From education to employment

The Kings Speech 2023: Sector Response

the Houses of Parliment

Today King Charles III delivered his first King’s Speech since becoming monarch. Check out the sector response from the further education sector here.

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

“Education has felt on the margins of policymaking for some time and that has not changed today. Bringing technical and academic qualifications together is worthwhile but the Advanced British Standard is not going to exist for 10 years, if at all. It is not the right priority at a time when the education profession is under so much pressure. There remains no urgency to solve teacher shortages and funding shortfalls that are already impacting schools and colleges and call into question the viability of extending teaching in the way the Advanced British Standard would require.

“It was particularly disappointing to hear no mention of efforts to reduce the scandalous levels of child poverty in this country. This has a huge impact on the educational attainment of young people and too often consigns them to an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage. Today demonstrates the chasm between the government’s rhetoric about education being a silver bullet and what they are practically prepared to do to support the profession. This is not the agenda of a government that is putting children and young people first.”

David Hughes, chief executive of Association of Colleges, said: 

“It is good to see that the Government recognises the importance of education and skills to the nation.

“The principles of the Advanced British Standard – more teaching time for 16 to 18-year-olds, a broader curriculum, and higher prestige for technical routes – are good, and are in line with what AoC has been campaigning for.  

“We will work with the Department for Education to ensure that the design and implementation recognises the immediate concerns about the reputation risk for T levels and the risks of too rapidly defunding existing Level 3 qualifications. We will be keen to explore how the ABS might work for young people who have struggled in school, for disadvantaged students and for adults.

“Colleges will be central to implementing the ABS and will need support to develop their facilities and equipment as more hours of contact time roll out for more students. That will also require support for better pay in the college sector so that the workforce can grow in line with student number.  

“Colleges are vital in increasing the number of people taking high-quality apprenticeships, but as set out in our Opportunity England report published in the summer, we believe that the system needs a fundamental rethink, including on how apprenticeships can be integrated into a wider system, simpler progression routes, a focus on young people and on new job starters and a review of the levy.”

“The DfE has shown a commitment to working with the sector on all of this. AoC is keen to embrace Government plans and ensure that they deliver for members and the students they serve, while also raising awareness of the challenges of the current reforms including GCSE resits, T levels, staffing levels, and FE pay.”  

Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, a leading think tank for improving working lives in the UK:

“The King’s Speech represented a missed opportunity for the Government to finally set out how it would deliver its promise of an Employment Bill and honour their manifesto commitment to make the UK ‘the best place to work in the world’.

“Instead, we received a vague allusion to reforming welfare and supporting more people into work – which taken together with previous statements from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, appears to signal tougher welfare sanctions are on the way.

“Pushing people into ‘any job’ will not alleviate worker shortages that some sectors are facing or help workers access better paid, more secure jobs during the ongoing cost of living crisis. Indeed, the Department for Work and Pensions’ own evidence from 2020 suggests sanctions are not effective and slow people’s progress back into work.

A better focus for the Government would be to honour its manifesto commitment to create a single enforcement body and crack down on any employer abusing employment law. The National Minimum Wage might be rising to record levels, but the latest figures suggest there are fewer enforcement officers than there were in 2019.

“This Parliament has seen bitesize pieces of progress on widening access to flexible working and extending predictable working hours to more workers. But the structural inequalities facing women, disabled people, workers from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with long-term health conditions stubbornly remain.”

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive NCUB said:

“It’s concerning that today’s King’s Speech referenced cutting down ‘poor quality university degrees’. At a time of serious and widespread economic uncertainty, we should be celebrating the fact that our nation’s universities generate the skilled and versatile workforce that businesses require, contributing to the nation’s recovery in the post-pandemic era. Having a degree is typically associated with higher wages, increasing opportunity and driving productivity.”

Marshall continued “More worrying still is that the type of course selected for a cap is more likely to be one with a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This punishes universities that push boundaries to widen social mobility.”

Marshall concluded: “We do however recognise and commend today’s focus on increasing the number of young people undertaking high quality apprenticeships. Diversifying pathways into education is vital if we are to meet future skills needs and the need for action to address our chronic skills crisis in the short and medium term remains. We are calling on the Government to create a dedicated body responsible for gathering labour market insights to inform future policymaking. This body should play a crucial role in enhancing the understanding of labour market needs for businesses, universities, and the Government alike.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“After hearing today’s speech, parents and teachers may well wonder if the Government has forgotten its responsibilities for schools and colleges. 

“Schools are underfunded, understaffed and crumbling. This is a result of persistent neglect. 

“There was no hint today of a long-term strategy that would get to grips with the challenges facing education. It can only be hoped that the Autumn Statement injects a considerable amount of new money into the sector. 

