As political parties scramble to write their manifestos, carefully crafting their words to minimise the number of broken promises if they get into power, Graham Taylor sets out some suggestions for further education policies.
Preserve FE funding
If politicians believe their own rhetoric, that education and skills are the future of our country’s economic success, then at least preserve funding in real terms. Pay for this by decoupling the triple lock that increases pensions at a faster rate than workers’ pay – admittedly not a vote-winner, but fair.
Promising to replace European funding for education when we Brexit would be a bonus.
Invest in adult learning
Now that the EFA and SFA have at long last merged, scrap the funding divide between 16-18 and adults. Too many providers are chasing too few 16-18 learners as school leaver numbers fall, so let us use any funding shortfall here to reskill or upskill adults. We could vire funds in the past so why not now?
There are millions fewer adult learners today because of draconian funding cuts. Has every party given up on lifelong learning and the benefits of learning for its own sake? If the UK is a knowledge-based economy, are we supposed to gain knowledge by osmosis?
The parties are strangely silent on this. Tried and tested professional and technical qualifications, which learners and businesses want, seem to be treated as second class.
If the UK is a knowledge-based economy, are we supposed to gain knowledge by osmosis?
Let the customer decide
Give employers paying the apprenticeship levy, a payroll tax which threatens jobs, freedom to spend it how they wish.
Apprenticeships may not always be the best solution for workforce training needs. Don’t pick favourites; this only distorts the market.
Streamline training budgets
Switch training budgets from other government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions to the Education and Skills Funding Agency, to reduce duplication and waste.
Reduce hypothecated funding
This leads to underspend or rushed work and is costly in time and money, reinventing lots of wheels, usually with different names and ministers attached.
Publish success rates
Success rates should appear on provider websites, in the form of a percentage retention rate multiplied by their percentage achievement rate. This is a simple and understandable quality indicator, unlike the present (16-18 only) performance tables.
Make English and Maths accessible
Allow applied options as alternatives to the GCSEs. Alternatives are permitted at level three, when students can take English language or literature or a combined English A-level, just as they can take core maths or standard maths, so why not at level two?
Stop sixth-form waste
Close all school sixth forms with under 100 learners – on grounds of both quality and value for money. The next round of area reviews should include small-school sixth forms in the mix.
Welcome international students
Exclude international and EU students from the net migration count. They are a real asset, particularly for HE. One in 10 world leaders was educated here. Most have fond memories and are pleased to trade with us. Isn’t this what we want?
Stop changing things all the time!
The sector needs some stability. Every government, however well intentioned, loves to meddle. Please don’t tinker with curriculum content, grading systems, quality measures, systems or methodologies. Unrelenting change doesn’t help anyone. Like-for-like data and quality comparisons are lost over time.
If you must change, don’t change everything at once. The new apprenticeship regime will create all sorts of unintended problems.
As Ronald Reagan advised politicians: “Don’t just do something, stand there!” In a similar vein, I say this: assign the budget, set quality standards, then let us get on with it.
Support the further education sector
Parties always make the right noises. They preach the value of learning and encourage it, but do they really like FE?
That’s for the politicians. As for everyone else – vote! We get the politicians we deserve…
Graham Taylor is principal and chief executive of New College Swindon