Minister Halfon Speech for Landex Conference

Minister Halfon delivered a speech about land-based colleges, and the difference they make at a local and national level across the country

 The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP


Good morning. It is great to be meeting so many college leaders and seeing their fantastic provision during national colleges week! Only this morning I was at Tresham College’s Kettering campus a few miles from here.

I feel privileged to be with you today to talk about land-based colleges, and the real difference you make at a local and national level across the country. From horticulture to agricultural engineering, your teaching is an incredible asset to our skills infrastructure. What you do might not always receive the recognition it deserves from those of us who live in cities. But our quality of life greatly depends upon the work and stewardship your fantastic students will go on to do. And I am incredibly grateful. Thank you.

Of course, all skills education supports economic growth. But green skills training has a particularly important part to play in supporting sustainable jobs for future generations. Land-based colleges are uniquely placed to drive green skills development and enrich rural economies and communities.

My favourite author, JRR Tolkien, enriched his writing with both traditional skills education and Britian’s incredible landscapes. Northeast of Northamptonshire (where we are today), Lancashire’s Ribble Valley inspired some of his most dramatic and vivid chapters in The Lord of the Rings.

The best known Tolkien apprentice is the apprentice-gardener in the novel, Samwise Gamgee.

I’ve no doubt he would have studied horticulture at Myerscough College to the east of the Valley, which has been providing ‘technical training in both practical and theoretical agriculture’ since 1894.

Tolkien demonstrates the worth of skills training throughout his writing, with his apprentice heroes often defying low expectations. Samwise Gamgee not only helped Frodo deliver the Ring to Mount Doom; he was eventually elected Mayor of the Shire seven times, and became an advisor to the King. I believe the work we’re doing here today is a continuation of this - amplifying the extraordinary value of land-based skills and apprenticeships.

Because this skills training has the power to change lives! I recently visited Suffolk New College, where I met a student doing a Level 2 Skills Bootcamp in Practical Environmental and Conservation Skills. He had so much enthusiasm for what he was learning, because he could see it was the gateway to a new career. It’s a great example of how high-quality training can provide a vital stepping stone, enabling young people to climb the ladder of opportunity to a good job and a great career.

A worldclass skills system

Since 2010 we’ve been building a worldclass skills system, providing high quality 16-19 education, apprenticeships and adult training. This will drive productivity and economic growth by nurturing talent across the country, addressing current skills shortages, and creating a technical education system ready to respond to evolving skills needs.

High quality runs through the DNA of our skills offer, which includes a broad range of land-based courses and programmes. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education co-designed each apprenticeship’s rigorous standards with the relevant sector. This means that from Farrier to Crop Technician, each now gives learners the tuition, practical experience and credibility they need to build a successful career.

We are now building that rigour into our shorter courses for adult learners. Skills Bootcamps offer free, flexible training for adults to get a head start in the sectors that really need them. They already include Ecology & Conservation and Green Technology courses - and we’re currently developing new bootcamps in Woodland Management and Arboriculture.

Your tuition is specialised and practical, and that comes at a price. I understand what it takes, and the higher costs and dedicated resources required to teach land-based programmes. That’s why I fought to be able to announce a significant increase to the specialist programme cost weighting from 1.75 to 1.975 for the 2023/2024 academic year. This means that young people attending your institutions now attract a 97.5% uplift on the core funding rate. So, overall, young people attending your institutions attracted average programme funding of over £7,800 in AY23/24, up from c.£6,800 in AY22/23. 

Landex Roundtable

In January I held a roundtable with Alex Payne (Landex Chief Executive), and some familiar faces in this room. We discussed how we can work together to raise the profile of your institutions, and help others see the amazing contribution you make to the national infrastructure. I set out how we can co-design a national strategy that puts land-based colleges at the heart of the skills agenda to create a greener, more sustainable economy. Officials at the department have been working closely with you to co-design this strategy, and I’d like to share more details of it today.

A national strategy for key priorities

The underlying principle of our strategy is that the Government recognises the central role that land-based colleges have to play in supporting the delivery of key national priorities.

Your institutions already help ensure food security for the nation and promote responsible management of our natural resources and biodiversity. You are equipping the next generation with the green skills the country will need in coming decades. Now and in the future, your courses will help employers to meet our 2050 Net Zero targets.

There are three core elements to the strategy we’re developing:

  • the national role that land-based colleges can play, especially in green skills and protecting the environment;
  • how we position land-based colleges as hubs of skills training and innovation;
  • Land-based colleges’ impact on their local communities, as places of vital social capital.

Land-based colleges’ national role

Land-based colleges are key to creating the innovative rural workforce we need to achieve national environmental goals. I’m looking forward to collaborating with you to ensure that local advancements in provision align with national priorities.

A key part of the new national strategy will be to identify where we have shortages of land-based skills. We will work together to develop a profile of these shortages and how to meet them. I’m pleased that you’re already supporting the Government’s Green Jobs Delivery Group to deliver its wider Green Job Plan later this year.

My department has an important role to play in connecting young people with land-based colleges, so you can: inspire them to consider land-based professions; provide them with innovative learning environments and help them access the skills and knowledge we need for our green skills revolution.  The DfE recently launched the Skills for Life campaign to inspire people to explore skills and technical education opportunities to build a foundation for their chosen career. The campaign website can direct them to the National Careers Service, which now has a Green Careers page as well as an Environment and Land page. Both demonstrate the breadth roles and skills, across many sectors, that support the environment.

