From education to employment

Jeremy Corbyn at the AoC Annual Conference

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the UK Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn addressing the Association of Colleges Annual Conference in his speech today (14 Nov),

Thank you for inviting me here today to your annual conference in Birmingham.

I want to start by paying tribute to you and the work you do as an association in being constant advocates for college education, standing up for your students, and for staff in increasingly difficult funding settlements.

I also want to pay tribute to Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner. She is a passionate advocate for your profession and for education as a whole.

It is no exaggeration to say that education in the UK is in a perilous state:

  • Funding has been cut year upon year
  • The attainment gap is widening
  • The curriculum has narrowed, as courses have been cut

But whatever minister might try to claim absolutely none of this is the fault of teachers or colleges, for they, along with students, are the ones who have to bear the brunt of government cuts and interference.

In the first five years of the Conservative government the adult skills budget was slashed by 40%, adult further education budgets faced real terms cuts of 14%, and even now the new Adult Education Budget is only being held in cash terms.

The government must wake up to the damage these cuts are causing to colleges and the entire educational system, the damage it is doing to students’ learning, and the damage it is doing to staff morale.

We need to start valuing staff at schools, colleges, and universities, because if we don’t we will lose them.

We are already suffering from a recruitment crisis in the teaching profession, one that is only going to get worse if the government fails to secure the rights of EU nationals currently living here.

Last year 5,000 teachers from EU countries qualified to teach here, our education system relies on these teachers, pupils and students benefit from their knowledge and as a result our society as a whole benefits from their knowledge.

That is why Labour has said that we will guarantee the rights of all EU nationals living here, so that they can continue to live, and work in this country.

It is a moral argument but it is also a practical one, if we lose teachers we lose subjects, we narrow the horizons of students, and narrow our own horizons as a result.

The need to give respect to education staff is a central reason why Labour is committed to ending the public sector pay cap which drives down the wages of all public sector workers.

We believe that the government needs to start listening to teachers, schools and colleges about how to best deliver education.

A key part of the Labour Party’s programme is giving workers more control over their working lives, ensuring people’s voices are listened to. The people who know how to do a job best are the people who do that job.

That is why we’re listening to educational staff, unions and associations to set out bold proposals for a future educational system under a Labour government.

And what a contrast our programme would be to what we have at the moment.

Today, for instance, the misnamed EU Withdrawal Bill came back to parliament. The bill is in fact an undemocratic government power grab. Its return follows weeks of damaging delay, that has only added to the sense of chaotic dithering around the Conservatives’ entire approach to Brexit.

Nearly 17 months since Britain voted to leave the EU we are still none the wiser as to what our future relationship with our biggest trading partners is going to look like.

The government can’t give a lead because the cabinet is split down the middle. Ministers spend more time negotiating with each other than with the EU. That gives the whip hand to grandstanding EU politicians.

One week the Home Secretary says a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU would be “unthinkable”. The next week the Brexit secretary insists “no deal must be an option”.

For the market fundamentalist throwbacks in the Tory cabinet ‘no deal’ is in reality a strategy, not a negotiating tactic.

It is the extreme version of the wider Conservative intention to use Brexit as a device to drive down wages and conditions, deregulate consumer and environmental protections, and slash corporate taxation in a destructive race-to-the-bottom.

As Boris Johnson made clear in his fantasy Brexit manifesto the real aim is not only to reinforce the existing economic system’s inequalities and insecurities – but to put them on steroids.

Labour is instead making the case for a jobs-first Brexit, one that prioritises full access to European markets, guarantees the rights of EU citizens,  uses powers returned from Brussels to invest and upgrade Britain’s economy, and protects and extends workers’ and consumer rights, and environmental standards.

The government’s disarray across the board is painful to watch, from the public sector pay cap to tuition fees. Tory ministers are flip-flopping and incoherent.

When we brought the pay cap and tuition fees to the House of Commons, along with social care and Universal Credit, the government was forced to concede it did not have a majority and refused to vote.

This government is failing to act on the critical issues of the day. It’s failing to act to deal with the tax dodging scandal highlighted by the Paradise Papers. It’s failing to tackle the growing housing crisis. It’s failing to halt the fall in pay and living standards. And it’s failing to sort out the botched rollout of Universal Credit, which is threatening to make millions worse off.

