From education to employment

Labour announces plans to “throw open the door” for adults to study and retrain throughout their lives

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner

In a speech in Blackpool today (12 Nov), Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner will announce plans to ensure everyone has access to education and training throughout their life to end skills shortages and “allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future”.

Labour is pledging to put vocational education on a par with university degrees and deliver a radical expansion of lifelong learning to make sure “no one is shut out of education.” 

Labour’s plans will enable adults to return to study for free and ensure everyone has the time and support they need to study and retrain.

Angela Rayner will say that Labour will “throw open the door” for adults to study, “whether they want to change career, are made redundant or didn’t get the qualifications they needed when they were younger.” 

The party says its plans are vital to meet the changing nature of industry – ensuring automation doesn’t leave people without work and we have the skills we need to tackle the climate emergency.

Labour’s commitment to lifelong learning is part of our plans for a National Education Service, which will provide cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use. 

Labour will provide 30 hours of free childcare to all 2 to 4 year olds, open 1000 new Sure Start centres, cut class sizes for all 5, 6 and 7 year olds, scrap SATs for key stage 1 and 2 and provide free school meals to all primary school children.

The party will also scrap university tuition fees, bring back EMA for sixth form students and bring back university maintenance grants.

Britain has a severe skills shortage, particularly in higher technical skills. According to the CBI, two thirds of businesses worry they won’t be able to fill skilled posts. The Conservatives have slashed funding for further education and skills training by 47 per cent and overseen a 25 per cent decline in adults enrolling in education.

New research by the Labour party, published today, has revealed that the number of adults achieving qualification in basic skills has plummeted since 2011. In 2011 there were 633,000 adults achieving a qualification in either English, Maths or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) but this had fallen by 40 per cent to 418,500 in 2017/18. The number of adults currently learning is at its lowest point since 1996.

Labour will ensure that everyone can access education and training, throughout their life. We will:

  • Enable any adult without A-level or equivalent qualification (level 3) to attend college and study for them for free
  • Give every adult a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and equivalents such as Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, Foundation Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education in areas such as rail engineering technicians, nursing associates, and professional accounting technicians)
  • Provide maintenance grants for low income adult learners to complete their courses
  • Give workers the right to paid time off for education and training
  • Give employers a role in designing qualifications to make sure training is equipping learners with the right skills
  • Support workplace learning and improve basic skills by reversing cuts to the Union Learning Fund
  • Make sure everyone has access to the information they need to return to study through a national careers advice service.

angela rayner thumbnailAngela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“Labour will throw open the door for adults to study, whether they want to change career, are made redundant or didn’t get the qualifications they needed when they were younger.

“For many, adult education is too expensive, too time-consuming or too difficult to get into.

“People have been held back for too long. We will make free education a right to ensure we have the skills we need to allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future.

“We’ll make sure no one is shut out of education by giving people the support, time and funding they need to train so that we have the skills we need to meet the changing nature of work and tackle the climate emergency.”

Jeremy Corbyn 100x100Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, will say:

“As part of Labour’s plan for real change, we will invest in a national education service, free at the point of use, so everyone can learn at every stage of their lives.

“I see education like an escalator running alongside you throughout life, that you can get on and off whenever you want.

“That’s what Labour’s National Education Service will offer people – free education, as a right for all. Under our plans, skills and vocational qualifications are valued the same as university degrees.

“We don’t just benefit from our own education, we benefit from everybody else’s too.

“Tomorrow’s jobs are in green and high-tech industries. We need people to have the skills to take those jobs. By ensuring the ultra-rich pay their way, we can provide training to everybody who needs it.

“I’d rather give a break to the worker who wants to learn, than a tax break to the billionaire who wants for nothing. That’s the difference between Labour and the Conservatives.”

Layla Moran100x100Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary Layla Moran said:

“As technology improves and our population ages, almost half of workers will need to retrain during their lives. But Jeremy Corbyn won’t be able to invest in lifelong learning or in tackling any of the other big economic challenges if he first wrecks the economy with a red Brexit.

“Liberal Democrats are more ambitious. We will stop Brexit and build a brighter future, by giving every adult a Skills Wallet worth £10,000 over their lives to spend on education and training of their choice.”