Hubs of skills training and technical innovation

The strategy will also recognise that land-based colleges stand at the forefront of land-based skills training and technical innovation. You hold the power to change people’s prospects, by boosting take-up of skills training for sought-after jobs in rural areas.

One way land-based colleges can drive change and engagement with their courses is through collaborating with their local Institute of Technology. IoTs are employer-led - offering specialised courses tailored to local business needs, for local students. We have invested £300 million in the 21 IoTs, which are leading the development of technical qualifications in STEM-related areas. This investment will increase their capacity to deliver technical skills, by providing access to industry standard facilities and equipment.  I would urge everyone here to look-up your local IoT, if you haven’t already, and consider how a partnership could boost your skills training and your students’ prospects.

It’s also really important that land-based colleges engage with their Local Skills Improvement Plan to ensure their provision is aligned with local business needs. The aim of these employer-led local plans is to ensure that high quality, updated technical qualifications are available in every area - including apprenticeships, T Levels, and Higher Technical Qualifications.

I want to thank Landex for its help in developing and implementing LSIPs. The programme is not only increasing collaboration between providers and employers, but also between different provider types, such as land-based colleges and other providers of post-16 technical education. This has resulted in some truly innovative projects, designed specifically to meet local skills needs. In the Northwest, Myerscough College is galvanising providers across the region to respond to challenges identified in the Lancashire LSIP. This includes attracting new workers to farming, agriculture and hospitality - industries critical to the local economy.   

But if your college hasn’t yet got involved, please search for your local LSIP and become part of an essential, employer-led dialogue about local skills needs. It’s worth saying that the programme is backed by the £165 million Local Skills Improvement Fund to kick start changes to local provision. Colleges across the country, from East Durham to Chichester, have already benefitted from the first round of funding announced in November. Warwickshire College Group were awarded £490,000 to establish an Agriculture Sustainability Hub at Pershore College. The funding will provide the latest equipment and resources, as well as updating the glasshouses in the college’s Agri-Tech Research Centre.

Assets to local communities

Land-based colleges are valuable economic assets to their communities because they are uniquely placed to provide skills training, in their local areas, all the way from entry level to highly specialised technical training and research. The strategy will look at ways to help you maximise your economic contribution by fostering close working relationships with local employers. By proactively collaborating with businesses - through LSIPs, IoTs, and in less formal ways - you will help to meet local skills gaps and build a future talent pipeline for the rural economy. This will, in turn, drive entrepreneurship and open-up local career opportunities.

Our vision also includes colleges using their expertise to improve the sustainability of rural businesses through supporting their resilience and productivity.

The strategy will also recognise that land-based colleges are all places of social capital. Your courses enable people of all backgrounds to gain sought-after skills and climb the Ladder of Opportunity to good jobs and higher earnings. I know many here share my outlook that skills education has a unique power to promote social justice. Your colleges are lighthouses for people in rural areas and it’s up to us to ensure that the right opportunities reach the people who really need them, so they can build a strong career within their local community.

In contrast to the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, Tolkien placed another of his apprentice characters at the centre of a village community. Alf, in the story ‘Smith of Wootton Major’, initially learns his trade from the Master Cook in the large Village Kitchen. His skill is not always prized as it should be by the villagers, though it is an extraordinary asset to his community. He perseveres calmly through their prejudice, and at the end of the story is revealed to have been the King of Faery all along.

Skills students can face many challenges, and I applaud Landex’s work to support physical and mental health in rural communities. Last summer, the Minister for Farming and I wrote to you about mental health in the sector, highlighting the Yellow Wellies campaign from the Farm Safety Foundation. They have launched a conversation on how we can all positively impact the mental health of young people in farming communities. I’m keen that we continue this dialogue as part of the strategy.


The national strategy we’re co-creating will support you and your institutions to be leaders in the country’s green skills revolution. The skills you teach, such a rewilding and agriculture, have a crucial part to play in this. Suffolk New College, which I mentioned at the beginning, demonstrates how agriculture, animal husbandry and hospitality can be taught on one site, with their farm-to-fork café. By teaching so many trades at their rural campus, which includes a Land-Based Service Engineering workshop, they offer their students many different routes up the Ladder of Opportunity.

I hope that the vision for the strategy I have outlined today demonstrates the impact your college can have on the nation’s future prosperity. You can help us deliver Net Zero, energy security, climate adaptation and environmental recovery. You already safeguard our food security, and your students play a vital role in maintaining our natural infrastructure and the rural economy.

Tolkien once said that true education is:

“a matter of continual beginnings, of habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness.”

We want more and more people to build the skills needed for good employment in this age of

‘persistent newness’ - skills for new and shifting industries, that business leaders are crying-out for.

I want to thank you again for the unique work you do, and I look forward to working together further on the areas I’ve outlined, for the nation’s economic and ecological future. I’ve been talking about a strategy but that’s just a means to an end - to help get the conditions right so your colleges can flourish. If we get this right then we’ll see students reaching their potential, rural skills boosted and our country leading the way in green skills. That’s something we all want to see and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to meet with you today. Best wishes for the rest of your conference.

From: Department for Education and The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP