Labour unveils new council of skills advisers

Analysis has revealed a divide in level 3 attainment between London and northern communities

Analysis has revealed a divide in level 3 attainment between London and northern communities


Labour has selected a former education secretary as one of three new skills advisers to help bridge attainment gaps between different areas of the country.

David Blunkett will sit on a council of skills advisers with former Institute for Apprenticeships shadow chief executive Rachel Sandby-Thomas and IVF company chief executive Praful Nargund.

Announcing it at the Confederation of British Industry annual conference today, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the council will “recommend the change we need to ensure everyone leaves education job ready and life ready”.

Low-achieving young people could ‘flourish’ with technical training, Labour says

Labour analysis of government attainment data has shown young people in Hull were nearly half as likely to achieve a level 3 qualification by age 19 as young people in Kensington, London in 2019/20 – 40 per cent to 76 per cent.

On a regional basis, a 19-year-old in London was 31 per cent more like to achieve a level 3 qualification by age 19 compared to a young person in the North East that year.

“We don’t value technical and vocational skills nearly enough,” Starmer told the conference.

Forty per cent of young people left education in 2019-20 without a level 3 qualification and “a lot of these students could really flourish if they received a high-quality technical training,” he continued.


A spokesperson added that the Conservatives’ “failure to deliver the skills and qualifications young people in every region need makes a mockery of the promise to spread opportunity”.

Blunkett ran the Department for Education from 1997 to 2001 during Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

After her time at the IfA (now the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education), Sandby-Thomas became registrar for the University of Warwick. She previously served as the director general for enterprise and skills at the then-Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Nargund is chief executive of CREATE Fertility, an IVF company and has won a number of business and entrepreneurial awards from The Spectator magazine, The Daily Telegraph newspapers, among others.

‘Nothing more important than spreading what works’

The party’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said “far too many” young people are being “let down by a Conservative government that’s living in the past”.

She is “looking forward” to working with the skills advisers, who will be touring the country with Green to meet with employers, educators, parents and young people to discuss what changes ought to be made to the skills system.

Lord Blunkett said he was “very pleased to be able to continue contributing to the critical debate about how we modernise and reform the lifelong learning journey from schools through to progression in work”.

Earlier this year, he was announced as part of an expert panel, commissioned by awarding body Pearson, steering research into the future of assessments for people aged 14 to 19.

“Nothing can be more important,” he said, “than spreading what works, embedding high-quality and inspirational teaching and learning, and adapting a curriculum that provides motivation to young people at every stage, and reassurance to employers that they will have literate, numerate, creative and responsive employees for the future”.

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  1. There is another layer beneath this which is the bigger issue.

    The data this is based, for the location, on where the individual was at age 15, then what level they achieved by age 19.

    Taking Hull as an example, I would guess that those with good grades leaving Hull and going to university elsewhere is a greater proportion that those going to Hull University from elsewhere. Put another way, the brains leaving Hull is probably greater than the imports!

    The issue is portrayed as the gap in attainment, but it is also about opportunity across localities once that level has been attained. We know that many students don’t return to their ‘home’ town after Uni and I’d wager that the proportion staying away is higher in towns with low opportunity (ie more likely to be deprived).

    In some ways this brings into question whether having a disadvantage element in funding formulas (based on Index of multiple deprivation) has much effect, as people with the capacity to do so will move to where the opportunities are, which affects the IMD scores and perpetuates the divide. It might help a small number of individuals in areas of disadvantage, but it doesn’t create local opportunity.

    If Hull suddenly was 70% L3 attainment at 19, would that suddenly increase opportunity around Hull or just increase transience…?

    Focusing on the attainment divide rather than addressing gaps in opportunity won’t fix that north/south divide.

  2. Essam Serry

    Incentives for young adults to go for a level 3 qualification is either minimal or non-existant. If you are a young adult who is not interested in higher education, you would be looking for a job. Finding a job at this skill level will not be easier with the level 3 qualification and the difference in wages between the holder of the level 3 qualification and the non-qualified could be made up by one year of work experience. So why would a young adult put him or herself again under the pressure of study, which they just escaped of after leaving school, for an extra year if they can get the same wages if they work during this year instead of studying? If we want young adults to get level 3 then we have to force the employers to use the regulated qualifications as the training programme for newly employed young adults. This would be a win-win situation. Employers get the trained staff and the staff get the qualification.