A North East college has been chosen as a key destination for a fact-finding mission that could shape future policy on post-16 education in Britain.

Education Select Committee MPs met with Gateshead College staff and representatives from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, CBI, North East England Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to learn about the skills challenges facing the region and how they fit into the government’s modern industrial strategy.

Launched in January by Prime Minister Theresa May, the strategy includes plans for a radical overhaul of technical education to address its historical undervaluation in the UK and provide a credible alternative to the academic route for young people who choose not to go to university.

The visit to Gateshead College was part of a two-day fact-finding mission by the six-strong committee, which includes North East MPs Ian Mearns and Catherine McKinnell. The committee is conducting an inquiry into post-16 education in Britain and, once it is completed, will map out a series of recommendations for changes to current skills policy.

Several key topics were under discussion, including an examination of the recent area review process, how to boost take-up of apprenticeships and why students choose college over other education routes. The committee also got a first-hand view of the technical and vocational skills being provided by Gateshead College to students and regional businesses.

The event comes after apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon visited the college in January as part of the launch of the government’s modern industrial strategy. Since then he has championed the college’s sterling work in several media outlets and in a speech at the Westminster Academy in London.

Judith Doyle, principal and chief executive of Gateshead College, said: “We’re delighted to be helping the committee with its review of post-16 education. The modern industrial strategy is aligned with much of the work we’re doing at the college to help young people develop skills that employers need now and in the future.

“We support the government’s drive to reform technical education, which has been at the heart of our curriculum for some time. Our aim is to equip people with the skills and attributes that can help industry overcome skills shortages and become more competitive.”

Northumberland-born Neil Carmichael MP, chair of the education committee, said: “The North East is taking part in a review of its post-16 education provision and we are keen to hear about how the process is going for our inquiry on this issue. Gateshead College is one of the best in the country and we welcome this opportunity to learn about good practice in the sector and consider the role of further education in helping the country fill the growing skills gap.”

One of only a handful of colleges in the country to secure Ofsted’s ‘outstanding’ grading in the last academic year, Gateshead College delivers apprenticeships and other vocational training with hundreds of companies around the region, including large multi-nationals and SMEs. The organisation also works closely with local business groups and the North East LEP to ensure that the training provided is aligned with the region’s economic priorities for skills development.

Andrew Hodgson, chair of the North East LEP, said: “Having a workforce that’s fit for purpose is essential for the region’s future economic prosperity. Our aim is to deliver more and better jobs in the North East and it’s therefore crucial that we have people with the right skills for these jobs.

“We are working with partners to deliver key projects and interventions that address skills gaps at all levels, from primary schools to universities, and the education select committee was extremely interested to learn about our findings.”

To find out more about Gateshead College and the courses on offer, visit www.gateshead.ac.uk.

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