The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury recently visited Sunderland College to find out how significant investment in facilities at its Bede Campus has revolutionised skills and education training for young people and adults across North East England.

Helen Whately MP was welcomed by Education Partnership North East (EPNE) Chief Executive Ellen Thinnesen into the campus’ £3m Innovation Space, a cutting-edge environment that is supporting the college in delivering the workforce of tomorrow.

Working to boost growth and skills across the UK and levelling up the economy as Exchequer Secretary, Helen heard how EPNE – which includes Sunderland College, Northumberland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form – works in collaboration with leading employers and SMEs to shape a career-focused curriculum to address skills gaps and respond to industry needs now and in the future.

During a tour of the Innovation Space, part of the college’s multi-million-pound redevelopment programme and supported by the Department for Education’s T Level Capital Fund, EPNE’s Strategic Lead Digital Skills and Learning Innovation, Dan Fitzpatrick, spoke about the importance of embedding digital skills throughout the curriculum and the college’s key role in helping drive Sunderland City Council’s ambitious plans to revolutionise the City’s digital infrastructure.

Helen was given an exciting demonstration of the campus’ new immersive 360-degree teaching and learning space for students studying a range of T Level subjects including health and social care, construction and digital, while also supporting the delivery of digitally informed therapies for young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

Since its installation in winter 2021, the Innovation Space has been used for existing and new classes, allowing teaching staff to innovate their approaches to provide better learning experiences as well as increasing student engagement, retention and aspirations.

The immersive environment in the Innovation Space offers the opportunity for better work experience placements by transporting students to real-world settings for training and experience such as construction sites, factories, hospitals, sports stadiums and offshore wind farms, and strengthens local employer partnerships.

Commenting on the visit, Helen Whately, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said:

“Education and skills training are at the heart of our plans to level up across the country. It was great to be in Sunderland to see how our levelling up agenda is transforming the future of learning in the city.

“The innovative approach to education at Sunderland College is really impressive. With the help of Government funding for T Levels, Bede Campus now has state of the art facilities – giving young people the best possible place to learn, including a simulated hospital ward for healthcare students.

“Speaking to students at the college, it’s clear they are gaining valuable skills and experience which are needed in the economy as well as helping them achieve their potential. This is levelling up in action.”

Ellen Thinnesen, added:

“It was a real pleasure to speak to Minister Whately who clearly understands the learning needs of young people, skills and industry, and the important work of future focussed further education colleges.

“In addition to the Innovation Space I was able to share our exciting developments at Sunderland College’s City Campus in partnership with industry, which will support future generations of highly skilled engineers, especially within green manufacturing.”

Ellen also outlined Sunderland City Council and Sunderland College’s advanced plans to build the ground-breaking Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA). This cutting-edge training facility will educate, train and up skill local people to develop innovative factory-built new homes, support a ‘city-wide housing ecology’ and create more economic opportunities which fits with the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19