The truth is this government currently has no plan or vision for a post-Brexit economy. The height of its ambition are a few TTIP-style deregulation and investor protection deals with the Trump administration.

A bad Brexit deal risks making existing weaknesses in our economy, low investment, low productivity, and low pay, even worse. Brexit should instead give us the impetus to tackle our productivity crisis which is making our country poorer.

The answer lies in investment, in infrastructure, new technologies, and people.

But instead the government has cut the schools budget, cut college funding, and saddled students with a lifetime of debt.

Next week’s Budget is an opportunity to break with that damaging record, and it must be taken.

Labour will go even further however.

Just as Nye Bevan and the Attlee government created the National Health Service in the aftermath of World War 2, the next Labour government will create a National Education Service in England, offering cradle to grave education that is free at the point of use.

It will be based on the recognition that education is a universal benefit for the whole of society as well as the individual.

It will be a realisation of the fact that every child, and adult, matters and that all areas of skill and learning deserve equal recognition.

Having schools and colleges that are accountable to staff, students and their parents through democratic means will ensure that education meets the needs of local communities.

The National Education Service will offer education right through from early years, to further and higher education for both young people and adults at any point in their lives.

Free, lifelong Further Education will allow anybody to improve their skills or retrain entirely at any point in their lives.

This is a bold vision, but it is an essential one if we are to create a society that meets people’s needs and desires for the freedom and opportunities that education brings

Under a Labour government the National Education Service will be part of a co-ordinated Industrial Strategy, that will focus on investment in towns, cities, and villages across Britain, boosting our economy, as well as our people’s prospects.

This is essential if we are to end decades of underinvestment, and a productivity crisis that can simply no longer be ignored. To get a measure of the extent of this crisis, consider the fact that in mid-2017 productivity levels were lower than they were a decade ago, despite the huge technological advance of the last ten years.

It’s a truly astonishing statistic which underlines the damaging failure of austerity.

And what’s more productivity is continuing to fall, a situation we can ill afford when you consider that already an hour worked in the UK produces over 25% less than an hour worked in Germany.

This increasing problem must therefore be tackled head on.

But increasing productivity is not about squeezing out every last drop of energy from working people.

It’s about investing in people’s lives, investing in their education, their skills, and their futures, as well as the infrastructure and new technologies.

Doing this would mean that people will not only produce more in their working lives but it also encourages their work to be more fulfilling, with increased skills and opportunities for creativity.

Colleges have a crucial role in ensuring this happens, you act as gateways, allowing individuals to find new opportunities and discover the world through new ideas or skills.

That is why a National Education System will allow anybody to upskill and retrain at any point in their lives, we must keep people’s skills and knowledge up to date in a world where the sum total of human knowledge is increasing rapidly.

The Labour Party and the Labour movement has a long history of encouraging adult education.

You see it in institutions like Ruskin College, the Workers’ Education Association, or the Open University, created by Jennie Lee and standing as one of the towering achievement of the 1960s Labour government.

Encouraging adult education, never writing people off, but giving people fresh opportunities right the way through their lives, embodies one of our movement’s fundamental principles, opportunity for the many not the few.

Under a Labour government this participation in education through colleges will also be encouraged by a range of measures to give people more security in their lives, leaving them less economically precarious and giving them a solid base to return to education if they so desire.

Raising the minimum wage to a real living wage of at least £10 an hour, increasing tenant security in the private rented sector, and guaranteeing 30 hours of quality free early years provision for all children aged 2 to 4.

These policies would all help potential adult learners to make what can be a very daunting leap of returning to either full or part time education, as well as the many young people educated in colleges who are currently struggling in an economy which doesn’t provide for them.

It is why our industrial strategy will include a more co-ordinated approach to transport which is currently a major barrier for many 16 to 18 year olds who often have to travel further to colleges than they do to school sixth forms.

A transport system that includes publicly owned rail, and locally owned busses, along with improved cycling infrastructure, will be both more accessible and more affordable for the benefit of all.

Recognising these financial barriers to education is also why we are totally committed to the restoration of the Education Maintenance, Allowance for 16 to 18 year olds which gave educational opportunities to many young people from lower and middle income backgrounds as they left secondary education.

A commitment to providing opportunities for all is why Labour is totally opposed to a return to segregation in secondary education.