Joe Dromey100x100Joe Dromey, Deputy Director of Research and Development, said; 

“With our economy set to see rapid and transformational change over the coming years, lifelong learning and access to training will be more important than ever. Yet as our adult participation survey shows, the number of adults taking part in education has reached a record low, and it is the adults who could benefit most who are least likely to take part.

“Year after year, our adult participation survey shows that the biggest barrier to accessing learning is not direct course costs – it’s time. People live busy lives, and it can be hard to find the time for study alongside work and family commitments. 

“Currently, workers have the right to request time off to study, but there is no obligation on employers to accept a request, or to pay the employee for the time off if they do. A right to request unpaid leave is of little value for a low skilled, low paid worker struggling to make ends meet. 

“So, alongside broader entitlements to publicly funded training, it’s really exciting to see these proposals to give workers the right to paid time off for education and training. An earned entitlement to ‘learner leave’ could help lead to a lifelong learning revolution in the UK.”

Jo Grady 100x100Jo Grady, the University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, said: 

“UCU welcomes Labour’s wide-ranging package of measures aimed at supporting adults to learn throughout their lives – wherever, whenever and whatever best suits their needs. Breaking down the practical and financial barriers to education is key to ensuring that all adults and communities can access the skills and learning they need to thrive. 

“For too many years, adult learning has been a sorely neglected part of our education system and the failure of successive governments to invest properly in it has led to steep falls in student numbers and a huge loss of capacity and staff expertise.  UCU strongly supports the principle of a right for everyone to learn and wants to see colleges, universities and the hugely neglected adult education sector given the investment they need to help transform the life chances of millions of people. Today’s announcements are a key step towards that goal.”

mary boustedDr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The NEU agrees that we need to address how education gives adults and young people the skills and knowledge needed for the modern world.  

“The removal of education maintenance allowances for 16-18-year-olds, university tuition fees that are among the highest in the world, and the ending of student maintenance grants, have denied many the opportunity to study for post-16 qualifications, and engage with further and higher education.

“We know that following years of devastating funding cuts to Further Education there is a huge lack of adult education provision in many areas of the country. FE is the main provider for non-university adult learners, including SEND young adults, ESOL for adults of all ages and adult returners, who come into FE to improve their English, maths and digital skills as well as to learn vocational skills.

“The current offer for students in secondary education and beyond is narrow and too focused on knowledge that is easy to test.

“Whilst knowledge is important, the wider skills that the OECD and businesses report we will need for the future are being restricted by current Government policy, particularly around the EBacc accountability measure, massive funding cuts to schools and colleges, and pressure built up by other accountability measures in the form of league tables and Ofsted.

“Education should foster creative thinking, develop communication skills and the ability to work with others. The next government and any future curriculum should look to address this.

“Learning should be a right for all, not a privilege for a few. Introducing free education at all stages of life – from the early years through to lifelong learning – is the right thing to do both for the rights of individuals and to reskill the economy to meet the challenges that lie ahead, particularly those posed by the climate emergency.”

Stephen Evans Dec 2018 100x100Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute and member of Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission, said;

“Learning makes such a positive difference to people’s lives and careers, and access to training is only going to become more important as we seek to decarbonise our economy and adapt to the changes automation will bring. Yet, our survey shows the number of adults taking part in learning at its lowest levels on record. Worse still, it is the adults who could most benefit from access to training opportunities who are least likely to participate.”

“The next government must put investing in adult skills at the heart of its agenda for economic and social renewal. These bold proposals to tackle the barriers to learning and drive up participation are a welcome contribution to the debate. Widening access to learning benefits us all.”

david hughes 100 x100Association of Colleges is the national voice for colleges, representing around 93% of England’s further education colleges. The AoC’s Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

“It is great to see the Labour Party proposing much-needed increased investment in adult education after a decade of cuts has halved opportunities to learn and train. The Lifelong Learning Commission has helped the Labour Party to focus on key issues which colleges and AoC have been promoting for some time now. Adults deserve access to more learning and training opportunities in a high-quality skills system in which colleges are vital players. This set of proposals would support more people of all ages and circumstances to be able to participate and get the skills they need. 

