From education to employment

The Conservative Party General Election manifesto is launched – Sector Reaction

So what is covered in FE and Skills for the Conservative Party Manifesto:

  • A bold new model of National Service to give young people the skills and opportunities they need to succeed.
  • 100,000 high-quality apprenticeships – by curbing rip-off university degrees.
  • The Advanced British Standard to enhance technical learning as well as academic skills.
  • Lifelong Learning Entitlement

The Conservative Party Manifesto section on Training and Skills says:

Facilitating training and skills at every stage of life

We believe in giving young people the best possible start to their adult lives and going to university is not the only route to success. The Conservatives have prioritised apprenticeships after they were neglected under Labour. Since 2010, we have delivered 5.8 million apprenticeships and have created apprenticeship routes into 70% of occupations, including through degree apprenticeships. We passed new laws requiring children to be taught about technical education opportunities, not just university routes, and have set up 21 Institutes of Technology. We will build on this by creating 100,000 more apprenticeships in England every year by the end of next Parliament.

We will fund this by changing the law to close university courses in England with the worst outcomes for their students. Courses that have excessive drop-out rates or leave students worse off than had they not gone to university will be prevented from recruiting students by the universities regulator. This will protect students from being missold and the taxpayer from having to pay where the graduate can’t.

We are committed to delivering the best value for students, so have already reformed student loans to make them fairer, meaning no one will pay back more than what they borrowed in real terms. And we will work with universities to ensure students get the contact hours they are promised and their exams get marked.

We will support the National Citizen Service to help young people build confidence and develop the skills they need to thrive.

We will deliver the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, giving adults the support they need to train, retrain and upskill flexibly throughout their working lives. From the 2025 academic year, adults will be able to apply for loans to cover new qualifications. We will also continue to expand our adult skills programmes, such as Skills Bootcamps which meet skills shortages.

Launching the Conservative Party manifesto today, the Prime Minister will say:  

“We Conservatives have a plan to give you financial security. We will enable working people to keep more of the money you earn because you have earned it and have the right to choose what to spend it on.   

“Keir Starmer takes a very different view. He says he’s a socialist, and we know what socialists always do: take more of your money. And we know that the plans Labour have already announced will require them to increase taxes on working households by £2,094.   

“We Conservatives have had to take difficult decisions because of Covid. But we are now cutting taxes for earners, parents and pensioners.   

 “We are the party of Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson, a party, unlike Labour, that believes in sound money. 

 “In this party, we believe that it is morally right that those who can work do work, and that hard work is rewarded with people being able to keep more of their own money. We will ensure that we have lower welfare so we can lower taxes.” 

Further Education, Skills and Employability Sector Reaction to the Conservative Party Election Manifesto

NUS UK responds to Conservative pledge to increase cost of visas by 25%

The Conservative Party has kicked off the third week of General Election campaign by pledging to fund 8000 more police officers across the UK with a 25% increase on the cost of all visas. This would have a significant impact on international students, preventing many from coming to study in the UK.

NUS UK has criticised the move as one that would negatively impact every student’s university experience by cutting off opportunities to come into contact with different cultures and make friends from all over the world.

They have also called the policy “self-destructive”,pointing out that universities rely on the fees paid by international students because the government does not fund education as is necessary.

Commenting, Ellie Gomersall, NUS Scotland President, said:

“International students are our friends. They improve everyone’s university experience by giving us opportunities to interact with different cultures and build cross-border friendships.

“Making it harder for international students to come to the UK will negatively impact every university and every student. International students contribute their passion and expertise to our education system; they are integral to maintainingthe UK’s reputation as a world-leader in higher education.

“Moreover, immigration is good for the UK. We rely on international workers, who work in all our most essential and valued sectors, including the NHS, care work, building and food production. Research by Universities UK found that international students benefitted the UK economy by £41.9billion in 2021/22.

“It’s critical that the next government properly invest in public services, but they must do so by taxing the rich and redistributing wealth, not by targeting international students and immigrants as part of their cruel and divisive culture war.”

Carl Cullinane, Director of Research and Policy at the Sutton Trust, said:

“The Conservatives’ manifesto is relatively light when it comes to education, given the scale of the challenges facing the sector. There are clear issues with some of the well-trailed headline policies it contains. The expansion of free childcare risks worsening quality of early years education and locks out the poorest young children, exacerbating existing inequalities. The ‘rip off degrees’ ban fails to acknowledge that university remains the surest route to social mobility for many. Rather than restricting young people’s choices, the next government should focus on providing high quality alternatives to higher education. Funding an extra 100,000 apprenticeships is therefore positive – we desperately need more high quality apprenticeship opportunities to meet demand and build the skills the country needs. But there is no plan to ensure these are accessible to the young people who would most benefit from them.

