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Manifesto Week: What’s Been Promised for FE & Skills? FE Soundbite Edition 750

Manifesto Week: What’s Been Promised for FE & Skills? FE Soundbite Edition 750

Welcome to FE Soundbite Edition 750, June 15th, 2024: Manifesto Week: What’s Been Promised for FE & Skills?

This is the weekly e-newsletter and e-journal by FE News: ISSN 2732-4095. We know life is busy, so here is a snapshot of the latest announcements and epic thought leadership articles, from sector influencers and cool thinkers across FE and Skills this week on FE News

Gavin’s Reflective Perspective

Manifesto Week: Pledges and Promises!

Welcome to FE Soundbite edition 750! Wow, 750 editions is nearly 14.5 years of FE Soundbite! Thank you for subscribing and reading!

Wow, what a week it’s been in the world of further education and skills! With the general election just around the corner, the major political parties have unveiled their manifestos, and it’s been fascinating to see what they’ve promised for the FE and skills sector. But as I reflect on the pledges and proposals, I can’t help but wonder: is it all just pledges and promises… what will really happen? Will there be a little note left on the table saying there is no money left? Or how quickly will these pledges be made? With a pledge there will be massive change, what will that be like for the learner, the employer and anyone who has to deliver this? What will it be like being an ‘inbetweener’ – in between two policies being rolled out, will learners starts drop? So many questions and implications for the sector after the 5th July 2024!

Let’s start with the Conservatives. They’ve promised 100,000 more apprenticeships per year by closing underperforming university courses. While I’m all for expanding apprenticeships, I’m sceptical about the feasibility of this target, especially given the challenges the apprenticeship system has faced in recent years. And what exactly constitutes an “underperforming” university course? National Service… really?

Labour, on the other hand, has pledged to bring forward a comprehensive post-16 education strategy and guarantee training, apprenticeship or employment support for all 18-21-year-olds. This sounds great on paper, but I’m curious to see how they plan to fund and implement such an ambitious program. Skills England seems to tick the boxes of a single body thinking of skills strategy. Youth Guarantee sounds cool.. but what about Lifelong learning and upskilling and reskilling all of someone’s career? A more flexible Levy has been mentioned since 2022, but what does this mean in reality? Will this mean more or less Apprenticeship starts… probably less? What will the flexibility fill?… but big ole chunks of the Apprenticeship Levy have been paid back to treasury, so is the flexibility to upskill and reskill a good thing in reality? .. and a blast from the past Traineeships would be back!

The Liberal Democrats have caught my eye with their exclusive article by Munira Wilson MP, who emphasises the importance of investing in further education colleges and extending the pupil premium to age 18. It’s a solid proposal, but I’m not sure it goes far enough in addressing the systemic underfunding of the FE sector. The proposals on VAT will be welcome, as well as entrepreneurship and self-employment skills.

As for the Green Party, their call for a £3bn increase in sixth-form funding and £12bn investment in further education skills is certainly attention-grabbing. A blast from the past with Education Maintenance Allowances… But again, I’m left wondering how they plan to pay for it and whether it’s realistic given the current economic climate.

It’s election time, so not just the political parties are making Manifestos. The AELP’s manifesto calls for a national skills strategy and an apprenticeship system that delivers for businesses and learners of all ages and levels. I’ve never understood why organisations have a manifesto, it’s not like we can vote for them? … but I get the idea to state, ‘These are our wants’. AoC launched a report on Friday asking for a joined-up new national skills body to oversee post-16 education strategy. So a common theme across the sector looking to simplify and have a joined-up approach. I would also say Careers advice should be the glue in all of this.

For me, a very sobering reminder of the challenges we face comes from the latest ONS labour market data, which shows unemployment at its highest level in two years and a record number of people economically inactive due to long-term sickness. It’s a stark reminder that whoever wins the election, there’s a long road ahead in terms of rebuilding our economy and skills system.. and the need for a joined up Skills AND Employability system, with the ‘glue’ of Careers advice to point people in the right direction.

So, is it all just pledges and promises? It’s hard to say for sure (we only really know after 5th July)… but one thing is clear: the FE and skills sector needs more than just empty promises and political platitudes. It needs real investment, real reform and a real commitment to lifelong learning and social mobility. Let’s hope that whoever emerges victorious on July 4th is up to the challenge… and has enough money left over to support this!

Exclusive Thought Leadership

Our Top 3 Thought Leadership Articles This Week

Firstly The Liberal Democrats Will Invest in OUR Future Generation By Munira Wilson MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education emphasises the importance of further education (FE) colleges in providing skills and opportunities, criticises the Conservatives for underfunding education, and proposes extending the pupil premium to age 18, increasing FE funding, and improving careers guidance.

Secondly Addressing the Challenges and Solutions for Social Mobility Learners in UK Higher Education By Helen Maxwell, UK Business Development Manager, NCC Education identifies key barriers for disadvantaged students, such as disparities in access to quality schools and financial constraints, and proposes strategies to support these learners through targeted investments, employer engagement, and government funding.

