Shane Chowen looks into the fallout for FE from the Brexit vote.
I wanted to start my column this week with the line ‘now that the post-referendum dust has settled’ but, much like Pompeii in 79 AD, the country will be beset with poor foresight and a somewhat toxic atmosphere for some months to come.
At the time of writing, Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary Labour Party has turned against him, David Cameron has passed responsibility for leading Brexit negotiations to his successor, and social media timelines are full of commentary on a divided country.
Above all that though, and far more worryingly, are reports indicating a significant rise in racially-motivated hate crime since the referendum.
Right here in Leicester, where the Learning and Work Institute’s head office is based, disgusting racist abuse has been hurled at kids in the same streets where all communities came together to celebrate the Premiership win, only last month.
I can’t be the only one from the world of FE feeling like our national values are being put to the test right now.
In a previous column, I wrote about how the government’s upcoming Life Chances Strategy provided the FE and skills sector with an opportunity to make its case and showcase our success.
In particular, in providing people, often facing multiple disadvantages, with routes to success they would otherwise not be afforded, particularly students with health conditions and disabilities and those from the most deprived postcodes in our country.
There are now reports that the Life Chances Strategy, announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, has been shelved.
So before we have a new Prime Minister to begin the process of our departure from the European Union (or not) and/or potentially repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 to seek a fresh new mandate through a general election, where should our focus be?
Your students still want high quality teaching and learning and your local economy still has skills needs
All signals from the government so far certainly indicate business as usual.
The Skills Minister confirmed last week that even though there are delays in publishing new apprenticeship funding rates, the levy is still set to be introduced in nine months-time.
Officials still anticipate the go-ahead to publish the Sainsbury Review of Technical and Professional Education, and indications are that Department for Work and Pensions continue with developing the Work and Health Programme as planned.
FE is fundamentally important in delivering several powerful policy drivers, which I don’t anticipate being rowed back under a new Conservative prime minister.
Key among them is achieving full employment, halving the disability employment gap and achieving three million apprenticeship starts.
Alongside that, your students still want high-quality teaching and learning, your local economy still has skills needs and your governors still expect to see improvement and financial sustainability.
I try not to make these columns too policy-heavy where I can help it.
But I do think the sector will have to up its lobbying activity around European Social Fund replacement funding in the months and years to come — especially in areas of the country like Cornwall and large parts of the north-east, which are some of the most deprived areas in Europe and often overlooked by Westminster.
The morning after the vote, higher education site WonkHE issued a rallying cry to leaders of that sector and lobbyists to ‘get the next train from St Pancras to Brussels’ and seek answers to questions over the future of EU funded research — a massive income stream for many universities.
I am hopeful we can do the same to rally behind our interests.
Finally, returning to the images and videos we’ve seen showing the rise of racism and hatred and fear, we absolutely must make sure our extraordinary, and often extraordinarily diverse, institutions remain safe spaces for all students and staff.