2017 is shaping up to be another interesting year. Theresa May, on 18 April, has called for a general election to take place on 8 June, 2017.
After a general election in 2015, and then the referendum of 2016, the British political landscape is about to be shaken up yet again, and this can mean big consequences for the education sector. 2016 and 2017 were landmark years, with massive changes to the funding and assessment of apprenticeships, the potential introduction of grammar schools and more. The further education industry has been forced to adapt to these proposed changes, and with the possibility of a shuffled or new government on the horizon, another cloud of uncertainty has descended.
So, TQUK has decided to profile each of the education ministers and critics of the major parties to get a clear picture of where they stand on educational, apprenticeship and further education issues generally, and what they’ve said so far.
Justine Greening - Conservatives
Justine Greening was appointed Secretary of State for Education on 14 July, 2016. In her youth, she attended her local comprehensive school in Rotherham before studying at Southampton University and the London Business School. She has publicly cited many teachers in her state school experiences as inspirations to her current role as education minister.
Greening is a relatively new minister and only has a few signature reforms under her belt. She oversaw the expansion of the Department for Education to include further education and higher education under its jurisdiction.
She has also overseen the implementation of the government’s new Apprenticeship Levy, with the intention of spending £2.5 billion to create 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020. She has stated that she is dedicated to ‘gold-standard technical education system to sit alongside the academic track’, supporting high quality apprenticeships and college-based courses. The Apprenticeship Levy has had its supporters and critics, with the former saying it will put employers in the driver’s seat to develop qualifications and force larger corporations to hire more apprentices, and the latter saying it takes power away from learners and provides little support to smaller organisations hiring apprentices over 19 years old.
The implementation of the levy a few weeks ago has caused a lot of confusion and frustration, with procurement processes being halted for many smaller businesses.
She has also been in the middle of the controversial resurrection of grammar schools.
Angela Rayner - Labour
Angela Rayner was born in Stockport, was raised by her grandmother and became a teen mum at 16. For a decade, she worked as a care worker for the elderly before training to be a trade official for UNISON, representing 200,000 public sector workers in the North West. She was elected as an MP for Ashton-under-Lyne in the 2015 general election. She is currently Shadow Secretary of State for Education. She represents the Labour party.
Rayner has been responsible for challenging the government on their reforms. She has made speeches in Parliament arguing against the uncapping of tuition and argued for the reversal of the government’s cuts to maintenance grants. She’s advocated for a Labour government to grant every school leaver with an apprenticeship and signed open letters advocating a rethink on retraining for older people to bridge a ‘gaping skills gap’.
The Shadow minister also shares the current Secretary’s desire to increase the importance of technical and further education, arguing that “as much emphasis placed on vocational education and apprenticeships as is currently placed on universities”. She has dismissed the government’s proposals for the reinstitution of grammar school as a ‘vanity project’. And she has advocated for the Labour Party to have a cradle-to-grave lifelong learning policy.
Perhaps like her Secretary counterpart, Ms. Rayner does not seem to have an overarching or coherent policy on education outside of an emphasis on the importance of technical and further education. In fact, she has recently stated the she has lost sleep over Labour’s lack of policy on her brief.
John Pugh – Liberal Democrats
John Pugh was born in Liverpool, graduated from Durham University before becoming a teacher in the state and independent sectors. He holds a doctorate in Logic. He was elected as the member of Parliament for Southport in 2001 He represents the Liberal Democrats, and is the Shadow Secretary of State for Education. In 2010, he served on the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee for Health and Social Care.
Perhaps due to their diminished status in parliament, with only nine MPs the Lib Dems do not seem to have a clear policy on technical or further education. However, the Lib Dem Shadow Secretary has been constantly criticising the government for what it deems as a shabby record of funding in schools.
The Lib Dem party, though, has committed to a desire to see ‘greater investment in adult skills training and further education colleges’.
It’s hard to make heads or tails of the FE policy of any of the parties, though some seem to offer more detail than others. Of course, as campaigns ramp up, more information will become available for comment. And positions may change as the campaign goes on.
Tune back into TQUK’s blog for analysis and news as it develops.