From education to employment

The Liberal Democrats Will Invest in OUR Future Generation

Liberal Democrats Commitment to FE

Liberal Democrats believe that education is an investment in our young people’s potential and our country’s future growth. That vision is embodied by our colleges, which provide learners with the skills, confidence and resilience they need to flourish.

Achieving Full Potential

Liberal Democrats want a system where every child can achieve their full potential, no matter what their background and I am frustrated with the current system where teachers and college leaders are constantly trying to do more with less. Visiting FE colleges has allowed me to see first-hand just what a difference FE colleges make to young people’s lives but also how difficult it is right now.  

The Conservatives Failure in Education

The Conservatives have consistently let down children and parents and neglected schools and colleges. They have failed to grasp the scale of the damage that the Covid pandemic has done to children’s learning and mental health.  

Funding Challenges in Further Education and VAT exemption for Colleges

The further education sector has experienced a prolonged period of reduced funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies annual report on education spending in England, concluded in December 2022 that 16-19 funding had experienced the biggest drop in funding of any education sector.  Even when there have been any increases, rising inflation has eroded any benefit. Liberal Democrats would increase college funding per pupil above the rate of inflation every year.  We would also review further education funding and work to exempt colleges from VAT.   

Extending the Pupil Premium to Age 18

Liberal Democrats in government were very proud to introduce the pupil premium, which targeted funding at our most disadvantaged school children but it is time to extend it to age 18. Disadvantage does not stop at age 16 and neither should the extra support.  

Addressing the Teacher Shortage Crisis

Many of the challenges confronting FE colleges today are reflected in other educational sectors, yet they are intensified due to the sector’s lack of attention. Consider the teacher shortage crisis – while this is dire in secondary schools, the situation is exacerbated in FE colleges, where the average salary is approximately £9,000 lower. It is therefore unsurprising that the sector is significantly short of the English and Maths teachers it needs. Until this issue is addressed, FE colleges have little chance of meeting the Government’s new mandate to deliver a specified number of hours for English and Maths instruction.

The Importance of Tutoring

Tutoring has proven to be a highly effective tool in aiding students who are falling behind or retaking their Maths or English GCSEs, many of whom are in FE Colleges. Research conducted by Public First highlights the substantial impact tutoring has had on GCSE pass rates and overall grades in these crucial subjects. During the 2021/22 and 2022/23 academic years, tutoring resulted in 62,000 additional pass grades in GCSE English and Maths.

Risks of Discontinuing Tutoring Support

However, with no new funding allocated in the Conservatives’ March budget, this intervention is at risk of being discontinued. Our manifesto committed to continuing this vital support by introducing a “Tutoring Guarantee” for every disadvantaged student in need of extra help. We also believe that tutoring is most effective when headteachers and college leaders are given the autonomy to manage the scheme according to their specific needs, so we will allow them to do just that. 

Parity of Esteem Between Academic and Vocational Routes

Liberal Democrats support the aim to achieve parity of esteem between academic and vocational routes post-16. But this Conservative Government appears determined to eliminate the middle path for students who would benefit from a combination of academic and applied qualifications or for whom T-level entry requirements are simply too high.

The Misguided Decision to Scrap BTECs

Well-established pathways to reskilling and enhancing opportunities for under-represented groups are being cut off by the Conservatives. The decision to scrap dozens of BTECs and other applied general qualifications that students value and employers trust is misguided. Research indicates that BTECs significantly improve university entry rates for both white working-class and black students. Defunding BTECs is regressive. Until the new T Levels are well-established, understood by students and employers, and proven successful, rolling back BTECs is a mistake.  

The Importance of Careers Guidance

A key factor in addressing this issue is top-notch careers guidance. Every pupil should receive regular face-to-face support from a qualified careers teacher to understand the opportunities available to them.  That way students can make the best decisions about their lives and futures. 

Enhancing Access to Lifelong Learning

The Government’s lifelong learning entitlements represent a step forward in enhancing access to lifelong learning for adults. However, the Conservatives have yet to convincingly demonstrate that a student finance system tailored for undergraduates will appeal to older individuals. Instead, we should incorporate grant funding into the mix for financing adult education, pots of money which can be added to by employers, local authorities or other organisations would make lifelong learning a viable option for many.  

Investing in Education for OUR Future

Liberal Democrats believe that education is an investment in our children’s and young people’s future potential and our country’s future growth. This vision is embodied by our colleges, which equip learners of all ages with the skills, confidence, and resilience they need to flourish. 

It is high time we valued them properly by extending the pupil premium, protecting student choice, and fostering a culture of lifelong learning. This is what our post-16 education budget should be delivering.

By Munira Wilson MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education

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