Update from party conferences

This month, NCFE sent representation to the Labour and Conservative Party conferences, with the aim of hearing the latest policy announcements and influencing policy formulation.

The Labour conference began with confusion over their stance on Brexit. Over 100 Constituency Labour Party (CLP) groups tabled motions for debate and a final statement was thrashed out late on Sunday to pacify the cries for a second referendum – albeit lightly.

Conversations in fringe meetings focused on the need to raise the profile of apprenticeships in schools despite the Baker clause in place. There was also discussion around transport and access, huge issues for apprentices, with initiatives such as half price fares in Liverpool being suggested as the way forward.

Labour outlined their National Education Service one of the ‘3 core foundations’ of their movement along with health and economy. Alongside this were calls for changes to the apprenticeship levy to allow more local initiatives to be funded.

The education and skills policies announced at the conference included ending forced conversion of struggling schools to academies, a curb on creation of new free schools, and the introduction of a state-funded teacher supply service. Free college education for young people as part of the National Education Service agenda was also proposed.

The theme of this year’s Conservative Party conference was ‘opportunity’, both for the nation and the opportunities that exist after Brexit.

The ‘b-word’ (not Boris) was the shadow that loomed over the conference. It set the context in most fringe meetings, but was deliberately not directly addressed. This led to an interesting mix of long term strategising and a tendency to avoid mentioning the immediate challenges of leaving the European Union.

An interesting insight from former Education Secretary Justine Greening was that the Treasury views education as ‘spending’, not investment. This will challenge future arguments to protect education budgets.

Common views heard in fringe meetings were that the apprenticeship levy is still seen as complex and a tax on business, and that immigration controls and Brexit will have a huge impact on workforce and skill levels until we train up domestic workforces to backfill these roles.

Ministers are concerned with the challenges of Brexit, machine learning and artificial intelligence to create high skills, with the Education Secretary calling for a need to understand the ‘languages of men and machines’.

In addition to this, is was announced that an increase from 10% to 25% of the apprenticeship levy will be available for employers to pass on to their supply chain, as well as a further consultation on the levy and flexibilities involved.

There was also the reaffirming of last year’s announcement of £100 million for the national retreating scheme, and an extra £10 million for knowledge of behaviour and classroom management.  An additional £38 million capital investment was also set aside to support first delivery of the forthcoming T level qualifications, with a commitment to double the number of trained careers advisors in schools to support this.

Across both parties there is a broad consensus on the importance of Technical Education, in particular apprenticeships. Both parties would see T levels go ahead, although the Institute for Apprenticeships would be bought into Labour’s National Education Service in the event of their electoral victory.

With the absence of detail from Labour on how they would fund universal free college and higher education, or how the bringing back of schools to local authority control would work, it’s impossible to provide detail on how funding changes under a new government would impact on you at present. 

Further apprenticeship levy reforms outlined by the Chancellor presents an interesting challenge; employer groups are pressing for the levy to be opened up to fund any relevant training.  We’ll be monitoring these announcements closely, and letting you know how to get involved.

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