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Gone are the days when the ‘three r’s’ of Reading ,’Riting and ‘Rithmetic got you the job you needed to buy a house, start a family, and experience lifelong job security. The world has changed, and with it the world of work. While these changes are dynamic and exciting, they necessitate new approaches that mean our contemporary education system is not best suited to give us and our children the stability we need and deserve.

Further education is absolutely vital in creating the culture of lifelong learning our economy needs. No longer can skills learned at the beginning of our careers see us through until the end. The pace of change in our economy that is fuelled by technological advances is making it essential to continually reskill and retrain to adapt to the newest ways of working, whatever the sector may be.

Crucial to this is staying at the cutting edge of the technology and skills that are in demand right now. We live on our mobile phones – you’re probably reading this on one right now – and we need to ensure that young people have the digital skills that will keep our economy strong. That is why we are committed to retaining coding on the national curriculum and will deliver a major expansion of high-quality apprenticeships, including advanced apprenticeships, backed up with new sector-led national colleges.

Snapchat, Instagram, iPhones, Spotify – these digital innovations have shaped our society. Rather than ignoring, or worse bemoaning, this innovation, we’re embracing it, making technological advances a key element of our manifesto.

On top of that we will invest in future technologies and creative industries, such as video-gaming and space innovations, supporting SMEs to get a strong foothold in the economy. While as a parent I argue that the last thing we need is a wider range of video games to distract from homework, the reality is this industry is growing. We can’t, and won’t, be left behind.

These young techies, driving change and leading the way to new horizons, must be at the heart of industry, facilitated through apprenticeships. Since delivering two million apprenticeships in Coalition, we’ve watched the Conservatives highlight the importance of apprenticeships, but operate on a basis of assuming success rather than ensuring it. We would develop a new, better, more inclusive programme, aiming to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices and extending apprenticeships to new sectors of our economy such as creative and digital industries.

Supporting young people from BAME backgrounds to get into apprenticeships is a key priority of ours, so we’ll work with the Apprenticeship Advisory Group to identify obstacles to inclusivity and tackle these head on. We’re not afraid to ask the tough questions and challenge our assumptions of what should work. Students are always asked to self-assess, so why aren’t politicians? We’ll change that.

Ultimately we want to create a further education system that puts learners and business at the heart of the system, connecting the two to develop an education sector that equips students and Britain for the future. That means supporting all learners, connecting across different learning styles and systems to coordinate curriculum and credits.

No two students, and therefore no two paths, are the same. I can vouch for that based on my own experience with two, wildly different, children. This should be an asset to our system, not a hindrance. Our flexible, innovative and inclusive advances in technology and lifelong learning will make this a reality. Instead of three r’s, let’s try three d’s: Digital, Dynamic and Diversified, and let’s make sure we’re teaching for 2017.

Underlying the best laid plans for further education is, of course, the impact of Theresa May’s extreme Brexit, which would stretch our workforce and the public purse-strings to the limit. Brexit will be costly, both withdrawing from the single market that will hit our economy, and the Brexit “divorce” bill that is certain to come.

If her plans go ahead there will inevitably be less money for our public services. Further education will not be exempt. Our ability to recruit skilled workers from Europe could be drastically reduced, along with it a loss of expertise. Our skills gap will be stretched even further.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats will give the British people, not politicians, the final say on the Brexit deal. So if it’s not good enough, or not what people thought they were voting for last year, they have an opportunity to say so. The chance to reject the deal and stay in the EU will be on the ballot paper.

I shudder at the thought of what endless years of Conservative Government will do to our public services and our further education system. I shudder at the thought of the impact of Theresa May and Nigel Farage’s hard and divisive Brexit. That’s not my vision for Britain. I want a brighter future that puts our children’s futures first. If you agree with me then please support the Liberal Democrats on 8th June and change Britain’s future.

Sarah Olney MP

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