Labour’s in-tray for FE and skills

Sector leaders' priorities for the next education ministerial team

Sector leaders' priorities for the next education ministerial team

Stopping a ‘bonfire of the BTECs’ and boosting FE teacher pay must be top priorities for the new government’s first 100 days in office, sector leaders said.

On the eve of the election FE Week asked key bodies representing the sector what should top the ministerial in-tray.

Also high on their list was delivering Labour’s proposed apprenticeship levy reforms, establishment of Skills England, and an English and maths resits rethink.

Here are the five top immediate asks from the sector in detail:

Pause and review level 3 cuts

As it stands, 318 qualifications, including popular BTECs, will lose funding from the Department for Education next July as part of level 3 reforms.

Tory ministers believed this would “simplify” and “streamline” qualification choices, steering learners towards A Levels and T Levels.

Labour pledged to “pause and review” the reforms, although this was not mentioned in its full manifesto.

The Sixth Form College Association said the new government must pause the reforms and push the defunding date to August 2027 while it carries out a “streamlined and refocused” review of level 3 qualifications.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) told FE Week defunding BTECs, which are “tried and tested”, would cause more young people to quit education.

Leaders also want Labour to quickly outline whether it plans to implement or bin the Conservatives’ idea of an Advanced British Standard, which is proposed as a baccalaureate to replace A Levels and T Levels. 

Funding rates and the teacher pay gap

Unsurprisingly, the sector wants more funding. Cash is wanted to address real-terms cuts in funding since 2010, a shortage of FE teachers, growing numbers of post-16 students, special needs demands and inflation pressures.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates the next government must find £400 million to sustain 16-to-18 education funding at current levels.

It forecasts funding would remain 9 per cent lower in real terms than in 2010 if per-student rates were maintained.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), which delayed its pay recommendation for college teachers until after the election, said the recruitment and retention crisis in FE was driven by a “£9,000 pay gap” between college and school teachers.

It added: “For colleges to deliver on the government’s ambition for skills and the economy, extra funding must be provided to support better pay, to close those gaps and to attract industry experts and trainee teachers into further education.”

The ASCL agreed, warning that colleges were setting “deficit budgets and planning further cuts” due to unsustainable cost demands.

University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said Labour must treat the teacher pay gap as a day-one priority to “show it cares about further education”.

Apprenticeship levy expansion: When and how?

Questions remain over Labour’s pledge to reform the apprenticeship levy as the “growth and skills levy”.

The rebrand, announced by the party’s skills commission in 2022, would mean flexibility for businesses to spend up to 50 per cent on non-apprenticeship training – but details are absent.

The Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) told FE Week any changes Labour made should ensure the interests of all learners and employers are “protected”.

HOLEX said Labour should “rebalance” which age groups are able to access the levy.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), whose members deliver the majority of apprenticeship training, is most concerned about what the government does with some of the collected funds.

It said Labour should “commit to all levy receipts going to the apprenticeship budget from April 1, 2025”. FE Week previously revealed the levy is set to generate £800 million more than the last government allocated for spending on apprenticeships.

Establish Skills England

Another key Labour pledge is to set up Skills England, a body that will “bring together” businesses, training providers and unions with regional and national government.

It would oversee development of a strategy to create a “highly trained” national workforce that meets the economy’s needs.

AELP said the new government must publish a timetable for its establishment that includes time for “consultation on its purpose and structure”.

FAB said all four UK nations need a “long-term, future-ready” skills plan.

Sector bodies also want Labour to quickly appoint a Skills England leader.

And HOLEX wants the government to give the new minister for skills a “government-wide role” that extends beyond the Department for Education.

English and maths

In February, the Department for Education announced plans to introduce additional conditions attached to English and maths funding, including mandating minimum hours for those forced to resit the qualifications and removing a 5 per cent tolerance.

The AoC called for the reforms to be immediately withdrawn ahead of a full review of the resits policy.

The AELP said the new government should also remove functional skills qualifications as an exit requirement from apprenticeships.

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  1. Still to decide if there shall be support for businesses for T levels, renew Employer Support Fund or other support for employer costs, it is desperately needed if T levels particularly in Digital, Engineering etc. are going to survive