From education to employment

Education – Whose Responsibility is it?

Dr Sam Parrett OBE, London South East Colleges

Together with hundreds of businesses across the UK, I recently attended the CBI National Conference.

It was great to see employers coming together to share their commitments on a range of issues including:

  • Tackling climate change
  • Addressing the gender pay-gap, and
  • Utilising the latest technology

These businesses understand that they have social commitments and realise they have the potential to become a force for good.

Speeches from our three possible Prime Ministers

However, what everyone was really interested in were the speeches from our three possible Prime Ministers.

As Boris Johnson, pointed out, these were election campaign speeches and all party leaders were presenting themselves, in their own way, as the party of business.

Of course there were the usual grand speeches about delivering Brexit, real change and multi-billion pound promises that we’ve all come to expect.

Whether or not they will be able to deliver on these promises – time will tell!

Special thanks to John Laramy, Principal of Exeter College for asking the best question of the day – “When will the funding for 16-18 College students be level with the £5000 for secondary schools?”

To which Boris replied that he thought he had already set 16-18 funding at that level but would have to check and come back to him.

I’m still intrigued as to what the answer to that is John!

Giving young people the skills they need to succeed

What was refreshing was that all three leaders’ plans for business growth included a commitment to skills funding.

This is not surprising since the CBI’s own business manifesto begins with: “The next government must set the UK on course to tackle the biggest challenges of our day: giving young people the skills they need to succeed.”

These plans included billions of pounds of funding for Colleges from the Conservatives and a national apprenticeship programme and grants for adults to access lifelong learning from Labour.

I would have liked to hear more from the Liberal Democrats beyond the briefly mentioned promise of £10,000 Skills Wallet for every adult to spend on education. It will be interesting to see if they have any future commitments, particularly for FE.

Where does the responsibility of skills lie?

While this is all well and good, this does present us with a very interesting question. Where does the responsibility of skills lie?

How much government intervention is needed and what should the commitment from employers be?

It is a consistent theme that I have studied for my doctorate:

Blame for our low productivity and perceived shortcomings of the sector is tossed around with responsibility falling on education providers.

We need to start thinking about what works, rather than basing skills policy on ideological notions of the purpose of the state. We need to place students first because, at the end of the day, they would much rather just get the skills they need to fulfil their potential. It is clear that the current system doesn’t work and will require radical change to fix it.

The CBI itself does give me some hope. CBI Director General has proposed a new government / business partnership on the scale of the Beveridge Report to reskill 9 million people by 2030.

Back in 1942, William Beveridge highlighted what he called the five “giant evils”:

  1. Want
  2. Disease
  3. Ignorance
  4. Squalor, and
  5. Idleness

Only this time our five evils are:

  1. Funding
  2. Funding
  3. Funding
  4. Funding
  5. AND funding!

I would love to see a major shakeup of the system along these lines, we are on the precipice of losing millions of jobs to automation and FE does not have the resources to solve this issue.

I hope that whoever is elected understands the importance of this issue and helps to create a new system where responsibility for the education of the country is shared between everyone involved.

We all benefit from greater education, be that from a more skilled workforce, a stronger economy, increased social mobility or decreased poverty.

It’s time that the education system was given the love and importance it deserves.

Dr Sam Parrett OBE, London South East Colleges

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