“There are, however, a number of new announcements in the detail of the manifesto that should be welcomed. In particular, expanding family hubs to every local authority would be a positive step towards joining up support and services for families. Just one Hub in each local authority may not be sufficient to have impact, in light of the scale of children’s centre closures over the past 15 years, and it is vital that they are adequately funded to deliver services that are required, particularly in disadvantaged areas where they are needed most.

“The announcement to give teachers in priority areas and STEM subjects a £30,000 bonus over five years and extend this to colleges is also welcome. Providing guaranteed incentives over this period of time could have a real impact in addressing shortages and retaining teachers in areas where they are most needed, but the scheme should be accompanied by a wider teacher workforce review.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

“The general election offers the country a chance to radically reform education after the damage done to colleges and universities by more than a decade of real terms cuts and free market fundamentalism.

“Post-16 education now needs proper investment so that students get the teaching and support they deserve and so that our economy gets the skilled workforce that will help it grow. The next government must show a genuine commitment to securing the future of the post-16 education sector rather than simply tinkering around the edges.

“Our manifesto is a vision of properly funded, fair and sustainable education that works for everyone. We are willing to engage with politicians from across the political spectrum to build on this vision and urge them to seriously consider our policy demands. Likewise, if the next government fails to match our vision for education, we will hold them to account.”

Responding to the education policies in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2024 General Election, Pepe Di’Iasio, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This is a collection of recycled policies with nothing new to say about how the Conservatives would deal with the shortage of funding, teachers and the crisis in special educational needs provision. The pledge to protect day-to-day school spending in real terms per pupil is the bare minimum. In reality the costs that schools actually face are often higher than inflation and they are starting from a point of seeing budget cuts over the past 14 years. This commitment does not extend to post-16 education either.

“It is also disappointing to see the Conservatives trot out a policy on banning mobile phones yet again – having already said this on countless occasions and given that most schools already prohibit their use during the school day or allow it only in very limited circumstances. Similarly, they have once again insinuated that schools are sharing inappropriate materials in sex education and over gender identity. We have not seen evidence to support this claim and it seems to us to be largely political posturing.

“We assume that the line in the manifesto about backing Ofsted to provide clear judgements to parents means the Conservatives do not intend to remove single-phrase judgements which cause so much damage to the wellbeing of education staff and stigmatise schools. This is also extremely disappointing.

“Sadly, it is a manifesto which misses the mark of the priorities which are uppermost in the minds of school and college leaders and smacks of being completely out of touch with reality.”

Paul Johnson, Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies said: 

“The Conservatives have promised some £17 billion per year of tax cuts, and a big hike in defence spending. That is supposedly funded by reducing the projected welfare bill by £12 billion; cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion; and saving billions from cutting civil service numbers, reducing spending on management consultants, and “quango efficiencies”. Those are definite giveaways paid for by uncertain, unspecific and apparently victimless savings. Forgive a degree of scepticism.

“Hands up though. I was equally sceptical about promises of delivering £12 billion of welfare savings in the 2015 manifesto. Via some serious cuts, including four years of freezes, those savings were broadly delivered, albeit two years later than that manifesto had claimed. And there is a real challenge this time. Spending on health-related benefits has ballooned – a doubling in the number of new claims for disability benefits each month compared with 2019.  

“So it is right to identify this as a challenge to address. The trouble is the policies that have been spelt out are not up to the challenge of saving £12 billion a year. Some have already been announced and included in the official fiscal forecasts; others are unlikely to deliver sizeable savings on the timescale that the Conservatives claim. The hope seems to be that, since spending on disability benefits is rising rapidly, one can simply “reform disability benefits” and hold spending down. But halving the number of people that successfully apply for disability benefits from its current level would not be easy and would need definite, clear policies that require difficult decisions. These are not stated.

“The biggest tax cut promised is another 2 percentage points off the main rate of National Insurance contributions for employees, coming at a cost of more than £10 billion a year, and worth some £450 a year to someone on average earnings of around £35,000. But note they would also lose £150 from continued freezes to income tax and NICs thresholds. The promise to abolish the main rate of self-employed NICs altogether would doubtless be welcomed by the self-employed but would further entrench the tax advantages of self-employment over employment.

