Labour manifesto pledge: Abandon plans for new technical colleges and use funding for more teachers

Sue Pember argues AGAINST

The Conservative and Labour manifestos both advocate investing more in the future of young people and both embrace the concept of lifelong learning, which is to be applauded. However, the way they suggest this can be achieved is different and one of the main variations is around Institutes of Technology. Conservatives would make them degree level institutes and Labour would not create them at all but invest in more teachers instead.

From my experience, there is nothing more fulfilling than working in an environment that is dedicated to a single discipline, where the teachers and students are immersed in the subject. Creativity and innovation flourish and those who are new progress quickly when they can see the accomplishments of those further along. Therefore there is a role for Institutes of Technology but whether they are separate institutions or they share buildings and backroom support with other programmes is a secondary matter.

There have been discussions about Institutes of Technology for a number of years and, although there has been some confusion over scope, most have accepted the definition described in the area review guidance and the Industrial Strategy green paper, which also confirmed the previous announcement of £170m capital funding to support their creation.

However, the Conservatives now seem to have re-interpreted the policy and instead of building on that previously published – which was to establish a new network of prestigious Institutes of Technology and national colleges to deliver high standard provision at levels 3, 4 and 5 – they now state in their manifesto that they will establish new Institutes of Technology, backed by employers and linked to leading universities, in every major city in England. They say these “Institutes of Technology will provide courses at degree level and above, specialising in technical disciplines, such as STEM, whilst also providing higher-level apprenticeships and bespoke courses for employers. They will enjoy the freedoms that make our universities great, including eligibility for public funding for productivity and skills research, and access to loans and grants for their students.”

I am not sure this change will help the goal of ensuring more people have high skills in technology. The previous remit is still required, there is still a need for a progression route and new investment focused on level 3, 4 and 5 will be essential.

While Conservative party manifesto drafters were redefining Institutes of Technology, the Labour party drafters were building on a UCU call from earlier in the year saying: “If government wants to support technical education it should invest in our further education colleges who desperately need thousands more teachers, rather than another set of gimmicks.”

If government wants to support technical education it should invest in our further education colleges

To support this approach, Labour in their manifesto state they would abandon Conservative plans to once again reinvent the wheel by building new technical colleges, redirecting the money to increase teacher numbers in the FE sector.

However, whether we rebadge all or part of HE or FE institutions to become Institutes of Technology or create new ones is not the immediate issue; the important part of this discussion and set of proposals is that both political parties recognise that as a country we need more technically qualified people.

To fulfil that commitment, they will need to support expansion, they will have to invest in physical resources to make that possible and also increase the number of teachers. In doing so, they will also need to consider the requirements of T levels and increasing student hours to 900 a year. Again, this will increase the number of teachers needed. The priority will be to find them, recruit them and ensure these teachers have the advanced skills needed to teach at these levels and have industry relevant experience. And any new proposals must also cover the costs of teacher development and retraining.

Sue Pember is director of policy and external relations at HOLEX