The Election looms and the parties have been out on the campaign trail, declaring their hopes, dreams and ambitions for the country and trying to convince us that their party is the answer to all our problems.
Quite excitingly, since the parties have all declared their love for apprenticeshipsand recognised the country’s need to get more students in vocational and technical courses, Further Education has popped up a fair few times.
The various ideals for FE being promoted by each party are interesting, so let’s start things off by taking a look at the promises and pledges that have come out so far…
THE FE RELEVANT PLEDGES
3 million apprenticeship starts by the end of the next Parliament
No protection for the adult skills budget
University Technical Colleges within reach of every city in England
Continued replacement of low-level FE courses with apprenticeships
Continued improvement of FE through new National Colleges
Publication of more earnings and destination data for FE Colleges
Abolition of employers’ national insurance contributions for apprentices under 25
A freeze on spending for five to 16-year-olds at its current level
Same number of young people leaving School or College starting apprenticeships as going to University
Protection of education budget, ringfencing education spending up to the age of 19
No protection for the adult skills budget.
FE Colleges would focus on training for local jobs, guided by local business needs
Support proper apprenticeships lasting two years and launch a Technical Baccalaureate, a vocational award for 16 to 18-year-olds, that will combine a gold-standard qualification accredited by employers, with a quality work placement
Introduce a new, independent system of careers advice, offering personalised face-to-face guidance on routes into University and apprenticeships.
Students will continue to study English and Maths to age 18 and undertake work experience between the ages of 14 and 16.
Committed to increasing investment in Further Education to ensure that everyone gets a fair start in life.
Opposed to privatisation and commercialisation of Schools, Colleges, and Universities
Restore funding to the levels it needs to be, to, at least, matching the amount per pupil in secondary Schools.
Abolish fees in FE and write off all outstanding debt and resulting interest relating to 24+ student loans
Reintroduce EMA at a level which would be effective in supporting disadvantaged students
Protect and improve the current support provision for disabled students and bring FE provision into the control of local authorities
Call for an immediate increase in pay to bring FE lecturers onto the same levels of pay as School teachers, and for non-teaching staff to be brought on to local government pay scales.
3 million apprenticeship starts in the next Parliament through the extension of the apprenticeship grant for employers (AGE).
Increase in number of apprentices from minority backgrounds and a focus on apprenticeships at level four and above in areas where there are skills shortages.
Continuing with government plans to scrap employer national insurance contributions for apprentices under 25
Ringfence spending on two to 19-year-olds based on rising learner numbers, allowing for a forecast increase in pupils of around 460,000 by 2020, so an increase in real terms. Once the deficit is dealt with in 2017/18, education spending would be increased in line with economic growth.
Significant investment in skills by both government and the private sector, enhancing adult skills training and FE Colleges.
Review of VAT treatment of general FE and sixth form Colleges
Establishment of a cross-party commission on lifelong learning funding
Development of National Colleges with the opening of more
As you can see, the three main parties have called on FE to deliver on their various ideals, often transforming the workings and nature of the sector in the process.
Of course, the policies are dictated by each party’s biggest goals. The Conservatives, with their stress on reducing the deficit, are not promising the same allocation of funds to the sector as the other parties. Instead, they focus on increasing apprenticeships and stress the need for FE Colleges to take proactive steps and accommodate this new demand. They admit that for FE Colleges to survive the cuts needed to reduce the deficit, they need be proactive and hunt out the funding and loans available, which means providing more apprenticeship and private training.
Labour got us quite excited when they gave FE a mention in their manifesto when talking about Technical degrees and apprenticeships Colleges. They want to bring FE into the Higher Education spectrum by having them play a large role in provision of Technical Baccalaureate, and tie local business needs into an independent careers advice service.
The Liberal Democrats also want a careers advice service, but unlike the Conservatives and in line with the Green Party – the Lib Dems want to increase spending in FE. Back in line with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems want to increase the number of National Colleges, but they do not have the same dedication to the University Technical Colleges as the Conservatives. The Conservatives have declared their desire to roll these out, despite them facing issues with enrolment levels and results.
The closure of some of these UTC Colleges demonstrates the key point in all this – that unless people enrol onto these courses and apprenticeships, they are not going to be the all-singing-all-dancing solution they are touted as. As David Phillips points out, to make them effective, we need to change the public perception of apprenticeships, currently viewed as the “B road to success” compared to the A road of academic study and Higher Education.
To tackle this, the Conservatives plan the publication of more earnings and destination data for FE Colleges, whereas Labour and the Lib Dem’s would provide a careers service to educate the public. They all stress the importance of involving businesses in the apprenticeship scheme and careers service.
However – we are wondering whether these methods are enough to tackle the public bias towards Higher Education – and whether the policies are missing a vital ingredient in making this highly touted solution work.