Further education colleges will be able to bid to become specialist ‘technical excellence colleges’ under a Labour government, Keir Starmer will announce at his party’s annual conference on Tuesday.
Under Starmer’s plans, universities will get a seat around the table in the development of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs) and new statutory guidance would make the plans “democratically accountable” to local communities.
Local government as well as local businesses will be involved in developing the plans.
Labour said existing LSIP funding, like the local skills improvement fund, would be “repurposed” to help colleges specialise and become ‘technical excellence colleges.’
It’s unclear what advantages gaining specialist status would bring to colleges, or how others not awarded the status would be disadvantaged.
Bids for the new status would be assessed by Skills England, a new body that would oversee skills interventions as well as Labour’s planned skills and growth levy, a successor to the apprenticeship levy.
Labour said college bids for specialist status would be informed by reformed local skills improvement plans. Colleges that prove they can meet skills needs, lever investment from employers and utilise other local colleges and universities, would be awarded the status by Skills England.
It’s also not clear how many colleges could be awarded the new status in each of the 38 LSIP areas.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said Labour were right to recognise the role of colleges rather than commit to introducing a new set of institutions.
“The UK underperforms on skills, productivity and employer investment in training and colleges have suffered from years of underinvestment so it’s good to see an ambition to address this, through an expanded role for colleges across the country.
“In the last twenty years, ministers have enjoyed inventing new organisations which is an approach that often results in duplication and wasted spending. It’s significant and reassuring that these latest plans are explicitly focused on strengthening the existing college network, rather than creating new institutions,” he said.
The last Labour government introduced a similar scheme to encourage colleges to deliver courses meeting local and national skills needs. The then Learning and Skills Council oversaw the Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) programme in the early 2000s.
By 2006, over 400 colleges and training providers had been awarded a CoVE status. In 2007 though, the then Labour government announced it was replacing the scheme with a “new standard” that would cost £8,000 to apply for.
Starmer plans to set out how he will deliver his five missions when he gives his mainstage speech at Labour party conference on Tuesday.