Labour manifesto 2024: The FE pledges

Party will 'better integrate' further and higher education in a new strategy for post-16 education if it wins on July 4

Party will 'better integrate' further and higher education in a new strategy for post-16 education if it wins on July 4

13 Jun 2024, 13:34

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Labour has promised “a comprehensive strategy” to “better integrate” further and higher education in its general election manifesto published this morning.

Under Labour leader Keir Starmer’s ‘break down barriers to opportunity’ mission, a Labour government would “better integrate further and higher education” by setting out the roles of different training providers, how students can move between them and “strengthening regulation”.

Details of how the review and changes to regulation would work remain limited.

Any changes appear likely to be led by the party’s promise of a new body, Skills England, which will “bring together” businesses, training providers and unions with regional and national government.

Skills England would oversee a “highly trained” workforce for the economy, informed by Labour’s promised industrial strategy, while putting employers “at the heart” of the skills system.

But the manifesto doesn’t mention a previously promised pause and review of the Conservative’s planned bonfire of BTECs and other rival T Level qualifications. 

Commitments to other existing education policies, like the Advanced British Standard and the lifelong learning entitlement, also remain unclear.

Labour promised to reform the skills system after years of Conservative “chaos and policy churn”, addressing “plummeting” apprenticeship numbers, and “widespread” skills shortages.

Pledges confirmed in the manifesto but already outlined by Labour include the creation of “specialist” technical excellence colleges, replacing the apprenticeship levy and a youth guarantee of access to training.

The manifesto says Labour will reform the “broken” apprenticeships levy, criticising the current system’s “rigid rules”.

Its growth and skills levy would allow employers to fund non-apprenticeship courses deemed eligible by Skills England. Labour’s announcement earlier this month to fund pre-apprenticeship traineeship courses through their new levy didn’t appear in the manifesto. 

The manifesto also confirmed plans to replace a single headline Ofsted grade with a report card system showing how education providers are performing.

Domestic training plans to reduce immigration

Previously announced plans to create workforce and training plans to avoid being “overly dependent” on workers from abroad to fill skills shortages were confirmed.

By linking the immigration and skills systems, Labour says it will use “joined-up thinking” by ensuring that plans to “upskill workers” are formulated for sectors seeing high overseas recruitment like health, social care and construction. 

It said: “The days of a sector languishing endlessly on immigration shortage lists with no action to train up workers will come to an end.” This will work by formally linking the new Skills England and the Migration Advisory Committee.

More devolved skills powers

Labour promises local areas will “gain new powers” over adult education, skills and employment support.

The manifesto confirms Labour’s pledge to “deepen” devolution settlements for existing combined authorities and widening devolution to more areas by encouraging local authorities to come together.

However, the party also pledged to review governance at combined authorities to “unblock decision making” and ensure they can deliver – with central government support – “where needed”.

In line with current ‘trailblazer’ devolution agreements, combined authorities that show “exemplary” management of their funding will also have “greater flexibility” with financial settlements.

There will be a new legal requirement for “local growth plans” – aligning with the national industrial strategy – covering towns and cities across the country that bring employers, universities, colleges and industry bodies together. It’s unclear whether these new growth plans would be in addition to, or replace, local skills improvement plans.

Supporting people into work

On employment, Labour said Jobcentre Plus and the National Careers Service will merge so they are more “responsive” to local employers and services.

The party will devolve funding so local areas can “shape a joined-up work, health and skills offer”.

Policy costings revealed £85 million of the £1.5 billion raised from applying VAT to private schools will be spent on a “guarantee” of two weeks’ work experience for young people and improved careers advice in colleges and schools. 

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