We will never accept a situation where grammar school pupils are funnelled straight into A-Level courses and university, while secondary modern pupils are all pushed in the direction of technical education or left without any further education at all.

We believe that you should expand students’ opportunities, not narrow them.

If a student gets brilliant grades in their GCSE and A-Levels, that shouldn’t stop them taking up a technical subject such as carpentry or mechanics.

And even more importantly, if a student does less well at school, colleges have to be there to give them chances to continue in the academic realm if that is what they want.

It should be the students themselves, and not the institutions, which dictate students’ futures.

Strong opposition from both the Labour Party and education professionals that has stopped the government’s plans for segregation for now, but there are many other reforms which we will still continue to scrutinise and to oppose.

In Labour’s view the government is totally mistaken to continually reinvent the wheel when it comes to Further Education for example.

We believe it is wrong to repeatedly disrupt, reorganise and reconfigure.

That is why a future Labour government will start by properly funding existing colleges so that they can deliver T-levels and other qualifications.

Because new qualifications, initiatives, and systems mean little if colleges are not given the investment to carry them out effectively.

That is why we are committed to bringing funding for education for 16-18 year olds in line with Key Stage 4 baselines as part of a new funding formula, this will reverse cuts and ensure that all colleges have the resources they need to give both young people, and adult learners, the education they deserve.

This is vital if we are to adequately implement the recommendations of the Sainsbury Review, which we would build upon to incorporate service sector routes, relevant to a future automated economy, as well as traditional manufacturing roles.

Our National Education Service would also incorporate teaching ESOL, English for Speakers of Other Languages. In the last seven years ESOL has had its funding cut by 55%, despite demand rising year on year.

This has left the sector in a dangerous state of disrepair. A survey by Refugee Action has found that some people are now waiting three years just to get English classes. Figures like this make it abundantly clear that a more proactive approach is needed.

Our proposals for a National Education Service are bold but they are necessary if we are to create a 21st Century education system that caters for everybody, students and staff alike.

This is also why a Labour government would double the number of apprenticeships at NVQ Level 3 over a five year period.

This would be done by protecting the £440 million of government funding for smaller and medium size companies who do not pay the apprenticeship levy, but also consulting on how to encourage much bigger employers to over train apprenticeships to fill skills and labour gaps in the wider economy.

But is not just a numbers game, increasing uptake has to be done alongside ensuring quality.

That is why we must aim to increase the number of women, LGBT, BAME, and disabled people who are doing apprenticeships, so as to ensure that they are not just the preserve of one sector of society. In doing so we want to eliminate the 8% gender pay gap which exists between men and women apprentices.

We believe that the newly enlarged Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education should report annually to the Education Secretary, to make sure that available apprenticeships are meeting the wider objectives of the government’s industrial strategy.

This type of strategic coordination between the industrial and educational sectors is essential if we are to provide people with the necessary skills for the future.

The relationship between the education and the industrial sector must be a two way street however, just as colleges and other institutions must provide the skills that a modern and productive economy needs, the economy must be moulded by an industrial strategy to give individuals  opportunities for understanding, creativity and personal fulfilment.

Further education, and specifically technical education, is currently at risk of being purely employer led.

However in our current economy that is dominated by employers only offering low wage, low skill, low opportunity employment, it risks education only catering for those sorts of jobs.

And yet, with increased automation in the workplace, we need to be offering more opportunities than ever before for people to take on the jobs of the future.

This is why we should never abandon our aim of a society in which education is a right to be accessed throughout our lives. On a practical level, ensuring that everybody achieves at least a level 3 qualification must be an achievable objective for the future.

It is also why we are committed to also providing free education at degree level as part of the National Education Service. Whether higher education is accessed via a university or a college, we are committed to everybody having those opportunities to learn.

By doing this, and reintroducing maintenance grants, we will ensure that nobody is priced out of a full education.

That is why a Labour government will give colleges the resources they need, give teachers and staff the respect that they require, and give students of all ages the opportunities that they deserve.

In the 21st century the economies that will succeed are those that invest in people.

The current government has cut the schools budget, cut college funding, and saddled students with a lifetime of debt.

Next week’s Budget marks an opportunity to break with that damaging agenda and embark on a new path that recognises, true prosperity is when we ALL succeed.

Thank you for all you do to ensure our young people, and adult learners, do succeed. Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the UK Labour Party

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