Tabitha Roberts, Policy Advisor, The Edge Foundation

The Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference (#LDConf) took place virtually from the 17-20th September, with attendees from across the country gathering online for four days of policy debate, fringe events and networking.

The tone of the Conference was one of empowerment, with Ed Davey MP framing his keynote speech around the expectation that people should have ‘a Government that empowers them [and] enables them to take on the challenges they face’. This expectation for empowerment stretched between the three priority pillars for the Liberal Democrats that Ed Davey set out; education, supporting small businesses and caring for our loved ones.

Ed Davey spoke passionately about the Liberal Democrats previously being the party of education, and their strong desire to be the party of education once again. Combining this focus on education with the fundamental view that ‘Liberal Democrats believe in powerful citizens’, the key message was that Liberal Democrats want to support parents to support their children, and for parents to be invested in their children’s education.

To launch this commitment to education, Ed Davey called for a ‘massive COVID education catch up plan’ and this pledge to support children and parents as we come out of the pandemic was reflected in many of the fringe events at Conference. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Education Union (NEU) presented a joint session on ‘Delivering an education recovery plan that fully supports children’. Daisy Cooper MP began this thought-provoking discussion by setting out that there is both a moral and an economic case to invest in our children and their education.

The investment that the Liberal Democrats are calling for would take the form of a Children’s Catch Up fund of at least £15 billion. Ed Davey set out that this money would be spent with care and would be used as a catalyst for a fresh direction for education. The proposal is for £10 billion to be allocated directly to schools, and schools would be free to spend this additional funding as they think best. The Liberal Democrats want to trust and empower Head Teachers and Teachers at nurseries, school, colleges and universities to make the best decisions for their pupils.

The remaining third of the fund, £5 billion, would be given directly to parents in what Ed Davey described as ‘the most radical empowering of parents ever’. This would see a 3-year programme where parents receive vouchers to spend on what they want for their child’s education. This would allow parents the flexibility to spend the vouchers with their child’s own school; at afterschool clubs such as homework club or music lessons, or, parents could spend the money on private tuition, sports or counselling. The only requirement is that it supports the education and well-being of the child.

Additionally, the value of the catch-up vouchers would be doubled and in some cases tripled for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, for children in care and for children with special educational needs. The additional funding would help to empower the most disadvantaged children in the UK. This agenda was further supported during the policy motion debate for ‘A Fairer, Greener, More Caring Society’ where members of the party voted in favour of the motion that included extending eligibility for Free School Meals to every primary school student and child living in poverty, providing food vouchers during the school holidays and tackling the ‘digital divide’ by making household internet more affordable.

Child poverty proved to be an intersectional issue at Conference with the consequences being felt in the assessment system where a focus on examination and high-pressure testing disproportionately impacts those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In the fringe event run by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the exam board AQA on ‘the future of GCSEs’, Baroness Garden as the Liberal Democrats Lords Spokesperson on Higher & Further Education and Skills, spoke passionately about how the purpose of education should be to set children up for life and that there is a need to find space in the curriculum for life skills and creative studies. Although the discussion was inconclusive on if, when or how GCSEs should be reformed, there was broad consensus that COVID has shone a spotlight on the nature and purpose of our assessment system. The debate around the reform of assessment continues to gather pace and this is something that we continue to passionately call for at the Edge Foundation.

Finally, discussions on skills spanned the Conference with policy motions calling for: every adult to have the chance to access education and training opportunities throughout their lives by introducing Skills Wallets; media skills to be embedded in the curriculum to help people spot fake news; and, regionalisation of England with skills being a devolved power. Sarah Olney MP spoke at a fringe event run by EPI on ‘Levelling up and addressing the skills gap’ on how we need to look at skills gaps regionally to see where different parts of the country can cluster expertise and build networks. Sarah called for work on identifying skills gaps for young people, particularly framed around how they can feed into the economies in their local area. At the same event, Lord Shipley positively referenced the Skills for Jobs White Paper which was published in January, but stressed that there needed to be action to back it up.

When discussing skills it would be remiss to not mention EU Exit. Concerns were raised about skills shortages in the UK as a result of EU Exit with fewer opportunities for young people to study internationally to build a broad base of skills. In the policy motion debate on ‘Rebuilding our Cultural, Artistic and Educational Ties with Europe’, Layla Moran MP and members of the Liberal Democrat party condemned the decision of the Government to leave the Erasmus Plus scheme and raised concerns with the replacement Turing Scheme as being less accessible and less well-funded, therefore reducing limiting its benefits in aiding social mobility. The future of skills is an important priority for us at Edge. We will continue to produce our regular series of Skills Shortage Bulletins and convene our Skills Shortages Analysis Group to share latest research and messages on this topic.

It is reassuring to see the Liberal Democrats highlighting Education as one of their three policy priorities. Over the next year we can expect high levels of engagement across educational policies with a focus on responding to the pandemic and putting children and parents at the centre of the Liberal Democrat promise to fight for a ‘fair deal’.

Tabitha Roberts, Policy Advisor, The Edge Foundation

One the 19th October, Edge will be hosting a discussion on ‘This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.’ from Party Conference season.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page