The Conservative Party manifesto has been launched today. We thought it would be helpful to highlight the section that cover Further Education, Work Based Learning and Employability. At the end of the Conservative manifesto we also have the reactions from the sector.

Here is the relevant sections of the Conservative Manifesto for the FE sector:

World-class technical education

For too long in this country, technical excellence has not been valued as highly as academic success. We want British technical education to be as prestigious as our worldleading higher education system, and for technical education in this country to rival the best technical systems in the world.

This will require bold reform of the funding, institutional and qualifications frameworks for technical education, in partnership with British industry. We have already introduced high quality apprenticeships that can reach to degree level and beyond for the 200,000 young people who choose to enter full-time vocational study after their GCSEs each year. We now need to go further to improve technical education and offer young people a real choice between technical and academic routes at sixteen.

We will start by replacing 13,000 existing technical qualifications with new qualifications, known as T-levels, across fifteen routes in subjects including construction, creative and design, digital, engineering and manufacturing, and health and science. We will increase the number of teaching hours by fifty per cent to an average of 900 hours per year and make sure that each student does a three-month work placement as part of their course. And we will extend our reforms to the highest levels of technical qualification.

We will invest in further education colleges to make sure they have world-class equipment and facilities and will create a new national programme to attract experienced industry professionals to work in FE colleges.

We will establish new institutes of technology, backed by leading employers and linked to leading universities, in every major city in England. They will provide courses at degree level and above, specialising in technical disciplines, such as STEM, whilst also providing higher-level apprenticeships and bespoke courses for employers. They will enjoy the freedoms that make our universities great, including eligibility for public funding for productivity and skills research, and access to loans and grants for their students. They will be able to gain royal charter status and regius professorships in technical education. Above all, they will become anchor institutions for local, regional and national industry, providing sought-after skills to support the economy, and developing their own local identity to make sure they can meet the skills needs of local employers. To ensure that further, technical and higher education institutions are treated fairly, we will also launch a major review of funding across tertiary education as a whole, looking at how we can ensure that students get access to financial support that offers value for money, is available across different routes and encourages the development of the skills we need as a country.

We will put employers at the centre of these reforms. We will deal with local skills shortages and ensure that colleges deliver the skills required by local businesses through Skills Advisory Panels and Local Enterprise Partnerships working at a regional and local level. We will deliver our commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships for young people by 2020 and in doing so we will drive up the quality of apprenticeships to ensure they deliver the skills employers need. We will allow large firms to pass levy funds to small firms in their supply chain, and work with the business community to develop a new programme to allow larger firms to place apprentices in their supply chains. We will explore teaching apprenticeships sponsored by major companies, especially in STEM subjects.

Lastly, we will make the system easier for young people taking technical and vocational routes. We will introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education. We will introduce significantly discounted bus and train travel for apprentices to ensure that no young person is deterred from an apprenticeship due to travel costs.

Career learning

We will in the next parliament produce the best programme of learning and training for people in work and returning to work in the developed world.

We will help all workers seeking to develop their skills in their existing jobs by introducing a new right to request leave for training for all employees. Alongside this, we will help workers to stay in secure jobs as the economy changes by introducing a national retraining scheme. Under the scheme, the costs of training will be met by the government, with companies able to gain access to the Apprenticeship Levy to support wage costs during the training period.

We will break down the barriers to public sector workers taking on more qualified roles because of their prior educational attainment. For instance, we will ensure that teaching assistants can become qualified teachers and healthcare assistants can become nurses via a degree apprenticeship route, in addition to other routes.

We will equip people with the digital skills they need now, and in the future, by introducing a right to lifelong learning in digital skills, just as we have done for literacy and numeracy.

More people in work

Employment is at a record high and we will continue to strive for full employment. We will continue to run the welfare system in accordance with our belief that work is the best route out of poverty, that work should always pay, and that the system should be fair both to the people in need of support and those who pay for it. We have no plans for further radical welfare reform in this parliament and will continue the roll-out of Universal Credit, to ensure that it always pays to be in work.

We will also work to help those groups who have in the past found it difficult to get employment, by incentivising employers to take them on. So for businesses employing former wards of the care system, someone with a disability, those with chronic mental health problems, those who have committed a crime but who have repaid their debt to society, and those who have been unemployed for over a year, we will offer a holiday on their employers’ National Insurance Contributions for a full year. We will also provide targeted support for young people between the ages of 18 and 24 so that everyone, no matter what their start in life, is given the very best chance of getting into work.

Sector Response:

So what does the Further Education, Work Based Learning and Employability sector think about the Conservative Parties plans?

Association of Employment and Learning Providers CEO Mark Dawe said:

“It’s very encouraging to see 32 mentions of skills in the manifesto and we welcome the new proposals, but this is the new reality for a post-Brexit Britain with migratory controls – we have to train our own.  AELP is also pleased that the Conservatives have retained the 3 million apprenticeships target which can be achieved with the retention of good quality provision within the programme.  The commitments to post-16 technical education and improving English, maths and digital skills are welcome too.

