Transforming Further Education at the Party Conferences

Central YMCA hosted fringe events at the political party conferences in which we asked policy-makers to consider seven calls to action
16 October 2017

The annual political party conferences are an opportunity to reflect upon, debate and come up with ideas that can shape the policy landscape for years and possibly even decades to come.

Give the enormous scale of apprenticeship reform currently underway, there was a considerable emphasis across both the recent Conservative and Labour Party Conferences on the Further Education (FE) sector, not least of all at our Central YMCA Party Conference fringe dinners.

On Tuesday 3rd October Central YMCA held a dinner at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Conservative MP and long-standing patron of ours, Caroline Nokes. Also in attendance were FE sector experts, politicians and local leaders, including Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England and Mark Dawe, the Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).

Attendees debated issues including social mobility, recent apprenticeship reforms and careers advice, with apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship funding featuring heavily in light of a fall in the number of apprenticeship starts and media criticism of the new Apprenticeship Levy.

Likewise, we also held a similar dinner at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on the 25th September, attended by Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner MP, long-standing YMCA supporters Stephen Timms MP, Sir Kevin Barron MP and John Healey MP, as well as CEO of Policy Connect, Jonathan Shaw, amongst others.

Throughout both dinners, the conversation centred on our Transforming Further Education report and its seven calls to action, and notably, our call on the Government to implement a guaranteed ring-fenced budget of £1bn for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) under the new reform system was fiercely debated. 

During the discussion at the Conservative fringe Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of AELP, explained the issue by arguing:

“Our concern is that in a couple of years the apprenticeship levy will be used up by big businesses and SME’s will suffer as a result. It is likely that if this funding issue isn’t fixed, SME’s will be starved of funding”.
Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of AELP

Also discussed in depth was our criticism of the 20% off-the-job training requirement, which we believe should be reviewed and amended so that it doesn’t act as a barrier to firms wishing to use the Apprenticeship levy to up-skill existing staff.

Most encouraging though was the general sense of agreement upon the issues facing the FE sector, and the willingness and readiness of those present to consider innovative solutions and to push for change. As our Group Education and Skills Director, Lady Andrée Deane Barron, told delegates however, “the Further Education sector need to harmonise their messages to ensure we are heard by policy-makers”. 

We certainly hope that our conference dinners were able to concentrate minds on the issues facing the sector and were the starting point of a collaborative effort to drive through the changes needed to ensure FE delivers for young people. 

If you would like to read our Transforming Further Education calls to action yourself, they are available here.