From education to employment

New education team at the top have tough challenges ahead

Suzie Webb, Director of Education, AAT

Teresa May’s swift accession to power has brought with it a raft of changes at the highest echelons of the Conservative party. With only five of her 28 Cabinet members retaining the roles they held under David Cameron, the reshuffle has been designed to give the Prime Minister’s strongest allies some of the top jobs in Westminster.

One decision that has been met with a seal of approval from some quarters is the elevation of Justine Greening, the former Secretary of State for International Development, into the often tricky role of Education Secretary. Greening has also become the new Minister for Women and Equalities. One of Greening’s right-hand men will be Robert Halfon, the Apprentice and Skills Minister. Greening is the first Education Secretary to have been educated at a comprehensive school (as well as being the first LGBT Equalities Minister), while Halfon was the first MP to get an apprentice, so both should be keen advocates for their respective new areas.

But when it comes to education and training the workforce of the future, the new team have plenty to get stuck into. Here are just some of the immediate challenges that Greening and Halfon will have to consider over the coming months:

  1. Reforming the skills system

July’s publication of the post-16 skills plan has brought a sharp focus onto technical education as the alternative for academic routes when 16 year olds make their future choices.

The desire to strengthen the value which employers place on qualifications that equip people with both career skills and technical knowledge has to be welcomed. The plan however, which includes recommendations around the streamlining of technical pathways after the age of 16, should be carefully considered. There are lessons to be learned from previous educational reforms, where timelines have been rushed and outcomes have not been allowed time to fully embed.

  1. Greater careers advice

The skills plan also recommends that laws are implemented which force schools to let people from external organisations in to talk about their post-16 options. For some students reviewing their pathways into a career both at 16 and at 18, continuing to be pushed through academia will not necessarily be the best option, especially given confirmation from Universities Minister Jo Johnson that university tuition fees will increase to a maximum of £9,250 in 2017.

There are ways of gaining the skills required for many professions while avoiding the debts associated with university, which have already reached an average of around £45,000 per student. These figures have prompted the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) lobby group to claim that the debts have reached such a level, that higher earnings associated with being a graduate essentially no longer exist.  Schools and colleges however could be better equipped to inform students of the variety of options available to them.

  1. Stand up for apprentices

In recent years the Government has shown its commitment towards the apprenticeship scheme, targeting three million starts by 2020, and announcing the introduction of a levy to make it more in the interests of larger employees to take on apprentices. The levy needs to work for employers and apprentices alike and we can only hope that the allowances it will provide will be well-utilised by businesses and lead to positive outcomes.

It is employers who are best placed to determine what training and skills young people will require through their apprenticeships in order to be work-ready. We hope the new apprenticeship standard developed for the audit, accounting and tax professions, agreed by professional services and industry employers along with professional bodies (including AAT) and training providers will be successfully implemented for the industry, and replicated across a variety of other industries. Such a standard acts to the benefit of school leavers aiming to enter their chosen profession, as well as businesses throughout the sector who wish to bring in well-skilled apprentices. 

Suzie Webb, Director of Education and Development, AAT

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