From education to employment

FE responds to election results

The Conservatives have been voted into power in an election result that saw the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP stand down from their positions.

Below is a selection of thoughts on the election results from leaders in the Further Education sector:

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said:

“After offering our congratulations to the new Government, our message is simple – if you want to boost this country’s economy, then the education and training provided by colleges, whether technical and professional or academic, is essential.

“We are deeply concerned that the Conservatives were the only main party not to pledge to ring-fence funding for 16 to 18-year-olds. This leaves college students extremely vulnerable to further cuts and we appeal to the Prime Minister to think again before risking the education and training opportunities of thousands of young people.

“The Conservative Party manifesto promises to increase the number of apprenticeships but we must recognise that quality is as important as quantity. Apprenticeships are also not the only way to give people the skills they need to get a job. For the country to stay competitive and cohesive, we need a wider offer to people to develop themselves and to keep learning. We simply can’t afford to put all of education and training eggs in the apprenticeship basket.

“The adult skills budget has experienced a swathe of cuts in the last few years and we’ve already warned that adult education and training in England will not exist by 2020 if the Government continues with cuts at the same rate.

“We will press the new Government to carry out a once in a generation review of education funding to make sure the budget is being fairly divided across the age ranges. Skills gaps are beginning to appear in our economy, particularly at technician level, which is where colleges must have a leading role. Colleges are vital to the country in developing a highly skilled and productive workforce but in order to fulfil this role they need the resources to do the job.”

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:

“AELP recognises the significance of the Conservatives’ election victory and we will work with the new government as it implements its manifesto. We welcome that employment and skills were at the centre of the government’s manifesto because there is a proven return on investment in these programmes in terms of the economy, business competitiveness and wage growth for people in sustainable employment. We also welcome the fact that government wishes to grow high quality apprenticeships and that these should be available across all levels and all ages.

“Reducing youth unemployment must remain a major priority and we look forward to discussing with the government how for example the proposals for a new Youth Allowance for unemployed 18 to 21 year olds will be linked to apprenticeships and traineeships. AELP’s own manifesto called for greater integration of employment and skills programmes and we believe that it will be a wasted opportunity if we don’t see more progress on this during the next five years.

“We will work with the government on developing major programmes for the long-term unemployed, including the Work Programme and Work Choice. We will urge ministers to drive more coherence between programmes for the unemployed, including more integrated contracting processes, success measures and provider payment methodologies.

“The inclusion of LEPs in the Conservative manifesto is an important aspect of the English devolution agenda. This needs to be integrated with national programmes such as apprenticeships, traineeships and the main welfare-to-work programme.

“Skills and employment will continue to be a driver behind a sustained economic recovery and training providers will continue to be at the forefront of that delivery.”

National qualification provider NCFE called on the new Conservative government to deliver on its FE promises and to safeguard vital adult skills funding from further cuts.

Andrew Gladstone-Heighton, policy leader at NCFE, said: “As a result of the surprising results of the General Election – with the Conservative Party claiming a majority despite all the polls and predictions to the contrary – we will now have an entirely Conservative Department for Education. While Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has held onto her seat and therefore may well continue with her role, we have to bear in mind that we could see the return of Michael Gove.

“We therefore remain concerned about the future of adult vocational education – the coalition government already enforced a 24% cut in funding and any further cuts could spell disaster for our sector. The loss of Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, who lost his Twickenham seat last night, is a particularly significant blow. He was a key ally for the sector as a champion of further education and one of the main defenders of the adult skills budget.

“The Conservatives stated prior to the election that they would be prioritising apprenticeships, traineeships and English and maths despite further overall funding cuts. We fully support their stance on apprenticeships and it’s great to see them so high on the agenda, as not everyone is suited to the traditional academic route of higher education.

“However, just supporting more apprenticeships is not enough. They might be protected within the shrinking budget pool for 19+ further education and skills, but as this is an ‘unprotected’ government department, it will be in line for greater cuts. Adult education is integral in an aging population where people are retiring later and having multiple careers within their working life, and the potential loss of courses that upskill and keep the UK’s workforce competitive is a major cause for concern. We would like to see its importance acknowledged with commitment from the new Conservative government to safeguarding funding for vocational qualifications, as opposed to focusing solely on apprenticeships.”

He added: “In addition to protecting adult skills funding, what’s important now is that some stability is established in the further education sector. We’ve seen a huge amount of change over the last five years, including the ongoing funding cuts, so it’s time now for the government to let the sector get on and do the right thing. Stability is crucial and will put us, and similar organisations, in a stronger position moving forward.”

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