Finally The future skills system: an action plan for change By Dame Julie Mellor, Chair of The Skills Federation (also known as the Federation for Industry Skills and Standards (FISSS)) outlines a four-point plan to reform the skills system, including a national industrial strategy prioritising critical skills, transforming workforce development through apprenticeship reform and modular training, adopting sector-specific flexible approaches, and improving the all-age careers strategy while stressing the importance of social inclusion and equity.

This Week, We Have Also Had Some Other Epic Exclusives!

Green Skills Needed by Plumbing, Heating, and Electrical Employers in 2024 By Maria Gonella, Managing Partner, Quantum Group

Promises, Possibilities & Political Futures… By Tristan Arnison, Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Student Experience at The Henley College

What’s New in the World of FE?


The Conservative Party General Election manifesto is launched – Sector Reaction By The Conservative Party

  • Promises 100,000 more apprenticeships per year in England by closing underperforming university courses
  • Plans a new model of National Service for young people to gain skills and opportunities
  • Focuses on expanding adult skills programs like Skills Bootcamps to meet skill shortages

Labour’s 2024 General Election Manifesto | What Does it Mean for FE & Skills? | Sector Reaction By Labour

  • Pledges to bring forward a comprehensive post-16 education strategy
  • Youth Guarantee – Guarantees training, apprenticeship or employment support for all 18-21 year olds
  • Will establish Skills England to coordinate skills development aligned with economic needs
  • Transform Further Education colleges into specialist Technical Excellence Colleges
  • Transform the Apprenticeship Levy into a flexible Growth and Skills Levy

Liberal Democrat Manifesto – A Plan to Save the NHS and Reform Education | Sector Reaction By Liberal Democrats

  • Aims to improve vocational education quality, including entrepreneurship and self-employment skills
  • Plans to review further education funding, including potentially exempting colleges from VAT
  • Proposes introducing a Young People’s Premium extending Pupil Premium to disadvantaged 16-18-year-olds

Green Party’s 2024 General Election Manifesto By The Green Party

  • Calls for a £3bn increase in sixth-form funding and £12bn investment in further education skills
  • Advocates restoring Education Maintenance Allowance to financially support post-16 education
  • Proposes free transport for 16-18-year-old pupils with special educational needs and disabilities

AELP’s 2024 General Election Manifesto By AELP

  • Asks for a national skills strategy supporting economic growth in every region
  • Wants an apprenticeship system delivering for businesses and learners of all ages/levels
  • Calls for more vocational learning for young people to fill key sector job vacancies


Robert Nitsch Appointed as new FAB CEO By Federation of Awarding Bodies(FAB)

  • Rob is currently the Director of Skills Delivery at IfATE, Rob will officially join FAB on 26 August 2024.

Who was awarded an MBE or is a new Dame in the King’s 2024 Honours List?


Prisoners embrace higher education: “I’m hoping it opens the door to a chance” By Coracle, Prison Reform Trust and Nottingham Trent University

  • A study by Nottingham Trent University finds high demand for education among prisoners
  • The report shows digital learning tools can foster a positive learning culture in prisons
  • Prisoners interviewed expressed hope that education would provide opportunities for a better life

AoC launch their latest report Strengthening governance arrangements in the English post-16 skills system By Association of Colleges (AoC)

  • AoC report calls for a new national skills body to oversee post-16 education strategy
  • The proposed social partnership body would provide strategic oversight and evidence-based advice
  • Goals include promoting coordination across government levels, leading skills research, and establishing long-term priorities

ONS Labour Market data June 24: Unemployment highest for 2 years and Economic inactive rate is at 22.3%. Sector Reaction By ONS

  • UK employment rate at 74.3%, close to pandemic low; over 1 million fewer workers than pre-pandemic
  • Unemployment rises to 4.4%, highest in 3 years; economic inactivity at 22.3% for ages 16-64
  • Record 2.83 million economically inactive due to long-term sickness, up 702,000 since early 2020

Fall in permanent hiring the softest in over a year KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs By Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC)

  • Permanent placements continue to fall in May but at the slowest pace since March 2023
  • Temp billings also decline at the weakest rate in four months
  • Demand for staff falls only marginally; permanent salaries and temp pay continue to rise markedly


Empowering Young Tech Talent: Unlocking Potential for Business Innovation By Ash Gawthorp, Chief Academy Officer at Ten10

  • Gen Z faces challenges in the tech industry due to lack of sufficient digital skills training in education
  • Businesses need to improve recruitment strategies and provide mentorship from experienced employees to cultivate young talent
  • Collaboration between government, industry experts, and educational institutions is essential to bridge the digital skills gap

Empowering Every Learner with EdTech By Dr. Amy Lomellini is the Product Accessibility Lead at Anthology.

  • The number of UK students with disabilities has increased significantly, but many feel universities are not adequately accommodating their needs
  • Educational institutions must prioritise accessible learning by designing content with WCAG 2.2 AA guidelines in mind
  • Accessible educational technology empowers students by providing tools to take control of their learning experiences and reduces the need for accommodations

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