Labour’s plans for economic growth put FE at the heart of their agenda

There has never been a stronger recognition of what our sector offers – and I am confident that funding will eventually follow

There has never been a stronger recognition of what our sector offers – and I am confident that funding will eventually follow

5 Jul 2024, 5:00

Today could mark a shift in the fortunes of the post-16 education and skills sector, with a new Labour government committed to some potentially radical changes, even if there is unlikely to be lots of new investment in the short term.

New ministers will want to move quickly on some things to show that change is happening. They will probably announce some reviews and make some key early decisions (on things like pausing qualifications reform and school and college pay, for instance), while leaving bigger-ticket items until the Autumn when they’ve had time to consider things more fully.

At AoC, we have been working hard to influence the new government, both in public and behind closed doors, to ensure that any policies or reforms introduced work for colleges, their students, employers and communities.

I was pleased to see our ideas reflected in the pledges in many of the manifestos: it’s clear that colleges are viewed as essential anchor institutions by the Labour party and key to the delivery of many of their manifesto commitments in education and beyond.

If they get Skills England right, it should help ensure that the new industrial strategy includes clear implementation plans and investment for the skills and training that are needed to underpin their economic growth ambitions.

In our recent reports, including 100% Opportunity England published in April, we’ve been calling for a new post-16 tertiary system. So it was pleasing to see that Labour has committed to establishing Skills England and setting a new post-16 strategy.  

Those would be a great start, but we also need a strong young person’s guarantee, demand-led adult funding and a wide-ranging and forward-looking national review of curriculum and qualifications to help move to an effective, efficient and fair tertiary system.

We’ve tried to help this system thinking in other publications including our 14 in-depth policy papers, a detailed paper published by Work Advance and commissioned by AoC, which explores the role of a new national social partnership body (like Skills England), and proposals for the future of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs).

The case for investing in what colleges can offer is strong

This approach to a post-16 system will take time, but if done well it could lead to streamlined accountability arrangements for colleges and more flexibility for them to meet learner and employer needs.

There are urgent decisions for new ministers to make on their commitment to a pause and review on qualification reform as well as on college pay, which we will be keen to discuss.

More exciting, though, is the prospect of a wider reform of curriculum and assessment. This should be looking to the future and not hamstrung by the past, thinking creatively about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in assessment as well as teaching.

In the autumn, we will publish another important report in partnership with the Bell Foundation, This will focus on what needs to change in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and adult education to ensure all learners have access to the education they need to help them thrive.

As the adult education budget (and therefore most ESOL funding) is devolved to the mayoral combined authorities (MCAs), we have worked with them closely on this report. With Labour mayors in 11 of the 12 MCAs, we are keen to generate a debate about how an enhanced adult budget could support their ambitions for inclusive and fair economic growth.

We know that budgets for public services will be tight in the next few years, but the case for investing in what colleges can offer is strong: for the economic growth Labour has talked so much about, for fairness, and for a more tolerant and inclusive society. We will continue to make that case with the new government.

There has never been a stronger recognition that colleges are essential institutions and need to be nurtured and engaged. I am confident that this government knows that an investment in colleges is a worthwhile one and that in the medium term the funding will come.

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One comment

  1. Zero hours contract teacher

    A predictable ‘expectation setting’ article from an establishment figure who hasn’t been adversely affected by the impact of years and years of cuts.

    The AOC answer to the pay gap it helped oversee between FE and schools is to divert funds away from schools and to FE. Underfunding schools and bringing their pay down closer to FE probably wasn’t what people thought when you said you’d tackle pay gaps!