By Alice Barnard, CEO of the Edge Foundation

@ukEdge response to #SpendingReview 2020 #SR20 

In his own words, the Chancellor highlighted that the UK is facing an “economic emergency” as he revealed a set of sobering statistics on the decline of GDP and the growth in public borrowing at the recent Spending Review (SR).

Undoubtedly, this has been a year filled with unexpected turbulence and change. We therefore welcome the SR focusing on the immediate challenges presented by Covid-19 and protecting jobs and livelihoods throughout the UK. At the same time, we believe the skills and education system must be supported to deliver on the following points so that no-one gets left behind.

It is good to see investment in young people but we need to see support targeted towards those who need it most. As highlighted in our report ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Education’ the economic impacts of Covid-19 have been, and will continue to be felt disproportionately by those under 24. We’re pleased to see government expand the Kickstart scheme to provide urgent jobs for a predicted 250,000 young people. The government has also committed to its promise to increase the core schools budget and it is good to see an uplift of £2.2bn funding in 2021-22, alongside the core funding base rate for 16-19 years olds being maintained at £4,188. But we now need to see the Department for Education urgently target this support to the young people and disadvantaged learners most at risk of being left behind. It is also critical that digital access is provided to those who need it most in order to avoid exacerbating the already growing digital divide.

We welcome the revived support for apprenticeships, and encourage a long-term sustainable strategy for the programme. We are pleased to see government considering proposals for a more flexible approach towards apprenticeships in 2021 to accommodate different working patterns. It is also encouraging to see the extension of the incentive payment for businesses hiring new apprentices (£2000 for apprentices aged 16-24 and £1500 for apprentices aged over 25). This extension will offer a particular lifeline for SMEs but our concern is that the support will only be extended for another two months. In order to plan, SMEs need assurance of more long term support so we want to see government offer a significant and reliable wage subsidy for small businesses so that regions can more appropriately tailor the programme to meet local needs. To ensure long term sustainable support for young people, we also want to see the levy refocused away from adults already in employment (who need a more flexible training offer), and towards those aged 16-24.

Public sector pay freeze

Pay sector increases would have been difficult to achieve under this challenging fiscal climate. But what about our teaching workforce? While the public sector pay freeze is a difficult measure to swallow, we know that difficult measures are needed to exercise fiscal restraint. We are proud of the hard work and commitment our doctors and nurses have shown throughout the pandemic and they rightly deserve the proposed pay increases recognising their work.

But what about the teachers, tutors and the wider teaching workforce who continued teaching our students throughout the pandemic, at times risking their own safety and wellbeing, and increasing their own workloads to do this? We cannot support the pay freeze for teachers. Even if the government cannot fiscally reward teachers with increased pay, they should at least show them we care by investing in their professional and personal development. Industry interchange can offer an invaluable way of supporting teachers’ personal development and at Edge we have piloted a series of successful ‘teacher externships’ providing a model of how this can be done well.

Despite the difficulty of the current fiscal situation, the pandemic has pointed the way clearly to what needs to change in education – a move away from rote learning for written exams and league tables towards a broader more holistic education focused on developing the skilled resilient young people that will support us through future challenges.

Alice Barnard, CEO of the Edge Foundation

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