Election 2024: What does it mean for FE and skills?

Rishi Sunak announces poll will be held on Thursday July 4

Rishi Sunak announces poll will be held on Thursday July 4

22 May 2024, 17:23

A general election will be held on Thursday July 4, Rishi Sunak has announced, kickstarting a campaign “for Britain to choose its future”.

“Earlier today, I spoke with His Majesty the King to request the dissolution of parliament. The King has granted this request and we will have a general election on July 4.”

What we know

Parliament will dissolve on May 30 (Thursday next week). Public bodies will then be subject to pre-election rules meaning they cannot do anything that could have a bearing on matters relevant to the election. A date for when the pre-election period officially starts has not been announced.

The UK will go to the polls amid mounting concerns over skills shortages in key sectors of the economy, declining apprenticeship training opportunities for young people and a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

Today’s drop in inflation to 2.3 per cent is likely to be seized upon by ministers as they prepare to respond to the recommendations of the School Teacher Pay Review Body (STRB). The Association of Colleges this week held off making its recommendation for college staff pay rises until the STRB reports so it can bid to match the schools offer in colleges.

Gillian Keegan told the STRB earlier this year that teacher pay awards should return to a “more sustainable level” than seen in the last two years, indicating a lower pay recommendation than the AoC recommended last year, which was 6.5 per cent to match that of school teachers.

Keegan had promised the government would reveal its teacher pay offer earlier this year, but that is now likely to fall to a new government.

The Conservatives confirmed a comprehensive spending review will not take place until after a general election. This leaves education and apprenticeships budgets unconfirmed beyond 2024-25. The Conservatives set the apprenticeships budget at a record £2.7 billion for this year. Labour has yet to make any statement on education funding.

What has Labour pledged?

Sir Keir Starmer announced major reforms to the apprenticeship levy in his 2022 Labour party conference speech. 

If Labour form the next government, the levy will be replaced with a “growth and skills” levy which will allow employers to spend up to 50 per cent of their funds on non-apprenticeship training. 

The Conservatives have attacked Labour’s plans, claiming the number of apprenticeships would half. 

Calls for levy reform have been rife amid declining numbers of young people taking up apprenticeships. A CIPD report this week said the number of under 19s starting apprenticeships has fallen 41 per cent since the apprenticeship levy was introduced and pointed to a “collapse” in apprenticeships offered in small businesses. Over that time employers have instead offered apprenticeships to workers aged 25-plus in higher-level, professional occupations.

Despite announcing additional spending for small business apprenticeships last year, Labour has consistently dodged questions about whether this will be introduced. 

Labour has also criticised high numbers of apprenticeship drop-outs, but hasn’t said what it would do to improve achievements. 

Labour has also so far refused to say whether their proposed new “taskforce” Skills England would replace any of the existing education and skills quangos. 

Skills England would decide which non-apprenticeship courses would be eligible for funding through the new levy and run a bidding process for colleges to become “technical excellence colleges“.

Qualifications reform

Controversial plans to defund level 3 qualifications that rival T Levels, such as BTECs, would be “paused and reviewed” by a Labour government. However, shadow ministers have offered no further detail on how soon after an election win the pause would take place, nor have they set out what their review would look at. 

T Levels have been lauded by education ministers as “gold standard” technical qualifications but have been criticised for low uptake and high numbers of drop-outs. 

Sixth Form Colleges Association deputy chief executive James Kewin said last week plans to defund level 3 qualifications should be formally paused within one month of the general election. 

What will the Tories’ pitch be?

Expect ministers to focus on the Conservatives’ record on education as they seek to cling to power.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has begun to relentlessly post on social media about delivering over 5.8 million apprenticeship starts and standards in nearly 70 per cent of occupations.

In relation to new policies and spending, it is less clear.

But Sunak will likely speak a lot about his plans for a new Advanced British Standard qualification to replace A-level and T Levels, plus maths to 18.

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  1. Ab Chef

    Maybe they’ll reinstate the Employer Support Fund for T levels, the Tories stopped it for 2024/25 and it has been a catastrophe for SMEs involved in providing industry placements for T levels many having to withdraw from the placement program, despite Colleges saying how difficult it is to get employers to do placements in many areas such as Digital, Engineering etc.

  2. It is not the levy which has led to the collapse in SME apprenticeship opportunities, it is the bureaucracy which was introduced at the same time, which is totally prohibitive to the small employer. So many SMEs are very keen to train the next generation but have neither the time nor the inclination to do all the on line form filling and box ticking which enables this. Allowing the training providers to lead this process, as they did so successfully in the past, could have a significant impact.