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Labour: 6 years free adult education to retrain for new career

Labour announces plans to “throw open door” for adults to study and retrain and take advantage of the Green Industrial Revolution

Labour policy at a glance:

  • SIX years free undergraduate university tuition
  • maintenance grants for living costs of poor
  • free college education for mature students
  • 6 yrs free education to obtain HNC/Diploma
  • paid time off to study

In a speech in Blackpool on Tuesday, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will announce plans to ensure everyone has access to education and training throughout their life to end skills shortages and “allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future”.

Labour is pledging to put vocational education on a par with university degrees and deliver a radical expansion of lifelong learning to make sure “no one is shut out of education.”

Labour’s plans will enable adults to return to study for free and ensure everyone has the time and support they need to study and retrain.

Angela Rayner will say that Labour will “throw open the door” for adults to study, “whether they want to change career, are made redundant or didn’t get the qualifications they needed when they were younger.”

The party says its plans are vital to meet the changing nature of industry – ensuring automation doesn’t leave people without work and we have the skills we need to tackle the climate emergency.

Labour’s commitment to lifelong learning is part of our plans for a National Education Service, which will provide cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use.

Labour will provide 30 hours of free childcare to all 2 to 4 year olds, open 1000 new Sure Start centres, cut class sizes for all 5, 6 and 7 year olds, scrap SATs for key stage 1 and 2 and provide free school meals to all primary school children. The party will also scrap university tuition fees, bring back EMA for sixth form students and bring back university maintenance grants.

Britain has a severe skills shortage, particularly in higher technical skills. According to the CBI, two thirds of businesses worry they won’t be able to fill skilled posts. The Conservatives have slashed funding for further education and skills training by 47 per cent and overseen a 25 per cent decline in adults enrolling in education.

New research by the Labour party, published today, has revealed that the number of adults achieving qualification in basic skills has plummeted since 2011. In 2011 there were 633,000 adults achieving a qualification in either English, Maths or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) but this had fallen by 40 per cent to 418,500 in 2017/18. The number of adults currently learning is at its lowest point since 1996.

Labour will ensure that everyone can access education and training, throughout their life. We will:

Enable any adult without A-level or equivalent qualification to attend college and study for them for free;

Give every adult a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and equivalents such as Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, Foundation Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education in areas such as rail engineering technicians, nursing associates, and professional accounting technicians);

Provide maintenance grants for low income adult learners to complete their courses;

Give workers the right to paid time off for education and training;

Give employers a role in designing qualifications to make sure training is equipping learners with the right skills;

Support workplace learning and improve basic skills by reversing cuts to the Union Learning Fund;

Make sure everyone has access to the information they need to return to study through a national careers advice service.

Rayner said:

Labour will throw open the door for adults to study, whether they want to change career, are made redundant or didn’t get the qualifications they needed when they were younger.

For many, adult education is too expensive, too time-consuming or too difficult to get into.

People have been held back for too long. We will make free education a right to ensure we have the skills we need to allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future.

We’ll make sure no one is shut out of education by giving people the support, time and funding they need to train so that we have the skills we need to meet the changing nature of work and tackle the climate emergency.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will say:

As part of Labour’s plan for real change, we will invest in a national education service, free at the point of use, so everyone can learn at every stage of their lives.

I see education like an escalator running alongside you throughout life, that you can get on and off whenever you want.

That’s what Labour’s National Education Service will offer people – free education, as a right for all. Under our plans, skills and vocational qualifications are valued the same as university degrees.

We don’t just benefit from our own education, we benefit from everybody else’s too.

Tomorrow’s jobs are in green and high-tech industries. We need people to have the skills to take those jobs. By ensuring the ultra-rich pay their way, we can provide training to everybody who needs it.

I’d rather give a break to the worker who wants to learn, than a tax break to the billionaire who wants for nothing. That’s the difference between Labour and the Conservatives.”

Since 2011 the number of adults achieving a qualification in English and Maths has fallen by 40 per cent.

According to the IFS, total spending on adult education has fallen by 47 per cent since 2010.

According to the OECD, more than one quarter of working-age adults in England have low levels of literacy and/or numeracy skills.

Between 2011/12 and 2017/18 adult education enrolment has fallen by over 380,000, a 25% decline. The fall has been steepest in higher level skills, with a 43% decline in learners at Level 4+.

Two thirds of businesses worry they won’t be able to fill skilled posts.

Level 4 and 5 qualifications are between A-Levels and degrees, referred to as higher technical qualifications. Only 10% of adults in England hold one of these qualifications as their highest, compared to around 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.

The Association of Colleges found that there will be over 1.5 million job openings in the next five years that will require qualifications at these levels.

