Building a better future
A GOVERNMENT minister has praised a new college centre set up to train students in 'green' trades of the future.
John Hayes MP was given a tour of the renewable energy facilities at Stoke-on-Trent College yesterday.
The base is being used by dozens of students on construction-related courses, who are learning how to install and maintain green technologies, including photo-voltaic panels, ground source heat pumps, rainwater harvesting systems and under floor heating.
Mr Hayes, the minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning, got to see lessons in action and also gained an insight into the engineering work at the college's Burslem campus.
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The centre has been opened in a refurbished building, at a cost of around £100,000, and is also being used to train apprentices from local companies.
Mr Hayes said: "They are really making a difference to the people of the area.
"I have seen grey water harvesting and solar energy. These are the skills that are going to be needed for the future.
"Young people that acquire them will have more chance of getting a job."
During his visit, he also defended the Government's record on promoting vocational education.
There has been mounting criticism of the decision to downgrade the value of vocational qualifications in league tables.
And schools have faced pressure to enter pupils for traditional academic subjects to gain the new English Baccalaureate.
Yesterday, it also emerged GCSEs in core subjects could be scrapped, with a return to O-level and CSE-style exams, prompting fears of a two-tier education system.
Mr Hayes declined to comment on specific proposals.
But he said: "My general view about qualifications is they should be as rigorous as possible."
He stressed the Government's investment in apprenticeships showed its commitment to practical learning.
"We believe vocational qualifications should be highly regarded as advanced qualifications," said Mr Hayes.
Martin Ball, assistant director for building and engineering services at the college, said the new centre was already proving a success.
He added: "The learners who use it are taking plumbing, gas and electrical installation and heating courses."
Ben Davies, aged 19, from May Bank, is studying for a level three NVQ in gas.
He said: "I've learnt loads of interesting things. I've done photo-voltaic training to understand how it works.
"Gas isn't going to be here forever, so it's important to learn about other technology.
"I'm an apprentice with Aspire Housing and they are starting to use PV panels."