David Evennett is Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills

I would like to start by wishing FE News readers a Happy New Year. After my last article, I offered FE News readers the opportunity to ask me questions about issues relating to skills and further education. I was pleased with the number of responses, and I have tried to answer as many of your questions as possible. Many of them were regarding policy, so I thought that I would use this article to give a general outline of what the Conservatives are proposing in this area.

2010 is going to be a very important year for this country. Britain is the only G20 member state still in recession, unemployment is still increasing and our national debt is growing fast. It is on this backdrop that this year’s General Election will be fought, and the Party that wins the Election will be responsible for clearing up this mess. This will mean action to reduce spending in some areas and the budget deficit overall.

What this does not mean is that investment has to stop in all areas. We believe that there is a strong argument for investing in skills now to help Britain out of recession.

Many of you will know of our 2008 Green Paper Building Lives, Transforming Skills, which consulted on a number of long-term policy proposals to help address Britain’s weak skills base, provide new opportunities for people of all ages and make our country more competitive in terms of skills to attract new firms to the UK economy.

By refocusing the Train to Gain budget, we proposed that we could introduce Lifelong Learning Accounts to help deliver more apprenticeships, a special NEETs fund to provide different types of skills training for young people, and an adult and community learning fund to create new opportunities for courses that are not necessarily qualification-based. How these accounts and funds are created is the subject of another consultation, as you will know from my previous article.

We have also ensured that skills and training are an important part of our immediate plans to help Britain out of recession. As part of our action plan Get Britain Working a number of ideas have been put forward to help people back into work. We have proposed that the rules on the activities while on benefits be changes so that those that are out of work can take up training opportunities whilst claiming Jobseekers Allowance. We would also seek to expand training and the support on offer to small businesses.

Both policy documents, Get Britain Working and Building Lives, Transforming Skills offer real opportunities for individuals, FE colleges and training providers. Most importantly, all of these things would help build Britain’s skills base.


Answers to your questions

"When the Blair Labour Party came into power they made sure the country knew of their long term proposals for education with set numbers and timings, as yet there has been no clear Conservative future policy outlined, especially for FE. Does the Conservative party have a slogan to counter education, and can David Evennett indicate where education figures in any priority action plan?" - Terry Hitchcox, FE News reader

Education and skills are a key part of Get Britain Working, the Conservative action plan which sets out our proposals to help rebuild the economy. A Conservative Government would:

  • Expand training with financial help for smaller firms
  • Remove restrictions on activities for those on benefits
  • Change the rules for rapid re-training so that unemployed people can take up training opportunities whilst claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance


Our Green Paper, published in 2008, sets out in detail our long-term vision for further education. We want one funding body, one audit regime, and one improvement body.

This includes creating a new, slimmed down Further Education Funding Council, and removing funding bureaucracy and unnecessary inspection audits from colleges.

We have outlined how we would refocus the Train to Gain budget to invest in new apprenticeships, the support we would provide to SMEs that take on apprentices, money for new Group Training Associations, and funds for both adult and community learning and young people not in education, employment or training.

We have also outlined our plans for a new, all-age careers service.

Get Britain Working and the Green Paper are both available on www.conservatives.com


"Since Leitch, the government has been moving towards an open publicly-funded skills market where any FE budget will be accessible to a quality assured provider irrespective of whether it comes from the public, private or voluntary sector. The full introduction of skills accounts should cement the process. Are the Conservatives committed to the same principle of openness?" - Paul Warner, director of employment and skills at the Association of Learning Providers

We are currently consulting on how the Lifelong Learning Accounts we proposed in our Green Paper could be provided and how they could enable more demand-led training, with individuals going to the provider of their choice.


"If collaboration between education partners is key for delivering the future skills agenda how will the [Shadow] Minister address the issue of qualified FE teachers not being able to teach in schools?" - John Kerr, operations director at independent education foundation Edge

As a qualified teacher and former FE college lecturer myself, I understand your concern. We are looking into this issue further.


"Isn’t it time that a future Conservative government gave all young people to the age of 25 an entitlement to vocational education and training to level 3, the acknowledged European baseline for a skilled employee?" - Simon Bartley, chief executive of vocational education group UK Skills

Leitch’s Review of Skills said that 28% of British workers were qualified to apprentice, skilled craft and technician level, against 51% in France and 65% in Germany. Therefore, more needs to be done to increase skills to Level 3.

We would invest in new work-place apprenticeships to try and increase level three skills for people of all ages.


"What is your intention over Train to Gain in relation to current funding for adult skills. Will Functional Skills be funded, will/would you remove Skills for Life from the learning provision completely?" - Senga Hamilton Caldwell, FE News reader

We believe that the Train to Gain budget should be refocused to help people of all ages, which includes providing new apprenticeships and a fund for adult and community learning.


"Will you continue to fund and develop online learning opportunities for adult Basic Skills and IT?" - Jude MossadFE News reader

Yes.


"Before the recession, the Conservative's Green paper proposed re-routing £100m pa of the Train to Gain budget towards adult community education. Can you re-confirm that excellent policy or explain how it has been changed?" - Alastair Thomson, FE News reader

It is still our intention to create an adult and community fund.


"The unemployment levels for 16 to 18 year olds is set to remain high for some time to come, will funding be made available to colleges to train this group for work, or will current funding levels be reduced?" - Brian McKee, FE News reader

We would create a special fund for young people not in education, employment or training by refocusing part of the Train to Gain budget.

We hope that this fund could be used for different types of training, which are not necessarily qualification-based, but still helps young people develop skills for further training, or employment. This aspect is currently in development.


"The current Conservative Party plans for funding Colleges would take away local Council's newly gained responsibilities to fund 16-18 education despite the fact that the Conservatives control many more councils in England than any other Party. Will the thousands of Conservative councillors accept this change?" - Anonymous FE News reader

Our plans for further education funding have been clear for quite some time and have been formulated in consultation with a number of groups including councillors.


"Do they agree with the regionalised/localised dimension of skills delivery, or would they favour a sectoral approach?" - Anonymous FE News reader

We believe in a sectoral approach, rather than a regionalised one.


"Why are they so wedded to SSCs? Why not add them to the bonfire of quangos?!" - Anonymous FE News reader

We believe that SSCs have an important role to play in the FE sector, which is why we have proposed that their role is expanded. For example, we would give them funding to accredit qualifications.


David Evennett is Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills


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