Conservatives manifesto 2024: The FE pledges

Party confirms plans for 100k more apprenticeships, the new ABS, and a national service at the expense of the UKSPF

Party confirms plans for 100k more apprenticeships, the new ABS, and a national service at the expense of the UKSPF

11 Jun 2024, 13:19

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The Conservatives have pledged to create 100,000 more apprenticeships and introduce an ‘Advanced British Standard’ if it wins the election.

The party launched its manifesto this morning which also commits to introducing a national service for 18-year-olds funded by eventually scrapping the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Costings show the Conservatives’ apprenticeship pledge will cost £886 million while the national service plan will cost £1 billion by 2029.

All the pledges have been previously announced. Here’s what the manifesto said for FE and skills:

100k extra apprentices by 2029

Last month the prime minister Rishi Sunak promised 100,000 more apprenticeships in England every year by the end of the next parliament. 

The policy would see annual apprenticeship starts rise to around 440,000 from 2029, paid for by shutting down “underperforming” university courses.

The Conservatives said they would top up the apprenticeships budget to fund those places with cash that would otherwise have gone on student loan subsidies for an estimated 13 per cent of students who would see their courses shut down by a newly emboldened Office for Students.

Today’s manifesto said: “We will fund this by changing the law to close university courses in England with the worst outcomes for their students. Courses that have excessive drop-out rates or leave students worse off than had they not gone to university will be prevented from recruiting students by the universities regulator. This will protect students from being missold and the taxpayer from having to pay where the graduate can’t.”

UKSPF to make way for national service

The manifesto said the Conservatives would extend the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – worth £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025 – for three years at the next spending review, before “using this funding to support UK- wide national service”. 

UKSPF currently funds free adult maths courses through the “multiply” scheme among other adult education programmes aimed at the country’s most deprived areas.

The Conservatives claim the “reinvented” national service will give young people “valuable life skills and build a stronger national culture” and will be compulsory, so it “becomes a rite of passage for every 18-year-old”.

Young people will be given a choice, between civic and military service.

Civic service will be the equivalent of one weekend a month (25 days a year) volunteering in the community, alongside work or study, for a year. Roles could include special constable, NHS responder or RNLI volunteer.

Military service will involve a year-long full-time placement in the armed forces or cyber defence. This placement will be “competitive and paid, so our armed forces recruit and train the brightest and the best”.

A “Royal Commission”, backed by £2.5 billion in the final year of parliament and a new National Service Act, will be established to design the modernised national service. 

ABS still the plan

The prime minister has also vowed to “transform” 16 to 19 education by introducing the Advanced British Standards, “enabling young people to receive a broader education and removing the artificial divide between academic and technical learning”.

An ABS would involve giving young people more time in the classroom, learning more subjects, including English and maths to 18. It would spell the end of T Levels and A-levels.

Click here for everything you need to know about how the ABS is expected to work.

Other policies

  • Introduce the lifelong learning entitlement from 2025, “giving adults the support they need to train, retrain and upskill flexibly throughout their working lives”. FE Week reported a delay to the scheme in April
  • The Conservatives also pledged to “expand” adult skills programmes, such as skills bootcamps which “meet skills shortages”
  • From this September, new teachers in priority areas and key STEM and technical subjects will receive bonuses of up to £30,000 tax-free over five years. The payments are to be extended to eligible teachers in further education colleges
  • Coverage of mental health support teams will also be expanded from from 50 per cent to 100 per cent of schools and colleges in England by 2030
  • In what appeared to be a reference to the government’s flexi-job apprenticeships scheme, the manifesto said: “We believe apprenticeships are a key pipeline of talent into our world-leading creative industries. We will work with industry to deliver a dedicated flexible coordination service so that everyone who wants to work in the film, TV, gaming and music sectors can work on live productions whilst benefiting from at least 12 months of secure training”
  • And by 2030, every part of England “that wants one” will have a devolution deal. The Conservatives will offer ‘level 4’ devolution powers – which includes adult skills funding – to areas in England with a devolution deal and a directly elected leader, starting with the Tees Valley

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