“What the manifesto did not tell us was where the £10 to £20 billion of cuts to spending on unprotected public services, as implied by the March Budget, might come from. Indeed the billions of savings from cutting civil service numbers and the rest noted in the manifesto have been earmarked to fund the additional defence spending, and would come on top of those cuts. This manifesto remains silent on the wider problems facing core public services – and if you think those civil servants, management consultants and quangos were delivering anything, these plans imply an even tougher time than set out back in March.”

Imran Tahir, Research Economist, Institute for Fiscal Studies said: 

“With 15% of 18-to-24-year-olds currently not in education, employment or training, providing genuinely attractive post-school options for all young people is certainly the right aim to have. There are big and genuinely ambitious plans in the Conservative Party manifesto – more apprenticeships, fewer degree courses, a whole new post-16 qualifications framework and National Service for 18-year-olds. Each of these would be a major reform in its own right. But the delivery of each also brings big challenges. And delivering all of these plans at the same time risks adding yet more instability and churn to the already-turbulent post-16 education system.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said: 

“I’m pleased that the Conservative manifesto confirms their commitment to increase the hours of teaching that young people get in their education to ensure that they get the very best start in life. In England, 16 to 18-year-olds only benefit from around 15 hours per week of teaching time, compared with 25 to 30 hours in many other OECD countries. Stepping up that investment would make an enormous impact for young people and for their resilience, confidence, skills and potential for the future.

“The challenge to the Conservative party is how quickly they would prioritise funding for the Advanced British Standard and enrichment activity in colleges before directing new funding on a new national service scheme which has less clear potential benefits. We also would like to have seen more emphasis on targeting new apprenticeships starts at those wanting to enter the workforce, rather than those who want to complete a degree.  

“There are major changes needed to ensure the post-16 system is effective, efficient and fair, and we have made it very clear that there are five things we believe the next government must act upon in its first term. We need a national skills strategy and a comprehensive offer for everyone under the age of 21 to ensure no one is left behind. The pay gap between school and college lecturers must be closed, with a starting salary of £35,000 introduced in colleges across the country, there needs to be 250,000 apprenticeship start per year for young people and adults in priority sectors, and training to ensure that there are 100,000 more people of all ages a year with the skills needed in digital, health and net zero.”

Rain Newton-Smith, CEO, CBI, said: 

“The UK economy has spent the last five years buffeted by an unprecedented series of external headwinds that has required a focus on short-term absorption. With signs that the economy is beginning to pick up steam, now is the moment to focus on long-term, sustainable growth.   

“Achieving that ambition requires a credible plan for getting to grips with the long-term structural challenges in our economy. Measures to boost R&D investment, speed up the planning system, and support people into the workplace represent critical enablers.  

“But no government can solve the challenges facing the economy alone, so harnessing the insights and innovation of business will be key to delivering lasting change. One example is the absence of a Net Zero Investment Plan which represents a missed opportunity to secure the UK’s standing as world-leader on green growth, fostering investment opportunities so firms want to invest and grow in the UK. 

“There is real value in giving businesses greater certainty on key business taxes, like corporation tax and VAT. But other key taxes like business rates need wholesale reform – not just a shift in burdens from one sector to another.  

“Moves to reduce tax on workers and increase the number of apprenticeships are in isolation welcome – but both are areas where a more holistic approach could unlock the business investment needed to deliver the shared goal of a high productivity, high growth economy. ” 

Ben Rowland, AELP Chief Executive Officer, said:

“We welcome the Conservative Party backing up its previous policy announcement on apprenticeships with a focus on skills in its manifesto. The introduction of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement from 2025, and proposals for an expansion of bootcamps and other adult skills programmes, alongside a nuclear skills package worth £763 million by 2030 is promising. However, we are disappointed to see staff at independent training providers would miss out on the promise of a teaching bonus.

“We are concerned that the manifesto lacks the step forward we need for skills. There should have been a commitment to develop a National Skills Strategy, which would help to ensure a holistic approach is taken to skills to help deliver sustainable economic growth; and we still lack sufficient funding and ideas to improve achievement rates, support small and medium sized employers, and address the decline of young people taking on an apprenticeship.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union, the NAHT said:

“The Conservative manifesto is disappointing – filled with pledges to carry on with a status quo that is pushing schools to breaking point. It does not deal with the growing crisis in SEND, the manifesto pledges to maintain a funding system that in real terms has not grown since 2010, and omits any meaningful reform of the toxic Ofsted accountability system. Worse still, it includes a meaningless comparison of Ofsted gradings from 2010 with schools now, despite the frameworks changing substantially. All this does is underline the need for urgent Ofsted reform – including scrapping single word judgments, so that parents and teachers can carefully assess the merits of individual schools.

