Mayoral pledges: Burnham plans ‘halls of apprentice’ for Greater Manchester

We take a look at what England's newly elected mayors have promised to deliver for regional skills training

We take a look at what England's newly elected mayors have promised to deliver for regional skills training

10 May 2024, 10:15

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Andy Burnham, the newly re-elected mayor of Greater Manchester, has pledged to pilot student hall-style accommodation for apprentices within the next four years.

The idea is to create “halls of apprentice” to help young people move across the region to take up training opportunities.

In his manifesto, Burnham said he was “serious” about giving academic and technical education pathways “equal” footing, including in the accommodation that is available to learners.

Although details of how the plan will work remain limited, the Labour mayor said he would collaborate on it with “colleagues in the co-operative sector”.

He added: “The ability to live independently at 18 should be available to all young people, regardless of which path they are on.”

Burnham’s office did not respond to requests for further details at the time of going to press.

Land-based colleges, which tend to be in rural locations, often provide residential accommodation for their students and apprentices.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said other training providers could provide accommodation for apprentices in halls of residence, although this was “not common”.

It is understood that Burnham’s idea, if rolled out, would be the first halls of residence of its type offered by a city-region.

Burnham’s detailed skills mandate

Aside from the lack of detail on his pledge, Burnham’s manifesto on skills is the most detailed of any of the 10 mayors elected on May 2.

The mayor – who has led the authority since 2017 – said that from September this year, students in year 9 in Greater Manchester should be able to enrol on T Levels using a “central applications system”.

This is part of Greater Manchester’s “baccalaureate” technical education pathway – dubbed the Mbacc – which encourages learners to study a set of core GCSEs before progressing to technical post-16 qualifications such as T Levels, BTECs or apprenticeships.

They would then move on to employment, a degree apprenticeship or a higher technical qualification.

Burnham has pledged that by 2030, all students in year 11 who want to pursue technical options will be able to apply on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s careers website.

He has called Mbacc the UK’s “first integrated employer-driven technical education system”.

He has also pledged to set a “big and visible” target for the number of apprenticeship starts for each year between 2025 and 2030.

What have other mayors pledged for skills?

A key pledge from mayors of larger regions has been to lobby the government for more freedom in spending post-16 skills funding.

Currently, significant amounts of money handed to devolved authorities is ringfenced for initiatives such as Skills Bootcamps and Free Courses for Jobs.

Steve Rotheram, the mayor of Liverpool City Region, said he would push the government for a “trailblazer” devolution deal similar to that agreed with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

Burnham and Rotheram have also said they wanted to see “more devolved use” of apprenticeship levy funds to ensure they were spent locally.

Despite being in control of England’s largest devolved skills budget – more than £320 million – Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, made limited reference to adult education and training in his manifesto.

Khan, who promised to “continue” supporting Londoners with free basic courses, did not respond to requests for comment.

Other notable pledges from regional mayors include a “West Yorkshire Promise” to every resident with a “soft skills” accreditation in communication, teamwork and problem-solving.

Kim McGuinness, the mayor of the newly formed North East devolved region, pledged to build a “green energy and engineering super academy” that would train at least 1,000 people a year.

However, neither mayor’s teams offered further details when approached by FE Week.

An impossible promise?

West Midlands mayor Richard Parker, who now oversees England’s second-largest devolved adult education budget, made skills a priority during his campaign.

This included pledging to guarantee an apprenticeship to every young person in the region who wanted one.

However, he has not yet been able to share with FE Week any further details of how this would be possible.

Since winning, Parker has repeated his pledge to “overhaul the skills agenda” in the region as part of a plan to ensure local businesses can fill their skills gaps.

His comments about West Midlands Combined Authority’s performance on skills under previous mayor Andy Street prompted a defensive tweet from a former senior member of Street’s team.

Clare Boden Hatton, who was director of operations in employment and skills from 2022 to 2024, said: “There is always more that can be done. But to imply this hasn’t been happening underestimates the work of our colleagues and providers in [the West Midlands].”

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