The government’s own review of the post-18 education system called for a consistent maintenance system across further and higher education.

The policy is based on recommendations from the Final Report by Labour’s independent Lifelong Learning Commission. The Lifelong Learning Commission outlined an ambitious strategy for the future of lifelong learning and skills. They have said that within a decade we should aim to reduce the gap between the UK and OECD on adults qualified to Level 3 to zero, and have over half a million adults training at Level 4+. To achieve this they believe that we need an uptake of 1.

Costs are estimated, based on 5% of adults qualified to L1-2 using their Level 3 entitlement and 1.5% of adults not qualified to L4 in training at those higher levels. We estimate this means spending, as follows:

  • £634 million on the L3 entitlement
  • £1.97 billion on the L4-6 entitlement
  • £573 million on maintenance grants for learners at L4-6.

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  1. Good idea could we put the PLP through a political education course regarding the history of the Labour party and socialism….most havnt a clue .

  2. Fantastic. My daughter was doing bio medicine at sheffield uni. She became ill and either had to quit or take another degree. She was already halfway through the degree. Started again got degree then went on to to masters. She has health condition and when supervisor found out he made it very uncomfortable for her so she left. Now found out he has form for doing this type of thing with graduates. He is supervised and other graduates have had problems with him. My daughter has a job now but wants to finish her masters. As it stands now she needs to work as well as doing her masters. She has condition meaning her joints ache and she gets very fatigued. If labour win I know my daughter will be able to finish her masters. She is more than capable but money and health problems stand in the way.

  3. In the last line of the 2nd or 3rd last paragraph you say –

    “To achieve this they believe we need an uptake of 1.”

    This doesn’t seem to make sense.

  4. “Labour will throw open the door for adults to study”


    But beware. In 1997, the same sort of statements were made within the “Education, Education, Education” war-cry.

    Some of us warned against a simplistic economic rationale – we knew, from experience, that the (again) heavily-pressed post-16 sector was having to justify courses on vocational grounds. We also knew that non-vocational adult education was often the door that people walked through in order to become re-engaged – and warned Labour against a simplistic approach.

    The Blunkett (who had actually taught in FE) regime immediately started banging on about the economic rationale for education – part of the wider, dim, narrowly functional concept of education that developed. The rest is history. The ‘Cinderella Service’ as it was called 30 years ago remains without its glass slipper, despite all the words by mouth and print that have been expended in that period.

    So … I understandably get a bit nervous when I see creeping in the same knee-jerk re-iteration :

    ““allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future”

    Not because the economic consequences of raising educational standards is important, and should be an outcome, but because of the self-defeating dangers of making it an a priori rationale. Education should be enabling, not narrowly prescriptive – a mistake that is also made in the prescriptive funding model for research.

    I also have reservations about a ‘National Education Service’ except as a co-ordinating and enabling mechanism for government. The last thing this country needs is more centralisation of functions.

    1. RH, technology may eventually allow ‘central’ and ‘local’ to co-exist quite comfortably I suspect. When what are today called search engines hopefully become smarter with AI (instead of dumber and more sales-prioritised as has been happening) our expressed thoughts may I think be as capable of analysis and correlation as may the whole network of automated transport and automated everything else.
      For good or ill we appear to be heading toward a future where the choice between centralisation and decentralisation will be decided on an ad hoc basis by the software.
      It may be that human understanding, much less control of the vast complexity, will be impossible.

  5. Hey comments section,which nowadays seems to be dominated by the same few grating commentators often carrying on the same argument over and over again,there is a general election on maybe try and be a bit more positive please?,it’s not a bad thing,we may be about to depose the Tories.

    1. I’m sure any contributions you want to make will be welcome. The more the merrier.

  6. Most people presumably think the individual gains most from education – otherwise students paying for their own education would be indefensible.
    The individual certainly gains but employers are the financial beneficiaries of education, probably in a ratio of at least ten to one if total company returns are compared to wage bills. In the giant tech corporations it may be a hundred to one.
    Clearly without trained staff entrepreneurs’ incomes would be limited to what they could produce with their own hands – yet many resent paying tax to support education and refuse to recognise that importing skilled labour from poorer countries can only ever be a short term solution.
    We need to educate the rich in their responsibilities to the society that enabled them to succeed – by educating them and providing the services, security and infrastructure that allowed them to survive and to thrive.
    Too many of the rich believe themselves self-sufficient, self-made and owing nothing to society – on the contrary, they tell themselves that without them society would collapse.
    Denying them the benefits of our society for a time may be a necessary part of their re-education.

  7. This policy could be transformational for many people’s quality of life and our society in general. I look forward to reading the details and to seeing what they have doing to mitigate against the private sector corrupting the objective’s like they did with NVQs

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