Conservative manifesto – technical education

Comment from Professor John Holford, Robert Peers Chair in Adult Education, University of Nottingham:

“World-class technical education or World-class turmoil?

The Conservative manifesto says: “We want British technical education to be as prestigious as our world leading higher education system, and for technical education in this country to rival the best technical systems in the world.”

“We will start”, it says, “by replacing 13,000 existing technical qualifications with new qualifications, known as T-levels”.  This is a recipe for Further Education Turmoil, not world-class Technical Education.

What else do they propose?  They will “increase the number of teaching hours by fifty per cent”. How will they fund it? 50% more teaching implies 50% more teaching costs. Yet English Further Education colleges have been in financial crisis in recent years, with waves of enforced amalgamations and cost-cutting. Where will the money come from?

There are headline-grabbing – but pretty pointless – projects: “new institutes of technology … able to gain royal charter status and regius professorships in technical education”. There are empty “rights”: “a new right to request leave for training” (but no right to take leave for training, or duty to provide it; and no indication whether this leave will be with pay); a “right to lifelong learning in digital skills” (but no indication as to what level of skills this will extend to, or how this will be funded).

There are commitments: Who can disagree with “a national retraining scheme” to “help workers to stay in secure jobs as the economy changes”? A “major review of funding across tertiary education as a whole” – we shall see the devil in the detail.

Of course, there are some good bits; but they are bits: “a UCAS-style portal for technical education”. “Discounted bus and train travel for apprentices.”

But the gaping hole is the total absence of any mention of learning or education for adults other than for working life. A former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill,  said: liberal adult education “ranks in my opinion far above science and technical instruction” as a priority for government spending. The 2017 Conservative Manifesto makes no mention of reversing even slightly the devastation of the infrastructure for lifewide education of adults which governments of all parties have wrought over the last 30 years.”

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