Further Education Funding

I have received lots of representations about cuts to further education funding.

As far as Labour's position is concerned, I thought you might be interested to see the following speech that my shadow cabinet colleague Chuka Umunna made prior to the General Election as part of FE apprenticeship week.

Taking on an apprentice, training them for a career, giving them a future. It’s one of the best things a business can do. Good for the business. Good for the apprentice. And good for Britain. We need to make it the norm. For those of you from our further education colleges, I want to salute you for your work in our communities and for our nation. Our task is to make the changes work for everyone in Britain – reforming our economy to win the jobs of the future, training people for success, and ensuring everyone is connected to opportunity. If this is our task as a nation, it is Labour’s purpose as a party: to help people realise their dreams and aspirations, enabled by the support of a strong community.  This is the best social policy, of course. But it is also the best economic policy.

It is only by investing in everyone that we can raise productivity, earn our way to a higher standard of living, balance the books, and pay our way in the world. That’s why Ed Miliband has put education at the heart of Labour’s policy.  We will cut tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000, paid for by restricting pension tax relief for the highest earners. And – as Tristram has laid out – we will reinvigorate SureStart; extend early years education; and ensure smaller class sizes and qualified teachers in our schools. And if we want to produce the high-value goods and services to beat the competition we need a workforce with the skills – particularly technical and vocational skills – business needs.  That’s why quality vocational training is at the heart of Labour’s education policy.  As Rachel has set out, the right start means a job guarantee for our young unemployed.  But more than that it means a clear vocational pathway, starting in school with the TechBacc, high-quality apprenticeships, and routes on to Technical Degrees.  Under our apprenticeship guarantee any school leaver who gets the grades will have the right to do an apprenticeship. By 2025 we want the same number of school leavers starting apprenticeships as going to university.  But to ensure genuine parity of esteem between academic and vocational pathways, we can’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Expansion must be based on a relentless commitment to excellence. I worry that – under this Government – policy on apprenticeships has become a numbers game. And those numbers are not always what they seem.  One-in-five of the Government’s apprenticeships don’t include formal training. Four-in-ten employers the Government counts as providing apprenticeships don’t think they do. Nine-in-ten apprentices over 25 already worked for their employers.  We need apprenticeship numbers we can believe in; the apprenticeship brand a trusted gold standard.  That’s why Labour will introduce a new universal gold standard for apprenticeships – working towards a system where all apprenticeships are Level 3 and above, focused on new entrants to the labour market, and last for 2 years as a norm.  In a world of change, we also need opportunities to adapt and develop, train and retrain throughout our working lives.

It’s why we worry about the collapse in the numbers of part-time and older students. It’s why we support Unionlearn as the best work-based guidance and training we have. And it’s why, at every stage, there must be a clear pathway to the next level – from apprenticeships to higher apprenticeships, and on to technical degrees.  I understand what a difficult time it has been for the sector. We have seen a government without an understanding or a vision for further education hollow out provision.  Last week’s cut in the adult skills budget will make a tough situation tougher. I am concerned about the impact of this on vital provision, including the viability of some colleges.

We have shown our commitment to supporting the sector and investing in skills by protecting the budget for 16s to 19s within the education spending ring fence, meaning that it will not be cut under a Labour government. This is something the Government have failed to match. In fact, the Conservatives are planning extreme and unprecedented cuts which would take spending back to the level of the 1930s.  But I have to be honest with you. The Government’s abject failure on the deficit means we will face some very difficult choices.

Our Zero Based Review means we will have to justify every pound of government spending against every other – focusing relentlessly on impact and value for money.  We can’t look back.  We have to look forward at how together we can reform the sector so that it achieves even more.  This starts with clarity of purpose. For too long FE colleges have had to be all things to all people. We will bring purpose and focus to the role of FE colleges in delivering our new Tech Bacc and the college-based component of apprenticeships, by offering the opportunity to become an Institute of Technical Education – delivering the high quality specialist vocational training our country needs to succeed.

Second, it means mobilising a broader set of resources. We must shift the culture of our colleges to encourage closer working with industry; and shift the culture of our employers so that training apprentices becomes the norm. Labour will make it a requirement for firms that get a large government contract to offer apprenticeships. We will give employers more controls over skills standards and funding in return for boosting the numbers of high quality apprenticeships in their sectors and supply chains.

And third, reform. It is time to repair the broken bridges of our system and create a system that is more fluid and seamless for those within it, and more efficient for those who pay for it. That’s why our focus is on progression pathways – from schools to colleges, into apprenticeships and onto technical degrees. It’s on closer working between colleges and universities, and closer partnerships with employers – individually and through sectoral bodies. And it’s on strategic commissioning around local needs, achieving more with less – for example – by aligning budgets and services for those who are out of work with skills provision. Working together we can do this and create, in difficult times, a system that is better for learners, employers, local communities, and tax payers.

Where you have ideas to improve outcomes and save money I will work with you. If I am Business Secretary you will find me an advocate for your ideas and a partner in your success.  Let me finish by saying this: my Labour colleagues – not just former college principals like Nic Dakin – but right across the Parliamentary Party and local government: we ‘get’ vocational education.  You can see it in Ed Miliband’s passion when he speaks about it. We understand the difference it makes to the lives of our constituents and the success of our nation.

If we are to give people the secure foundation to the world of work, we need you to succeed. To connect people to opportunity in a world of change, and the practical means to realise their aspirations and dreams.”

Clearly given the results of the General Election we are not in a position to implement our proposals but I think it is really important that we do everything we can to ensure that students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have the same opportunities as everyone else to enter higher education.

 

Rt Hon Hilary Benn

MP for Leeds Central


 

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