With further education being placed centre stage in the 2015 General Election, Andrew Gladstone-Heighton considers whether policy change is needed in an industry that has already endured so much recent reform.
The focus on FE seen from each political party so far in this election campaign has been more than encouraging.Issues such as vocational training and youth unemployment are being put front and centre in party manifestos, with both the Conservative party and the Labour Party setting ambitious new apprenticeship figures to achieve over the next five years.
Issues such as vocational training and youth unemployment are being put front and centre in party manifestos, with both the Conservative party and the Labour Party setting ambitious new apprenticeship figures to achieve over the next five years.
The Prime Minister, on his campaign trail, unveiled a series of announcements by UK firms to create new apprenticeships, with Morrisons committing to train more than 9,000 over the next five years, while Whitbread plans to hire 6,000 more by 2020. National Grid and Dairy Crest were also highlighted as committing to take on hundreds more.
This will be welcome news for many, but interestingly is likely to resonate particularly well with the younger electorate.
Our own recent research showed that tackling youth unemployment is the primary concern that young people wish the next government to address, above education policy or even tuition fees.
There continues to be a significant knowledge gap around post-school options among the younger generation, and the main political parties’ much-lauded approach to tacking the issue through apprenticeships is in serious danger of floundering if this is not urgently addressed
With the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds not in full time education currently over 14 per cent (compared with an overall unemployment rate across the UK labour force of just 5.7 per cent), this comes of little surprise.
However, despite these steps there continues to be a significant knowledge gap around post-school options among the younger generation, and the main political parties’ much-lauded approach to tacking the issue through apprenticeships is in serious danger of floundering if this is not urgently addressed.
Our own research conducted last month found just 18 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds had even considered undertaking an apprenticeship, and if the Conservatives’ ambitious 3m apprenticeships by 2020, or Labour’s extra 80,000 new apprenticeships a-year, are to be realised, learners need to be properly informed of the value of these earn-as-you-learn schemes.
Labour’s pledge last week to guarantee face-to-face individual career advice for teenagers is a much-needed response to this issue. Also highlighted in their education manifesto is the assurance of budget protection for post-16 education, but we await further detail on this.
Yet the proposal for a new education bill to be introduced within 100 days of the party taking office should they win the next General Election is a concerning one, and raises the question; how helpful is it for a sector that has already been through significant reform?
Labour is right to consider an education system where students can choose between an academic or vocational education at 14. However, reform so soon in the future could create further turbulence for the learner, at a time where they need greater stability and guidance. It’s also unclear how the new proposals would fit in with the newly-introduced careers company.
The next government of this country must be careful not to bring in reform for reform’s sake. Rather they should look to work more closely with a sector that is already under significant pressure having already changed substantially.
A period of education policy stability would be significantly beneficial to employers, too. With limited time and resources to invest in apprenticeships, specifically with small to medium-sized businesses, increased bureaucracy will only help to make things worse.
In order for the next government to meet their ambitious apprenticeship targets, all parties should look to work directly with the education sector, to develop progressive policies rather than tearing up the playbook and starting from scratch.