From education to employment

What the Green Party will do for FE

The Green Party believes in education. We believe in funding the future of our younger generations. That’s why, unlike Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats we are committed to increasing investment in Further Education to ensure that everyone gets a fair start in life.

On Thursday 26 February, the Skills Funding Agency notified colleges that their budgets would be cut by around 17% in 2015/16. Due to protections on apprenticeship funding, this will translate to a funding cut of 24% for non-apprenticeship learning. I’m sure many readers will be aware of these figures and that they are as troubled as I am about what this will mean for the future of adult learning.

The adult skills budget has been cut by 35% since 2009 and simply cannot sustain further cuts. Over 1 million learners have already been lost, and it is estimated that these latest cuts will lead to a further 400,000 people losing out on learning opportunities. These are hugely disappointing numbers for those working in education, or in fact anyone who recognises the vital role that education plays in creating a fairer society in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Shakira Martin, President of Lewisham and Southwark College Students’ Union, agrees with me on this:

“The government’s cuts to further education are absolutely ludicrous! The government needs to realise that investing in Further Education will be better for the economy in the long run. We need education to be free in order to close the gap between the working class and the elite, giving people from deprived backgrounds a chance to succeed and excel.”

We want every young person to have access to a quality education, no matter what their family’s income. That’s why the Green Party are opposed to the government’s privatisation and commercialisation of schools, colleges, and universities which is making access to a good education dependent on financial privilege. My party will oppose any privatisation of Further Education. Profit motives do not belong in this sector. We will restore funding to the levels it needs to be, to, at least, matching the amount per pupil in secondary schools. The Green Party would abolish fees in FE and write off all outstanding debt and resulting interest relating to 24+ student loans because we recognise education is a right and not a privilege and should be available for anyone who has the desire to learn at a time that suits them – whether as an extension to school or at later life to retrain.

When I was at Bexley Grammar School from 2006-2008, the weekly EMA payment was a life saver. The Green Party would reintroduce EMA at a level which would be effective in supporting disadvantaged students. We would ensure that the system is clear and transparent, and not open to inconsistency in application. We would protect and improve the current support provision for disabled students and bring FE provision into the control of local authorities to ensure this happens.

Additionally, we would call for an immediate increase in pay to bring FE lecturers onto the same levels of pay as schoolteachers, and for non-teaching staff to be brought on to local government pay scales. We believe in fair pay, and want to see an end to the ever increasing wage gap between those in management positions compared those who teach and are part of core administration of colleges.

Of course, all of this costs money – we have calculated that an l extra £1.55 billion per year is needed. The Green Party knows this is a worthwhile investment in our future, and one that has a huge economic benefit; thus, we would cover the cost of this through a proposed increase in corporation tax on those businesses that reap the biggest rewards from having a more educated workforce.

This year, you have the chance to change the tune in politics – one that stops the mainstream parties from all singing from the same hymn sheet. Wherever you live, you can make a difference just by voting Green. It sends a powerful message that it’s time for change. You’re saying it’s time for proper funding of education that accessible to all.

Even if your candidate doesn’t win, you’ve still made an impact. Shakira summed it up really well for me: “Everyone seems so focussed on the General Election being the end of the battle, but it is after the General Election is when the battle really starts. We need to change the mind-set of so many people and have a total shift in the way we think.”

We are on the cusp of a new brand of politics, breaking through the decades of dogma and regression and breaking away from the bleak future caused by austerity – if you have the chance to vote Green on May 7th, then do it.

Why? Because the future of sustainable, effective and accessible Further Education depends on it.

Dave Cocozza is the spokesperson for Higher and Further Education at the Green Party

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