“Investing in colleges is an investment in the future. 2.2 million people study and train in colleges but we know that hundreds of thousands more people would benefit from these proposals.  With skill gaps widening, issues of social justice still burning and the future of the economy in play we need a step change in adult education and training. These proposals from the Labour Party would be a great step forward.”

MarkDawe 100x100Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe, said:

“Labour’s lifelong learning commission has undertaken important work and the final report has made some useful recommendations for the future of adult education in this country.  In the light of this, we feel that today’s announcements could have placed more emphasis on addressing the needs of the ‘forgotten 50%’, i.e. the sizable part of the population who have not attained the equivalent of level 2 after leaving education.

“We need more public investment, particularly to address low levels of numeracy and literacy, and a new government should  be embedding digital skills in every apprenticeship standard as well as in standalone qualifications.  Employers, trade unions and training providers should help to transform the National Retraining Scheme (NRS) to really make a difference to the 1.5 million individuals whose jobs are at risk of automation along with supporting those trapped in low-level employment with little prospects.  Traineeships have changed the lives of young people and the NRS should become a ‘traineeship for adults’.”

Lawrence Barton 100x100Lawrence Barton, Managing Director of leading West Midlands apprenticeship provider, GB Training, said:

“Labour’s pledge to significantly expand the provision of further education and skills training rings alarm bells. How on earth will it all be funded? Has John McDonnell invented a magic money tree?

“Funding these pledges, including giving all workers the right to paid time off for education and training, will inevitably lead to an increased financial burden for businesses, which will reduce their capacity to take on apprentices and fund job creation. It is giving with one hand to take with another.

“Labour also seem to be showing a lack of understanding of the skills system as a whole. While further investment is needed, any additional funding needs to be met with reform.

“The adult education budget (AEB) funding allocation system, for example, is antiquated, overly complex and prevents money getting to where it’s needed. Simplifying it and improving competition among colleges and providers will allow policymakers and the taxpayer to get more bang for their buck.”

Geoff Barton 100x100Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“These proposals are ambitious and involve a significant increase in spending. Given the scale of what Labour is proposing, it is unlikely that it would be able to achieve all these objectives immediately, and it needs to be clear about its priorities. Our view is that it should target this spending first of all on helping those who most need help.

“We therefore strongly back the provision of 30 hours of free childcare for all 2 to 4 year-olds, and opening 1,000 new Sure Start centres. The evidence is clear that educational gaps between children begin at an early stage, and this extra level of investment would be money well spent in improving outcomes for the most vulnerable young people in society. And we also strongly support the restoration of university maintenance grants and the educational maintenance allowance for sixth form students because these measures are pivotal in improving access to education for young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Another priority should be the establishment of a national careers advice service because high-quality, independent guidance particularly benefits those who face the greatest challenges.

“The vision of lifelong learning described by Labour is laudable, and in keeping with a society in which we must be able to adapt our skills to the fast-changing demands of the digital age. It would clearly require a great deal of planning and resourcing to ensure that there is sufficient capacity but we are in a strong position to deliver this ambition building on the existing expertise in our colleges and universities.”

Steve HaighwaySteve Haighway, COO Europe, IPsoft, said:

“The rate of technological change over the past decade alone has transformed the world of work. The UK is facing a major digital skills gap that is only set to get worse with the onset of AI and automation: indeed, PWC predicts that 44% of workers with low education are at risk of automation by mid-2030s. It is impossible for traditional education to keep up with this rate of change: technologists – let alone educators – are at odds with what skills this highly intelligent and automated work will require.

“That’s why Labour’s commitment to lifelong education is not only laudable, but so critically required. However, in addition to giving employees rights for paid time off for education and learning, it is important that the future government – whoever that may be – takes the lead in developing a digital upskilling programme that reflects changing workplace demands. Without this and better guidance on where the reskilling should focus, these days may do little to truly prepare our nation for the future workplace.  

Jessica Marchant, Founding Partner of leading recruitment technology provider, Sidekicks, has said:

“With our economy experiencing skills shortages in key industries, investment in education and training is critical. But the scale of the investment proposed by the Labour party is massive and raises questions about its viability. 

“Instead, the Labour leadership should also consider supporting simpler more cost-effective solutions aimed at encouraging employers to tap into existing sources of talent within the labour market that continue to be overlooked. 

