The next Labour leadership team should make clear commitments to lifelong learning in order to provide voters with a message of hope, members of the Lifelong Learning Commission urged candidates today (Friday). 

In a letter* to all Labour leadership and deputy leadership contenders, Commissioners called for each of the candidates to support the recommendations outlined in the Commission’s report, which were launched in Blackpool as part of the party’s 2019 General Election campaign. 

The Commission’s recommendations set out a radical vision for lifelong learning and called for a range of measures to support widening access to education, including a universal funded learning entitlement, improved information, advice and guidance, and a new right to paid time off for training. 

The report also called for greater collaboration between providers and a new duty on policymakers to consider the impact of government policy on lifelong learning.

The letter’s signatories call on the new Labour leadership team to encourage the trialling of some of the recommendations in Labour-controlled local authorities and mayoralties, in order to empower local communities and strengthen the case for national implementation under a future Labour government.

Gordon Marsden, the former Shadow Minister for Further and Higher Education who proposed the Commission, said: “The Conservatives have overseen a decade of cuts to lifelong learning leading to a catastrophic fall in numbers of adult learners. Labour’s response needs to be bold, and I believe that the Commission’s recommendations - which form an integral part of the party’s national education service charter - offer the radical, inclusive vision that the party needs to bring hope to individuals and communities across the country.”

Commissioner and University and College Union (UCU) Head of Policy and Campaigns, said: “The central question for any political party is how it can demonstrate that its policies will make peoples’ lives materially better. Labour’s policy should be to put education and skills within everyone’s reach; these recommendations provide a strong foundation for making that a reality so we hope the next Labour leader will adopt them.”

Commissioner and Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), Graeme Atherton added: “The Commission’s report recognised that lifelong learning sits at the heart of social justice. By adopting these recommendations the next Labour leader has a real opportunity to show how a radical vision for lifelong learning can empower communities, widen access to learning and enrich our society.”

Kirstie Donnelly, Commissioner and Interim CEO of City & Guilds Group, commented: “The Government talks about ‘levelling up’ the country but we recently published our Missing Millions research which looked at the skills and employment opportunities of different groups across the country. Shockingly, just one third of respondents told us that they felt positive about their future career prospects, while we saw big disparities between regions, gender and class when it came to career progression, underemployment and access to training. The work of the Lifelong Learning Commission is so important to address these imbalances and chimes with our own recommendations to create lifelong learning hubs that bring together employers, government and educators to support reskilling and upskilling for all. I would urge any leader of any party to address this vital issue as a priority.”

The Lifelong Learning Commission was an independent panel of experts drawn from across the lifelong learning sector and beyond, established by Labour to examine the barriers to lifelong learning and consider how to build a fairer, more accessible and more coherent system. It was chaired by Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) General Secretary Dave Ward, and former Labour Education Secretary Baroness Morris of Yardley, both of whom support the letter to candidates. The Commission’s final report can be found here: 

Full letter text

Dear candidate, 

We write as members of the Lifelong Learning Commission (LLC) to all candidates for Leader and Deputy Leader, to seek your support for the proposals outlined in our final report which was published before the 2019 General Election.  

The report’s findings were drawn from a diverse cross section of individuals across education and skills and build on a long tradition within Labour which recognises that a commitment to lifelong education and training is central to any political vision for equality and social justice. We have taken our inspiration from the 1945 Manifesto which asserts that the purpose of education is to create “individual citizens capable of thinking for themselves”; the creation of the Open University and expansion of higher and technical education by the Wilson government in the sixties; the aspiration of a “well educated and well equipped” labour population boldly set out in ‘The Learning Age’ by the 1997 Labour government and; of course, the commitment of Labour in recent years to a national education service from cradle to grave.  

The challenges facing our country in a post-Brexit world are substantial. We believe that Labour’s key mission must be to equip our people to thrive in a world where technology moves at a rapid pace; where economic change is often felt negatively by those who have the least power; and where many feel left behind and without the tools or social capital to catch up.  

The Commission's report set out a radical vision of a collaborative approach to lifelong learning, underpinned by a strong package of support for learners and an empowering culture focused on learning and personal development embedded across our public services. Key proposals included: 

  • a public duty for all policymakers to consider the impact of their policies on lifelong learning and social justice
  • a universal, publicly funded right to learn through life, underpinned by a minimum entitlement to fully funded provision up to level 3 and the equivalent of 6 years’ publicly funded credits at level 4 and above
  • a right to paid time off for training 
  • a national Information, Advice and Guidance service available both face-to-face and online and linked to a personalised digital platform which allows learners to track the use of their learning entitlements and engage with providers 
  • means-tested maintenance support for adults to facilitate access to learning
  • a package of support for building education and training capacity within employers, including a ‘train the trainers’ programme
  • a review of corporation tax relief and further consideration of support for smaller employers to deliver training (e.g. tax credits)
  • a renewed focus on improving the conditions of staff in the lifelong learning sector, linking providers’ labour standards to their eligibility for funding

Taken together, the Commission’s proposals represent a complete departure from the last decade during which access to educational opportunities has become increasingly rationed, public funding has been replaced by fees and loans, and vital community assets including colleges, libraries and Sure Start centres have been lost. 

The Commission is a diverse body with representatives drawn from across the sector and includes those with a range of views on education policy. We were proud to be chaired by Baroness Estelle Morris, the former Labour Education minister and Dave Ward, the Communications Workers’ Union general secretary. Both are known for their commitment to the betterment of the lives of working people through education and training and both worked hard to create a united report which would have support across the Labour Party. 

Whatever our individual views as Commissioners on the future of Labour, we all share a belief that in order for Labour to win again, the party must present a compelling explanation to people of how it will make their lives materially better. Fair access to education and training is critical to so many of the party's broader aims like increased citizenship, greater productivity, dignity in old age, fairer work and higher skills – without it our commitments in these areas lack teeth and will struggle to enthuse voters. 

This clear message of hope, which links the widening of opportunity for all to social justice and equality across our public services is one that Labour could usefully take up immediately in the forthcoming raft of local, mayoral and PCC elections. At a time when the party is thinking deeply about how to communicate its values, the ideas of the commission provide a way to reach out on the doorstep and talk to people about what they need from us in order to improve their lives.  

In the longer term, we hope that the Commission’s ideas might feed into the major discussions yet to be had about Labour’s post 2019 strategy. Practical action to support those who are ‘left behind’ whether due to location, economic position or other inequality is a bread and butter, practical campaigning issue for Labour. Our contention is that access to education and training throughout life is central to any approach to this. We believe the Report’s recommendations provide a powerful context for a fraternal discussion at grass roots levels, not just with Labour and trade union members, but also with third sector organisations and local communities themselves.  

We hope that you will encourage the party in local government – whether at authority, Mayoral or second tier level - to pilot some of our proposals and prioritise the joined up links between different policy areas and providers that the Commission has called for. There are profound benefits for Labour in being able to approach the next general election having shown that these policies work at a local level to empower our communities and release the aspirations of those who are so often held back. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, 

Estelle Morris

Dave Ward

Graeme Atherton

Amatey Doku

Kirstie Donnelly

Alison Fuller

Ewart Keep

Mary Kellett

David Latchman

Seamus Nevin

Carole Stott

Matt Waddup

Tom Wilson

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