Fringe Box



Michael Portillo Speaks Out Over Further Education at Conference in Guildford

Published on: 27 Mar, 2013
Updated on: 4 Apr, 2013

By Tom Fowler

Popular broadcaster and former Conservative politician Michael Portillo hit out at a conference in Guildford saying that the UK’s further education system trails that of Germany, particularly with regard to apprenticeships.

Broadcaster and former politician Michael Portillo at the conference at the Mandolay Hotel in Guildford.

Broadcaster and former politician Michael Portillo at the conference held at the Mandolay Hotel in Guildford.

He was speaking at the conference held at the Mandolay Hotel in London Road, Guildford, that was hosted by Newbubbles, a specialist company in further education training and consultancy.


 It took place in the light of changes that are planned for further education and of government austerity measures.

The morning conference on Friday, March 22, not only had Mr Portillo as a keynote speakers, but also Frank Coffield, the Emeritus Professor of Education at the Institute of Education.

The event was created to highlight the impact of the government on the future of further education funding and curriculum priorities; while also to discuss the best use of pursuing a ‘measurement agenda’ and what ‘outstanding teaching’ means under the new common inspection framework.

It also looked at any improvements, while considering new ways to develop high-student achievement, all in the light of changes further education faces surrounding funding, structure and staffing.

Professor Frank Coffield gives his keynote speech.

Professor Frank Coffield gives his keynote speech.

The day started with two key speeches from Mr Portillo and Professor Coffield. It then went on to a panel section where questions were asked to multiple speakers. The rest of the event consisted of workshops on key issues affecting further education.

In Mr Portillo’s opening speech, which was both informative and comical, he compared the education system in Germany to the UK’s system; highlighting that Germany has been more successful than the UK, mainly in apprenticeships.

The former defence minister said this about the economy: “We’re absolutely flat lining, there is going to be no plan B. Even if the Labour party were in power today they’d have no plan B.”

Mr Portillo delivered his speech both confidently and charismatically.

In Professor Coffield’s opening speech he called the further education sector a “sick sector that’s part of a sick society,” and that “change in education is slow.”

He also gave his opinion on Ofsted, which he sees as a waste of time, adding too much pressure on teachers.

“I’m all for democracy, but there isn’t any politicians that I could stand,” he said with a laugh.

“If the Department for Education were a college, Ofsted would have repeatedly judged it ‘inadequate’ and closed it down.”

One question asked to both keynote speakers was: “Can we change the policies of further education without changing the role of the state?”

Michael Portillo replied: “No, we can’t change the polices of further education without changing state.”

Frank Coffield replied: “I think some advances can still be made in classrooms by considered enactment and careful evaluation of the more effective interventions.”

Portsmouth-based Newbubbles is a first-choice provider for educational products and services to many establishments within the UK. It aims to provide high quality, value-for-money products and services.

The managing director of Newbubbles, Paul Tully.

The managing director of Newbubbles, Paul Tully.

Its managing director, Paul Tully, when asked about the event’s success, said: “In terms of the quality of debate and the magnitude of the speakers reputation, I think we’ve got some of the best people in the business here, really talking passionately and talking on quite extreme issues. We needed someone like Michael Portillo who is incredibly charismatic. The whole thing can focus and revolve around him and he gave it that sense of gravitas.”

When asked why the group chose a venue in Guildford, Mr Tully replied: “We chose the venue that appealed to those who are simply based in London, Many of our speakers are actually from the London area too. Guildford seemed to be the right strategic place.”

Mr Tully has worked in further education for 17 years. He is passionate about developing young people who have struggled with their education.

On the future of further education, Mr Tully said: “The future needs to change because the government’s particular strategy is going to have a material impact on the quality of teaching staff, and also the quality of the environment that is provided for the students. We need to re-address that. If it means taking money from somewhere else in government spending I think it’s worthwhile.”

The Mayor of Guildford, Jennifer Jordan, is a retired teacher.

The Mayor of Guildford, Jennifer Jordan, is a retired teacher.

The Mayor of Guildford, Jennifer Jordan, attended the conference. She said: “It was brilliant, fantastically well organised with superb keynote speakers. They were all very good, very energising.”

“I do like it to be called further education, rather than just further or higher. I think they are vague terms. I’ve just taken my A-level psychology at Guildford College. Even at my old age you can still learn, and have to!”

The mayor, speaking from experience as a teacher, said of Ofsted: “They concentrate on the teacher, which they shouldn’t. They should concentrate on the impact it’s having on the students. As teachers we need to have someone to make sure we are doing our jobs properly. But coming in once a year, once every four years or spot checks once every six months, doesn’t show the true record of what’s going on in that classroom or in that school.”

She also added: “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had classes of 12 students rather than 30. Within Guildford every school seems to be performing well, but there again, I’m going by these numerical statistics. More students are getting into Oxbridge, but is that a true measure of education?”

Other speakers at the event included: UCU policy chief Dan Taubmen, Joy Mercer from the Association of Colleges, Lynne Sedgemore from the Chair 157 Group, Dylan Williams from the Institute of Education, Phil Race from Leeds Metropolitan and Toni Fazaeli from the Institute of Learning.

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