“The apprenticeship levy is going to transform skills and productivity among large employers but growth in the economy is heavily dependent on SMEs and we must ensure that enough funding from whichever source is being directed towards supporting the apprenticeships of these businesses.  Therefore we are a little concerned about the proposal that proceeds of the apprenticeship levy should also contribute towards the wage costs of the proposed National Retraining Scheme although the scheme itself could be a valuable addition to tackling the post-Brexit skills challenges.  The proposed wage subsidy will place further strain on the levy unless a new government guarantees a £1bn annual budget to train the apprentices of non-levy paying employers – a call that formed a major component of AELP’s own manifesto.

“The manifesto says that money from the doubling of the annual charge levied on companies for each skilled worker they bring to the UK from the rest of the EU will be used to train British workers.  It would be good if this was allocated to SMEs’ apprenticeships.

“The offer to subsidise the travel costs of apprentices is good news because it underpins the social mobility agenda.  More support for the Traineeships programme would also make a big difference in this regard.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The Conservative Party has pledged to increase funding for technical education so that teaching hours will rise by 50% to an average of 900 hours per year. This is a great first step but will only support around 25% of 16 to 19-year-olds and leaves education for the rest of the age group severely underfunded. The plan for a major review of tertiary education funding is the right one. The proposal that Institutes of Technology teach at degree level and employ professors is a change of tack and leaves a risk that education provision at Level 4 and 5 will not get the attention it needs. The renewed commitments towards the apprenticeship levy and an expansion target are good and the plan for a national retraining scheme supported by the levy has merit but must not result in employers reducing their own training spending.

"The target to cut net migration means that a post-Brexit UK will need to be more self-sufficient in skills. This requires investment to engage more adults and help young people go further in developing the skills needed in the labour market. We need a new culture of lifelong learning in the UK in which every young person and adult has opportunities to learn throughout their lives. Colleges are vital in helping to deliver that new culture."

 

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work comments:

"We're delighted to see the Conservatives, following on from a similar commitment by Labour, backing the aims of our cross-sector #FutureESF campaign for a successor of at least equal value for European Social Fund when we leave the EU. This is a win, but there's more to do to see through this commitment and make sure the new programme makes a real difference to people's lives.

"Overall, we welcome the focus on learning, skills and education for our future prosperity and fairness. It's good that the Conservatives are committed to continuing the expansion of Apprenticeships and then, beyond the 3m by 2020 target, focusing on increasing quality and access rather than further expansion in starts. Similarly, we're pleased that it's 'steady as we go' on reforms of technical education - the building blocks are in place, we need to make them work. These are both things we called for in our manifesto.

"The proposal for a national retraining programme, with the government paying for training and employers recouping wage costs from the Levy is new. We'll await details, but this looks worryingly like Train to Gain. We'll be keen to shape it so it adds value should the Conservatives win.

"Improvements in learning and skills are central to our future prosperity. They are key to making a success of Brexit Britain. Many of the Conservatives pledges are welcome, but they'll need resourcing and a plan for making them work."

Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy for the Chartered Management Institute, comments: “The evidence is increasingly clear: diversity in the workplace delivers results. After the progress we’ve seen this year in eliminating the gender pay gap, it’s encouraging to see the Conservative manifesto extend the focus to addressing racial inequality in the workplace. Research that CMI is undertaking, is already showing how the vast majority of businesses lack data about their employees’ ethnicity, and for many it’s a more complex area to navigate than gender equality. The new government will need to support employers in accelerating efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity within their organisations, which will be crucial if we are to close the ethnicity pay gap.”  

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “The Conservative Manifesto recognises the multiple crises education faces but clearly doesn’t understand the scale of action needed... The Conservatives’ proposals for the EBacc measure is part of the skills problem. It greatly limits learners’ chances in the fast-changing world of emerging technologies they will enter as adults. It gives little consideration to children with special educational needs and abilities, many of whom will struggle with this narrow range of subjects. Plans for post-16 education are not based on evidence, fail to address structural issues in our labour market, and neither account properly for learner needs nor seek to take advantage of the further education workforce’s expertise. The Manifesto makes a nod to the important issue of quality apprenticeships but doesn’t provide confidence this will be a priority in the race for more and more."

Lindsay McCurdy, Chief Executive of Apprenticeship 4 England comments:

“What I think is worrying is that large firms could potentially use apprentice levy funds to pay wages for existing staff. If this is the case, will this mean no more new apprentices, just more recycling of existing staff onto apprenticeships? Apprenticeship starts for people under 24 has remained stagnant for the past decade

“An issue for many years has been travel costs for apprentices so this is good news because it underpins the social mobility agenda.  More support for the Traineeships programme will also need to be looked at.

“One area that has to be addressed is how the ESFA agency is working with training organisations with delays and reduction in funding allocations, which has left the sector not being able to forward plan for the future which will result in Training Organisations shutting down, which will not help the government to reach it 3m apprenticeship target by 2020

“It would have been good to see more in the manifesto on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion as Business leaders & Training Providers  tend to express an understanding of the rationale for diversity, inclusion & Equality, but how do we really make it happen for learners entering to an apprenticeship.” 

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