“As the Financial Times recently noted, ex-offenders offer one such source of labour employers are increasingly turning to. But there are others, including older people and those looking to re-enter the workforce after a period of ill health.

“What’s needed from the next government isn’t simply uncosted spending pledges, but efforts to encourage businesses to make the simple adjustments to working practices that will unlock pools of talent in our labour market.”

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA of Pluralsight, said:

“The fact that many of our major political parties are focusing on tech skill development by pledging investment in adult education and workforce training is a positive step. Industry has long preached the need to address the skills gap, but tackling this issue will require a partnership between industry and government. 

“Many companies that are focused on developing their workforce, have the awareness that there are training needs to address and provide the investment to drive programmes. But often a key element they miss is the ability to provide training that meets the needs of the modern worker. In the past, workforce development was restricted to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ classroom based approach which has been proven to be ineffective and costly. Today’s workers are different and learn in unique ways – whether through training administered in bite-sized chunks which they can access at a time which most suits them, or through regular testing and feedback.  

“Employees need to feel empowered to learn through choice and flexibility. Training programmes must provide a clear pathway for new job roles or the development of new skills through competitive benchmarking. Training also needs to be part of a wider culture of learning, driven from the top-down. 

“While signals of increased investment from our political parties provide hope of government stepping in to tackle the skills gap, industry also needs to take the reins and empower its employees through proven and efficient training processes.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“People’s lives can be transformed and enriched when given the opportunity to continue learning.

“But spending on adult education has been cut hugely this decade, denying thousands the chance to retrain.

“Investment in new skills is vital if the UK workforce is to keep pace with a rapidly changing world and the demands on our public services. 

“Colleges and their hard-working staff are key to making these welcome proposals a reality.”

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said:

“Labour’s relevant policy commission report on lifelong learning recognises that cities have the majority of high skilled people, making them key engines for economic growth for their communities and far beyond, but also where we find majority of low skilled jobs and people. In the North and Midlands we together account for 66 per cent of low skilled people in urban areas. The commission also acknowledge that compared to other European countries the system is far too fragmented, and that devolution to our Metro Mayors has not gone far enough.

“Further investment of £3 billion, as announced today in Blackpool by Angela Rayner is of course to be welcomed, as long as it is shown in their manifesto to be fiscally credible, but we need to be seeing further devolution to our Metro Mayors and wider combined authorities. The National Education Service must deliver the skills we need to raise living standards for those that missed out on skills earlier in life in particular, and the national top down system needs reform to make that possible.

“In the same way as the Liberal Democrats have proposed skills wallets, announced by Sam Gymiah, these are the right areas which will increase productivity, but we need to see how the cities and regions of the Northern Powerhouse will be able to align the skills provision available to the needs of the economy through devolution as part of the detail of how these proposals would be implemented.”

This announcement is based on recommendations from the Final Report by Labour’s independent Lifelong Learning Commission.

The Lifelong Learning Commission outlined an ambitious strategy for the future of lifelong learning and skills.

They have said that within a decade we should aim to reduce the gap between the UK and OECD on adults qualified to Level 3 to zero, and have over half a million adults training at Level 4+.

To achieve this they believe that we need an uptake of 1.5% of adults qualified to L1-2 using their Level 3 entitlement, and 1.5% of adults not qualified to L4 in training at those higher levels.

We estimate this means spending, in 2023/24:

  • £634 million on the L3 entitlement
  • £1.97 billion on the L4-6 entitlement
  • £573 million on maintenance grants for learners at L4-6.

According to the OECD, more than one quarter of working-age adults in England have low levels of literacy and/or numeracy skills. 

Between 2011/12 and 2017/18 adult education enrolment has fallen by over 380,000, a 25% decline. The fall has been steepest in higher level skills, with a 43% decline in learners at Level 4+, Table 5.1.

Level 4 and 5 qualifications are between A-Levels and degrees, referred to as higher technical qualifications. Only 10% of adults in England hold one of these qualifications as their highest, compared to around 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.

The Association of Colleges found that there will be over 1.5 million job openings in the next five years that will require qualifications at these levels.

The government’s own Augar review of the post-18 education system called for a consistent maintenance system across further and higher education, p195 

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