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Manifestos: post-16 education and skills policies

As the UK general election approaches, the major political parties are publishing their manifestos and policies on post-16 education and skills.

This page provides an overview of the key policies from all parties that will impact colleges and their students and determine the direction of travel for further education, apprenticeships and skills.

It will be continually be updated, and will only contain pledges made during the campaign (22 May onwards).

Conservative party manifesto

The Conservative Party have published their manifesto ahead of the general election on 4 July. Having been the party of government since 2010, the manifesto restates the party’s commitment to a number of existing skills and post-16 education policies and makes some additional pledges.

  • “Transform 16-19 education” by introducing the Advanced British Standard, which aims to ensure young people receive a broader education and removing the artificial divide between academic and technical learning.
  • Fund 100,000 “high-quality” apprenticeships for young people. They will fund this by curbing the number of “poor-quality university degrees that leave young people worse off”. You can read our full comment to this announcement here.
  • Deliver the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE), which aims to give adults the support they need to train, retrain and upskill flexibly throughout their working lives. Under the LLE, adults will be able to apply for loans to cover new qualifications. They will also continue to expand adult skills programmes, such as Skills Bootcamps.
  • Expand coverage of mental health support teams from 50% to 100% of schools and colleges in England by 2030.
  • Give young people “the skills and opportunities they deserve” by introducing mandatory National Service for all school leavers at 18, with the choice between a competitive placement in the military or civic service roles. This had been announced early on in the campaign and you can read our briefing note on civic service as part of a young people’s guarantee here.

Commenting on the manifesto David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said: “I’m pleased that the Conservative manifesto confirms their commitment to increase the hours of teaching that young people get in their education to ensure that they get the very best start in life. In England, 16 to 18-year-olds only benefit from around 15 hours per week of teaching time, compared with 25 to 30 hours in many other OECD countries. Stepping up that investment would make an enormous impact for young people and for their resilience, confidence, skills and potential for the future.

“The challenge to the Conservative party is how quickly they would prioritise funding for the Advanced British Standard and enrichment activity in colleges before directing new funding on a new national service scheme which has less clear potential benefits. We also would like to have seen more emphasis on targeting new apprenticeships starts at those wanting to enter the workforce, rather than those who want to complete a degree.

“There are major changes needed to ensure the post-16 system is effective, efficient and fair, and we have made it very clear that there are five things we believe the next government must act upon in its first term. We need a national skills strategy and a comprehensive offer for everyone under the age of 21 to ensure no one is left behind. The pay gap between school and college lecturers must be closed, with a starting salary of £35,000 introduced in colleges across the country, there needs to be 250,000 apprenticeship start per year for young people and adults in priority sectors, and training to ensure that there are 100,000 more people of all ages a year with the skills needed in digital, health and net zero”.

Labour party manifesto

On Thursday morning, Labour released their manifesto at an event up in Greater Manchester. As expected, the Labour manifesto, focused on pledges they had already made either throughout the campaign already or that had been outlined in their five “mission” documents. The manifesto confirmed the following:

  • Establishment of a new body "Skills England" to bring together businesses, training providers and unions with national and local government.
  • Transforming some FE colleges into specialist "Technical Excellence Colleges".
  • Turning the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible Growth and Skills Levy, with Skills England consulting on eligible courses to ensure qualifications offer value for money. This had been trailed earlier in the campaign and you can find more details and our response to this policy announcement here.
  • Guaranteeing training, an apprenticeship, or help to find work for all 18- to 21-year-olds. This had previously been announced earlier in the campaign, you can read more details and our full comment here.

In response, AoC Chief Executive David Hughes, said that "the Labour party has clearly been listening on post-16 education and skills and recognises the vital role that colleges play in their local communities and in national economic growth.". He continued, "I particularly welcome the commitments on a reform of the apprenticeship levy, and the introduction of Skills England as a skills oversight body linking industrial strategy, migration and key national growth sectors like net zero, health and construction."

