From education to employment

Decision time – What the General Election means for FE, employability and skills

FE News invited Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Party education representatives to tell our readers why the sector should vote for them on May 6.

As the UK slowly emerges from a recession that has left public finances in tatters, all parties accept cost-saving initiatives are needed to plug Britain’s widening deficit.

They also agree on the crucial role education and skills will play in ensuring continued economic growth against an increasingly competitive global market. However, the political parties differ on how to introduce these efficiencies while keeping standards high.

Kevin Brennan, Labour spokesman for Innovation, Universities and Skills, points to his government’s work on closing the gap between academic and vocational study with the new Diploma qualification and the arrival of a new “technician class”. Mr Brennan also highlights how more 16-17 year olds are now in education or training than at any time before 1997.

A key pledge in Labour’s manifesto guarantees every young person education or training until 18, with three-quarters entering HE – or training to at least Level 3 – by the age of 30.

Mr Brennan said the Conservatives “won’t back our funding for our guarantee of a place in training or education for young people leaving school at 16 or 17”, and criticises the last Tory government for allowing apprenticeships to “wither”.

However, his Conservative counterpart, David Evennett, accuses Labour of planning to cut funding in both FE and HE sectors.

The Conservative manifesto details policies to create 400,000 new training and work-pairing places to “help people develop their existing skills, or learn new skills”.

Mr Evennett calls for an end to “Labour’s bureaucracy, waste, incompetence and interference”, by cutting quangos in education. He underlines Labour’s newly-created skills funding agencies for the chop, which he plans to replace with a “single, streamlined Further Education Funding Council for England to administer skills funding, where money follows the choices of students, not Whitehall”.

The Conservatives would also redirect Labour’s flagship Train to Gain budget to create more apprenticeships and offer more pre-apprenticeship training places.

The Liberal Democrats’ Stephen Williams said he too would reform Train to Gain and cut red tape. The savings made here by the Lib Dems would support their plans to scrap fees for learners over the age of 25 taking their first Level 3 qualification.

“All adults should be entitled to gain basic qualifications (Levels 2 and 3) and should not be unable to do this because of the cost of fees,” said Mr Williams.

“The Liberal Democrats believe that if the UK is to remain internationally competitive and able to withstand the challenges of globalisation, the basic skill levels of the workforce need to improve.”

The Lib Dems would merge the Skills Funding Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England into a “Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education (CASHE), responsible for funding adult education colleges and universities”.

Mr Williams insists that CASHE’s budgets for adult skills and HE would be ring-fenced. The body would also allow greater cohesion for the party’s plans to fund 150,000 additional Foundation Degrees in its first year in government.

Darren Johnson, Green Party spokesman for Trade and Industry, used his round-up to detail proposals for the creation of a green workforce.

The Green Party would spend £5bn in the next year to create 350,000 training places, specifically targeted towards the young unemployed.

FE teachers were also singled out for the Green Party vote, with its pledge to increase their pay in line with colleagues in secondary schools.

“Our society will need people to be educated to the highest level of which they are capable if we are to create sustainable and fair communities – but this means not putting sole emphasis on higher education at the expense of further education,” said Mr Johnson.

“Education in all forms is important, and the Green Party are the only party who remain committed to axing fees and increasing funding – for all types of college.”?

Jason Rainbow

Read each manifesto round-up for FE News:

Labour Party manifesto round-up for FE, employability and skills

Conservative Party manifesto round-up for FE, employability and skills

Liberal Democrat Party manifesto round-up for FE, employability and skills

Green Party manifesto round-up for FE, employability and skills

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