Readers deliver policy demands as parties gear up for election

How the 660 FE Week manifesto survey respondents felt about the five most popular reader-generated policy pledges

More than 600 members of the FE sector contributed to FE Week general election manifesto.

After selecting 14 key policy ideas with the help of 35 readers, an online survey was launched to determine which pledges should form our manifesto in the run-up to May’s election.

On these pages and in a 28-page manifesto document published with this edition of the newspaper, we look at the 14 pledges in detail, the five that won the most support, and the sector’s reaction to the survey.

ne education and training funding agency with merged funding streams along with funding stability over the course of a Parliament top the list of pledges in the FE Week election manifesto.

The remaining three most popular pledges to have made it into the select list were increases to the apprentice minimum wage, funding for training for all unemployed young people and free transport for full-time learners up to the age of 21.

In a telling sign of our times, funding was the theme running through the most popular pledges, whether FE funding in general, for transport, to tackle unemployment or rises in the minimum wage.

Sector leaders welcomed the results of the manifesto survey, and the message was clear — money makes the FE world go around.

Martin Doel (pictured), chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “It is not surprising that the call for financial stability in the FE sector has been supported most widely in this survey. We can all appreciate that the government needed to make savings, but the FE sector seems to have had more than its fair share of funding cuts.

“Good careers education is vital to support young people at the age of 14 and 16 in making decisions which could affect their whole future. AoC, through its Careers Guidance: Guaranteed, has been campaigning for career hubs in each local area for the past year, and it is something we have already raised with Nicky Morgan since her appointment as Education Secretary.

“Colleges already work closely with Jobcentre Plus to provide education and training for the unemployed but this is one area where constant funding would be useful to allow them to plan ahead. Supporting adults who are unemployed to retrain is as important for that person as it is for the UK economy.”

Dr Lynne Sedgmore (pictured), executive director of the 157 Group, said: “As the voices of those working in FE, these proposed pledges deserve serious consideration. Two key themes — stability and equity — are present in many of the suggestions.

“The ability to plan for the long-term is vital, and a funding settlement for the whole of the next parliament would be a most welcome achievement. It is also right to call for different pathways through our education system — regardless of age and type of institution — to be treated equally, both in terms of funding and quality assurance.

“The most popular pledges are all about ensuring an excellent student experience – by providing adequate financial support, by providing high quality advice and guidance, by guaranteeing teacher professionalism and by assuring the value for money of new providers. These principles cannot be argued with.”

Stewart Segal (pictured), chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “It was interesting to note that the highest-rated issue was the need to establish some policy and funding stability in the sector. This is something we have continually campaigned for.

“We are therefore not sure that changing funding departments will deliver the coherence we need. In the past we have seen duplicated policy development even within the same department.

“We believe that the apprenticeship funding reforms will only work if employers are given a choice over whether they are directly funded or the funding is instead passed to their chosen provider.

“For tackling youth unemployment, we have to build the credibility of traineeships which has to become the programme of choice for young people and avoiding new initiatives. Programmes for young people not in work should focus on high quality work related learning and work experience. This has to start with comprehensive careers information.”

David Hughes (pictured), chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), said: “It is not surprising, in a time of great austerity, that the main focus for many people working in FE is on funding. But the longer-term game, and the real benefit of funding stability, is that it can provide the room for colleges and learning providers to invest in new, creative ways of engaging people in learning.

“We need to stimulate demand from people already in work to progress their skills, from people with very low level skills and low confidence and from employers. I hope that funding stability would give the space to help achieve that, because the long-term game for funding is about more employers paying and more people willing to invest in their own skills.”

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