“Buildings are deteriorating and in desperate need of repair. Staff are leaving in high numbers, and the Government is consistently missing its own targets for new teachers. Real-terms pay cuts not only add to the strain of working lives, but the high workload drives teachers out of the profession and makes it harder for leaders to find replacements. Schools are forced to use teachers who are not qualified in the subject they teach. This clearly takes its toll on pupils’ education.  

“Without sufficient teachers to teach, the Prime Minister’s ambition for a new Advanced British Standard will not be met. There are simply not enough English and maths teachers to educate 11-16 year olds, let alone A-level students. 

“We need a plan for the future of education, but Rishi Sunak is simply not delivering. This is not even a government of make do and mend, but one of make do and make worse.”

Mark Bremner, Chief Executive of Ofsted ‘outstanding’ training provider, MBKB, said:

“The announcement in today’s King’s speech to clamp down on dud degrees and promote vocational routes — and particularly apprenticeships — is welcome. But it is vital that we see reform on two fronts. The apprenticeship system is not perfect. Reform to stem the high dropout rate and to introduce greater flexibility is essential if we are to see the apprenticeship revolution succeed.

“The apprenticeship system as it currently stands is afflicted by a series of challenges that the Government must address. Foremost, apprenticeships suffer from an average dropout rate of 53 per cent, compared to just six per cent for university courses.

“The government must also increase the apprenticeship minimum wage and strictly enforce compliance with minimum wage laws to dissuade apprentices from pursuing entry-level roles. Crucially, the rigid 12-month programme length needs rethinking; a flexible, level-based duration could maintain quality and attract more apprentices.

“While laudable efforts are made to tackle subpar degrees, similar vigour is needed to revamp apprenticeships. Synchronised overhauls of university and vocational routes are imperative to unlock apprenticeships’ full value and address the UK’s skills shortage.”

Darren Baxter, Principal Policy Adviser for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“3.8 million people experienced destitution in this country in 2022, around a million of them children. These figures have risen sharply since 2017. Two weeks ago we asked both political parties for their plan to address this moral mission, but today’s speech was fundamentally inadequate in meeting the scale of the challenge.

“By pressing ahead with the long-delayed Renters Reform Bill the government is finally honouring its commitment to millions of tenants living in an insecure, high cost private rented sector, who will hope that this time the bill will finally become law. But its open ended delay to ending no fault evictions means renters will continue to face unfair, unexpected evictions.

“As we approach the autumn statement and the general election, the public want to see real action, not rhetoric, to tackle rising levels of severe hardship. We now need all parties to set out their plans for a future where everyone in our country can at least afford to keep warm, dry, clean and fed.

“As an immediate measure, the government must commit to uprating benefits in line with inflation in the usual way, and end the uncertainty facing millions of families. The parties seeking to form a government should also commit to introducing an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ into Universal Credit, to ensure that everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials like food and household bills”.

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“The programme of measures set out in the King’s Speech confirms that the immediate and real issues of concern to teachers and families are not being addressed by the Government.

“It is deeply regrettable that no programme of new measures was announced to tackle widening inequality, the continuing cost of living crisis, to increase access to affordable housing or to end the blight of the deepening teacher recruitment and retention crisis in our schools and colleges.

“The Government taking aim at the rights of ordinary working people in this last King’s Speech before a General Election is both shameful and reprehensible.

“Whilst the Prime Minister has committed to long-term reform with the introduction of his much-vaunted Advanced British Standard, the urgent and pressing issues affecting young people’s access to high-quality education and training today were entirely missing from the Government’s programme.

“Whilst the aim to restrict the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children is positive, the Government’s ambition should go much further. The Government should follow the evidence and protect all children through a legislative requirement for plain packaging of e-cigarettes and an outright ban on the sale of disposable vapes.”

Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University said:

“Using apprenticeships is a great initiative that more businesses need to be utilising. The labour market is becoming more stretched – not only are we seeing businesses experiencing skills gaps, but the rapid pace at which industries are evolving is making it harder for businesses to keep up.  

“Offering workers the chance to learn while working can help to tackle this, enabling businesses to grow their team internally while retaining staff, and allowing them to stay one step ahead and remain agile given the transformations that are taking place.  

“In an ideal world, access to education would be available for everyone; this would ensure that businesses are inclusive and diverse, but also would allow for an active, buoyant employment market. So, while we thoroughly support the government wanting to better use apprenticeships as a means for people to get a degree, the restrictions applied to the current apprenticeship levy – such as the need for functional skills, which could be proved via the job or throughout the course – put many people off enrolling onto beneficial programmes.  

“The current levy is also devolved, so businesses with workers outside of England – such as in Scotland or Wales – will need to follow the relevant funding process to be able to get staff on board which can be tricky for businesses with widespread UK workforces to manage. All in all, for apprenticeships to work and boost the economy, there needs to be fewer restrictions on who can apply and join in for them to work.”


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