New ‘strategic body’ for education part of Labour’s English plan

Party’s lifelong learning report features call for new organisation to coordinate across National Education Service

November 12, 2019
Labour placard

Labour has unveiled a “radical” plan for lifelong learning in England that would give adults a universal entitlement to six years of education up to and including undergraduate degrees, with the plan also calling for a new “strategic body” to coordinate education policy.

Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission, comprised of experts on post-16 education, published its final report on 12 November, calling for a strategic shift in adult education as part of the party’s existing plan to create a National Education Service. The NES includes tuition-free university education and the reintroduction of maintenance grants, a key element of Labour’s policy platform since the 2017 general election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner gave a press conference, where they pledged that the party would adopt the commission’s plans.

Ms Rayner said: “These policies are some of the most radical that a Labour government will propose. Education as a right for all, throughout your life. A new, universal basic service, the right of every citizen to learn in the way that suits them, to meet their own needs as well as the needs of our economy and society.”

The plan would allow those without A levels or equivalents to attend college and study for them for free, with maintenance grants for those on low incomes.

The key recommendation from the commission states that “every single adult will be able to access six years of credits at Level 4 to 6. Qualifications above A level, up to and including the equivalent of an undergraduate degree, will be available to all those who need it, whenever they need it.”

The report also envisages “means-tested maintenance support for adults to facilitate access to learning” and calls for consideration of how to “better support progression to postgraduate study as part of a broader approach to research and development spending and industrial strategy”.

Another of its recommendations is for a new “strategic body” in education. Here, the report says: “Although the commission does not wish to unnecessarily add new organisations to the skills and education landscape, we do feel there is a strong need for the National Education Service to have an overarching, independent strategic body – distinct from the Department for Education – to coordinate activity across the education system.”

Ms Rayner said that a Labour government would introduce a “new right to paid time off for education and training”, meaning employees were not “trapped” in jobs without the ability to progress through education.

The report says: “For many learners the idea of a three-year, residential degree is neither practical nor desirable, yet our system of qualifications is biased in favour of those who complete single, more intensive programmes of study.”

It also warns that “the last decade has seen funding for adult education and skills slashed by billions of pounds in real terms, and too many potential learners find themselves locked out of the opportunities that returning to education can bring”.

Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow higher education, further education and skills minister, said the measures aimed at “stemming and reversing the haemorrhaging of adult learning we’ve had since 2010”.

Asked if the creation of a new “strategic body” would mean the replacement of the Office for Students, Mr Marsden said this “certainly wasn’t in the mind of the commissioners”. But they felt a “different sort of expertise to the sort currently required in higher education” would be needed to implement the National Education Service plans, he added.

Labour has previously said that, if it were in government, the OfS would be “working to different priorities” than at present, he pointed out.

Mr Corbyn said in his speech: “Under our plan, skills and vocational qualifications will be valued the same as university degrees.” And he reiterated Labour’s commitment to “university tuition open to anyone from any background for free, without racking up tens of thousands of pounds in debt”.

Mr Corbyn was questioned about funding for the plan to come from Labour’s planned introduction of VAT on private school fees, but he said that matter would be addressed in the coming manifesto.

The commission was co-chaired by former Labour education secretary Estelle Morris and Communication Workers’ Union general secretary Dave Ward. Members of the commission from the higher education sector included David Latchman, master of Birkbeck, University of London; Dave Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University; and Matt Waddup, head of policy and campaigns at the University and College Union.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (1)

Great to see adult education on the political agenda and even more so to see Labour's plan fully and accurately reported in THE.