Labour has exclusively spelled out its plans to drive up the quality of apprenticeships to FE Week.
It comes after the party pledged last night to stop fees on courses for adult learners, which FE Week also learned exclusively would involve scrapping advanced learner loans.
We asked yesterday why apprenticeships had not got a mention in the initial raft of pre-general election education announcements this was part of – which shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and leader Jeremy Corbyn are outlining in speeches this morning at Leeds City College.
They have now explained that Labour would maintain the new apprenticeship levy, launched last month, but “introduce new measures to drive up quality”.
A spokesperson explained they would require the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to report “on an annual basis to the Secretary of State on quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships to ensure they deliver skilled workers for employers and real jobs for apprentices at the end of their training”.
It would also “shift emphasis from quantity to quality”, by measuring completion rather than apprenticeship starts, and through “focusing on higher NVQ level apprenticeships, committing to double the number of completed apprenticeships at level three by the end of the parliament (94,000 in 2015/16 to 200,000 by the end of the Parliament)”.
Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden (pictured) also told FE Week: “We will also protect the £440 million funding for non-levy payers on small and medium sized businesses, and see what more can be done in that area.
“We will also concentrate on recognising the needs of independent training providers, as well as general FE colleges.”
Ms Rayner echoed this in her speech this morning, saying Labour will ringfence £440 million from the apprenticeship levy for small and medium sized businesses, as well as increasing capital investment to help colleges deliver planned new T-levels.
Mr Marsden also told FE Week: “We will also put an equal amount of emphasis on growing service sector apprenticeships as manufacturing. It’s about parity of esteem.”
Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ boss Mark Dawe said: “As was set out in AELP’s own manifesto [which called for 4 million starts in the next parliament], we don’t think an increase in apprenticeships has to be at the expense of quality. Numbers and quality can grow together. Therefore Labour’s focus on quality is welcome.
“We have to be a little careful however about using completions as a target measure, because this might lead to employers and providers only taking the applicants most likely to succeed and we must never lose sight that one of the best attributes of apprenticeships is them acting as a driver of social inclusion for young people.”
FE Week also asked Labour to clarify what it meant through last night’s announcement by the plan to “increase the adult skills budget to £1.5 billion by the end of the parliament”, when it already stands at around that level.
A spokesperson confirmed this morning that this was misleading, and the plan is actually far more ambitious.
He said the ASB, the same thing as the adult education budget, would actually be “increased by £1.5 billion”.
Mr Marsden also told FE Week this morning: “We will increase the ASB by £1.5 billion (not “to” £1.5 billion), so it will go up to £3 billion per year by 2021/22, the end of the next parliament.
“It will include extra funding for ESOL (English speakers of other languages) courses.
“The whole thing will be in order to fund the specific FE expansion ledges as part of our lifelong learning drive”.
Speaking to journalists after her speech, Ms Rayner said more about FE:
“I’ve been deliberately trying not to talk about higher education today. I came here today to a further education establishment, an amazing establishment here in Leeds, and I’ve talked about my personal story because many politicians have talked about parity of esteem, but they’ve not touched FE.
“They’ve never felt the transformative effect that FE has. When I was a mum at 16, I was made to feel that ‘that’s it, there’s nothing left of me’. I had failed at secondary school and there was no option for me to go back and to be good at anything, whereas FE gave me the opportunity to get a vocational qualification in care, so I was able to go back into the workforce on a part time basis and then full time.
“For the first time, I fell in love with learning. Before that, I never felt good enough. That’s what FE does. That’s the transformative effect. So forgive me that I’m not talking about higher education today, but it’s because I genuinely believe in parity of esteem and if I talk about higher education everybody talks about that and leaves FE behind, and that frustrates me.
“If Labour are in power on June 9, I will be the education secretary, I will say that parity of esteem for FE and apprenticeships means something to me. It genuinely means something to me, because I am that working-class kid from a council house that was written off at 16, that was told you’ll never be good at anything, and I want all of those children up and down the country to know they are amazing, they are what makes Britain great, and with me as their secretary of state for education.
“I will ensure that they reach their full potential and if that’s through an FE, higher education, or through an apprenticeship route. I will make sure that option is open to them.
“And for the mums and dads that are my age that feel like that’s it for them, that they’re in a job, they’re not going to be able to afford to go back to adult learning, under Labour you will. If you at nine were saying ‘I want to be a nurse, I want to be a teacher’ and you have had those dreams snatched away from you, under Labour, those dreams can become a reality. It doesn’t stop at age 16 or 20.”