the case. However, private schools, you are right, would be able to get their VAT back but it would be a requirement for Eton College to do something for that, stuff that they are offering to the rest of the community.

George - I was just going to add about the amount of work that The Henley College does in the community..

Alok - Well then, you should put all of this down in the letter you will send me.

Satwant - the other thing I was going to say is that, if we were in Reading over the bridge, or in Maidenhead or Marlow we’d get 7% more funding per learner. 60% of our students come from those areas. Funding could follow the student?

Alok - Seriously, I would like you to formally write to me as we’ve had a meeting and people from my constituency attend here.

Satwant - Well, we will certainly do that. Thank you for coming.

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