David also highlighted in his response, that the FE sector had been resource-starved over the last 14 years and the large pay differential between school and college teachers. He said that he looks forward to working with Labour if they are successful, to help eradicate this gap and reverse the chronic underfunding of the sector (full comment here).

Liberal Democrats manifesto

The Liberal Democrats have published their general election manifesto which contains a number of policies on post-16 education and skills. You can read the full manifesto here. We have summarised the most relevant pledges below:

  • A review of further education funding, including the option of exempting colleges from VAT. They have also pledged to increase school and college funding per pupil above the rate of inflation every year, and “end the scandal of crumbling school and college buildings” by investing in new buildings and clearing the backlog of repairs.
  • Introduce a Young People’s Premium, extending pupil premium funding to disadvantaged young people aged 16-18.
  • Establish a standing commission to “build a long-term consensus across parties and teachers to broaden the curriculum and make qualifications at 16 and 18 fit for the 21st century”. They have also pledged to improve the quality of vocational education, including skills for entrepreneurship and self-employment.
  • Replace the “broken” apprenticeship levy with a broader and more flexible skills and training levy. They will also aim to boost the take-up of apprenticeships, including by guaranteeing they are paid at least the National Minimum Wage by scrapping the lower apprentice rate.
  • Identifying and seeking to solve skills gaps, such as the lack of advanced technicians, by expanding higher vocational training like foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates and higher apprenticeships.
  • Create new Lifelong Skills Grants, giving all adults £5,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives, and aim to increase them to £10,000 in the future “when the public finances allow”.
  • Strengthen careers advice and links with employers in schools and colleges.

Responding to the manifesto publication, AoC Chief Executive David Hughes said:

“The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto shows that they have been listening because there are several pledges in line with our asks on post-16 education and skills.

“It’s great to see the promise to review FE funding, including the option of exempting colleges from VAT and presumably taking into account the pay gap with schools, the extension of the pupil premium to 18, a review of qualifications and the reform of the apprenticeship levy, boosting the take-up of apprenticeships, and expanding Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates. It is also pleasing to see they have retained their commitment to lifelong learning with the £5,000 for adults.

“We have set out five very clear asks for the future government: the introduction of a national skills strategy, a comprehensive offer for everyone under the age of 21, a £35,000 starting salary for college lecturers, 250,000 apprenticeship starts per year for young people and adults in priority sectors, and 100,000 more people a year with the skills needed in digital, health and net zero.  

“We have a strong track record of engaging with, and influencing, all parties on FE and skills policy, and look forward to continuing this with the next government.”

Green party manifesto

The Green party have published their manifesto ahead of the general election on 4 July. On post-16 education and skills, they have made the following commitments:

  • A £3 billion increase in funding for sixth-form education over the next parliamentary term, and a £12 billion investment in skills and lifelong learning for further education.
  • The restoration of the Education Maintenance Allowance to financially support young people to extend their studies after the age of 16.

Responding to the publication of the manifesto, AoC Chief Executive David Hughes said:

"I'm pleased to see the Green party manifesto focusing on the significant investment needed in further education to ensure that young people get the best start in life and adults can access the training and skills they need to be active citizens and find good work. The £3bn increase in funding for sixth form education over the next parliamentary term, and a £12bn investment in skills and lifelong learning for further education, alongside the reintroduction of the Education Maintenance Allowance to financially support young people to extend their studies after the age of 16 are all very welcome proposals. 

“That investment would need to help colleges close the £9,000 pay gap between school and college teachers of £9,000, and extend opportunities to all young people and adults as we called for in our paper, 100% Opportunity: the case for a tertiary education system, in April.

“The proposal for councils to provide free transport for 16 to 18-year-olds with special educational needs and disabilities and the pledge to introduce universal basic income are both helpful steps towards a more inclusive lifelong learning society and we welcome the promise for a trained and paid counsellor in every school and sixth-form college but would want to see that extended to include further education colleges.”