As we look ahead to 2024, there are already trends emerging that will shape how training providers operate and support learners over the nex...
General election: What does a change in government mean for the training industry?
The next general election will be held no later than January 2025, but could be called earlier than expected in Spring 2024. As it currently stands, we’ll likely see a change in government – so what will the impact be for the training industry?
Since the current government came into power over a decade ago, apprenticeships and training have undergone significant changes. The landmark Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in 2017, and programmes like Skills Bootcamps and T Levels have been announced as part of the government’s Levelling Up and Net Zero strategies.
Despite these new initiatives, total spending on adult education and apprenticeships fell by 38% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2020-21. In a report last year, the Learning and Work Institute predicted that inflation could wipe out up to £850 million of the value of skills funding in England before 2025.
It’s clear that change is needed to ensure current funding rates reflect the actual cost of training delivery. So what’s on the agenda for the three main political parties in the UK?
The Labour Party has announced plans to turn the Apprenticeship Levy into a ‘Growth and Skills Levy’. Labour’s plan for skills would:
- Enable firms to spend up to 50% of their levy contributions, including current underspend, on non-apprenticeship training. This includes modular courses and functional skills courses to tackle key skills gaps. Reserving 50% of the Growth and Skills Levy for apprenticeships would protect existing apprenticeship provision.
- Better align skills policy with regional economic policy and local labour markets, by devolving adult education skills funding streams to current and future combined authorities.
- Establish a new expert body, Skills England, to oversee the national effort to meet the skills needs of the coming decade across all regions, including those needed to deliver the Climate Investment Pledge.
Review of BTECs
Labour has also stated that it would not go ahead with the abolition of technical qualifications like BTECs, which the current government plans to defund as part of their further education reforms.
Bridget Phillipson MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, recently said in a response to the Protect Student Choice campaign that the transition between qualifications was “constraining opportunities for young people”. She added:
“The next Labour government will ensure all students are able to complete their courses and will review the diversity of options at level 3 before making further changes.”
Richard Moore, Further Education and Skills Consultant, weighed in on this topic in our recent webinar. He explained that it doesn’t mean the BTECs won’t be abolished, but that Labour will at least take a second look at the options.
“They’ve stated (and I hope they keep to this) that they would pause and review this bonfire of BTECs that is being proposed by the current government. Labour intends to take a longer view around the diversity of level 3 options and to reduce what it sees as current instability in the market,” he said.
“Of course, that’s been welcomed far and wide by schools, colleges, universities and industry bodies. I think there’s no doubt that the number one request from us all is for more funding for the post-16 education and training sector.”
The Liberal Democrats recently announced a number of policies on further education and skills at its annual party conference in Bournemouth. As outlined on the Lib Dems’ website, plans include:
- Increasing school and college funding per pupil above the rate of inflation every year.
- Increasing the availability of apprenticeships and career advice for young people.
- A £390 million fund to provide free small-group tutoring to 1.75 million children a year who struggle with their learning. Pupils would receive tailored support over 12 weeks in English, maths, science or another academic subject.
- Creating ‘Skills Wallets’, which the party first proposed back in 2019. The Skills Wallets would give all adults £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives.
The Lib Dems also pledged to increase pay for apprenticeships to at least the minimum wage. The party cited low pay as a contributing factor to “staggeringly high drop-out rates” for apprenticeships in shortage occupations like health and social care, manufacturing, medicine and dentistry.
Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat Treasury and Business Spokesperson said:
“This Conservative government crashed the economy and is now sitting on the sidelines with no plan to fix the damage they’ve caused. It is incredibly damning that apprenticeships are plummeting in the very sectors that the government has identified as having severe skills shortages.
“Currently, first year apprentices are paid a shockingly low wage, almost half the national minimum wage. We would fix the broken apprenticeship system by making it much more flexible for employers and ensuring apprentices are paid a fair wage, helping to tackle soaring drop-out rates.”
In 2021, the Conservatives announced plans to overhaul the further education system in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act, which included reforms to level 3 qualifications in England.
Under the new proposals, A Levels and T Levels would be the main further education options for 16 year-olds, alongside apprenticeships. Funding for overlapping post-GCSE options, including around 100 BTECs, would be removed.
However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced during his Conservative Party conference speech at the start of October that both A Levels and T Levels would be replaced by a single qualification. The T Levels were launched only three years ago in 2020 and attracted over £1 billion of public funding.
The Advanced British Standard
The Advanced British Standard (ABS) for 16-19 year-olds aims to “bring together the best of A Levels and T Levels into a single new qualification”. The qualification will give students the freedom to study a mix of technical and academic subjects, with most students expected to study a minimum of five subjects at different levels.
Every student will be required to study some form of English and maths up to age 18, and more time will be spent in the classroom. Currently, a typical A Level student in England is taught for 1,280 hours over two years, while a typical technical student gets 1,000 hours. Under the Conservatives’ plans, taught hours will increase to a minimum of 1,475 hours over two years.
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association and one of the leaders of the Protect Student Choice campaign, said that the government was “right to identify that the sixth form curriculum in England is narrow by international standards”. However, yet another change to sixth form education will create disruption.
“It is surprising that the government appears to have brought the T Level journey to an end at such an early stage and after making such an eye-watering financial investment in the project,” he said.
“As the chaos caused by the plan to scrap most BTECs is now being followed by a plan to scrap A Levels and T Levels (until this morning described by the government as ‘gold standard’ qualifications), there could be turbulent times ahead for the sixth form sector.”
Will we see changes to the Apprenticeship Levy?
The other key area for the Conservatives will be the Apprenticeship Levy, which has been roundly criticised by retail, hospitality, technology and recruitment firms as a “£3.5 billion mistake”.
In a letter to ministers, business leaders called for the Apprenticeship Levy to be widened into a broader Skills Levy, and for businesses to be allowed to spend their funds on a bigger range of high-quality, accredited courses.
There’s currently been no movement from the Conservatives on this, but we should expect clarification before the next general election.
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The training landscape is changing, as training providers try to adapt to increased economic pressures, technical education reforms and shif...