The Liberal Democrats would increase per-student funding for colleges above inflation every year, widen the apprenticeship levy, and provide an annual tutoring fund to support those struggling with English and maths if they form the next government.
The party passed policies on further education and skills at its annual party conference in Bournemouth as it prepares for the next general election.
Among the policies is a new plan for a funding pot to support tutoring for students. The plan would see a £390 million fund established to support small group sessions in schools and colleges. The party said it could support up to 1.75 million young people a year.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, pointed to analysis showing that 15.8 per cent of pupils who meet or exceed the “expected standard” in reading and maths at key stage 2 do not go on to achieve a grade 4 or “standard pass” in GCSE English and maths.
The “vital boost” from the Lib Dems would help those students to achieve those grades, the party said. It comes as the government prepares to switch off its tuition funding programme in summer 2024.
Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said he was “pleased” by the policy, and that next summer would be a “particularly bad time to end the 16 to 19 tuition fund”. He cited figures showing enrolment in colleges has grown, meaning that around 40,000 more students will need to resit their English GCSE than last year, and 20,000 more will need to re-sit their Maths GCSE.
Pass rates for English and maths both fell in 2022/23, leading to fears that higher resit numbers will put pressure on the “stretched” post-16 sector.
The Lib Dems also committed to increasing per-student funding in schools and colleges above inflation every year. The party would extend the pupil premium, a grant provided to schools to support the attainment of disadvantaged pupils from reception to year 11 currently, to students aged between 16 and 18.
Its pledge for a £10,000 “skills wallet” for adults was also reiterated, which the party fronted prior to the 2019 election. The proposal would see every adult get £10,000 to spend on “education and training throughout their lives”, according to the party’s plans.
When it was first introduced as a policy, the party said they would put the cash into a “skills wallet” over a thirty-year period; £4,000 by the age of 25, £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55.
The Lib Dems also pledged to increase apprentice pay to “at least the minimum wage” to counter high dropout rates, and to expand the “broken” apprenticeship levy into a “broader and more flexible” skills and training levy. That is another reiteration from its 2019 manifesto.
Sarah Olney, the party’s treasury and business spokesperson said the plans to reform the apprenticeship levy are part of “a new industrial strategy to get our economy growing strongly again and tackle the cost-of-living crisis”.