“We are, however, pleased to see a growing cross-party consensus on the need for a register of home schooled children. We have long raised concerns that with the growing number of families deciding to educate their children at home, the system of safeguarding needs to be improved. All children and young people, wherever they are educated, deserve to be kept safe.

“The recruitment and retention crisis is hitting all parts of teaching, including the leadership pipeline. Differential bonuses won’t solve the problem. What’s needed is pay restoration to 2010 levels, and ensuring manageable workloads, so that teaching is once again a career to aspire to.” 

NUS UK Vice President for Liberation and Equality, Nehaal Bajwa, said:

“Students right now are left with 50p per week to live on after rent and bills. The Conservative Party hasn’t offered anything in this manifesto to alleviate the very real struggles faced by students or learners. Instead of a meaningful offer for students and young people, we’re threatened with course cuts, conscription and crackdowns on our rights to protest.

If the Conservatives were serious about the future of the UK, they would have offered a convincing set of ideas for students and young people.”

Jacob Diggle, UK Youth chief impact officer, said:

“We are disappointed that the Conservative Party manifesto lacks the ambition and investment required to release the untapped potential of young people and youth work. However, there are some things to be welcomed.

“The lingering effects of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had a profound impact on young people’s mental wellbeing, so we are also pleased to see plans to support the mental health of those aged 11-25 with early support hubs in every community. Youth workers will be essential for the successful implementation of these hubs, working shoulder-to-shoulder with therapists, social workers, and teachers.”

“We have been proud to lead delivery of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport-backed Adventures Away from Home fund. We have seen first-hand the benefits of outdoor learning and how it can make a life-changing impact on young people. We welcome the Conservatives’ pledge to continue to support such programmes, which encourage disadvantaged children and young people to access green spaces.”

Regarding the Conservative proposal for national service for 18-year-olds, Ndidi Okezie OBE, UK Youth chief executive officer, said:

“We can get caught up in debating the specifics of mandatory participation or the merits of various programmes, but whether it is National Service, or NCS year of service, or gap years, or internships, or apprenticeships, the reality is different things work for different people and that is okay.

“Many countries have successful National Service programmes, but they have built infrastructure around the experience, ensuring it is an integrated stage in a young person’s life. The core issue we face is the lack of sustained investment to supporting youth development.”

Kate Shoesmith, REC Deputy Chief Executive, said:

There are commitments in this manifesto that will be encouraging for business, but it will be important to understand their deliverability in light of the spending cuts implied by current policy. The success of this manifesto will depend on convincing enough employers to loosen their wallets, while they watch public sector spending tightening.”

Kate Shoesmith said:

“Whatever employers will make of the approach today, they will agree that business-as-usual is not an option because we are on track for labour and skills shortages to cost the UK economy up to £39 billion every year.

“Many sectors are short of skilled staff which makes the extension of Lifelong Learning Entitlement and Skills Bootcamps useful. No mention of the Restart scheme is a surprise – as there are examples of it delivering.

“The commitment to creating 100,000 apprenticeships every year is another plus for employers. But Apprenticeship Levy reform is what employers need. This should include reform that allows levy funding for high-quality, modular training. By our calculations, out of the one million temporary workers on assignment in the UK every day, around 960,000 workers are ineligible for apprenticeship levy funding. More broadly, a future Conservative government must fix the ladder for young people in this country and understand the urgent demand from employers is for intermediate skills.

“Retaining key tax incentives that encourage small businesses is helpful in an environment where employers have told us for months of their intention to invest in their own businesses, even if they are not doing enough of it – they just need certainty and stability.

“Shifting through the gears on national insurance cuts is helpful for workers but may grind with employers who are still dealing with rising costs. No commitment on reform of the VAT threshold will also jar.

“Much is made of successes and changes to healthcare, but Trusts and staffing firms will get anxious that there was nothing on off-framework providers in the manifesto, just a few weeks before their use was to end in NHS. We hope this offers an opportunity for continued dialogue between government and agencies rather than complacency.

“The Low Pay Commission remit is already to maintain the NLW rate at two-thirds of median hourly pay for next year. But employers will agree it is vital that equal emphasis is put on its remit to continue to monitor developments in the labour market and advising on emerging risks.”

Image: Rishi Sunak. (2022, October 29). In Wikipedia.

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