Announcements so far this year indicated that Boris Johnson’s administration understood the need to boost skills and technical education following Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. As a further education college group, this is very welcome, as we know how vital colleges are to the Government’s skills agenda.
But will this continue under Liz Truss’s leadership?
We’ve taken a dive into her views and actions on further education, skills and apprenticeships, during her parliamentary career.
Liz Truss is, we believe, the first Prime Minister to have attended a comprehensive school – Roundhay School in Leeds. During the leadership race she said that the quality of education she received there “let down” students, with its “low expectations, poor educational standards and lack of opportunity” – assertions which have been disputed by someone who was at the school with her. And, however poor it may have been, her schooling did help her get into Oxford University, where she read the same subject (Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE)) as her leadership rival Rishi Sunak.
In 2011, she expressed her opinions on technical education. She wrote in Conservative Home that England was behind other developed countries on the amount of academic training required for technical jobs. Where English and maths are only a requirement to take until 16 years old in the UK, pupils in similar countries must take them until they are 18. At the time, she said she supported an English Baccalaureate and believed this should be an option for all students.
Liz Truss has some education Ministerial experience. She was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare from September 2012 to July 2014, when her responsibilities included qualifications, assessments and curriculum reform, behaviour and attendance. During her tenure, in 2013, she announced proposals to reform A Levels by scrapping AS levels and having the examinations at the end of the two-year course. She also fought to improve British standards in maths.
During the leadership race Truss ‘pitched’ herself as the “education prime minister”, saying:
“my mission in politics is to give every child, every person, the best opportunity to succeed, and for their success in life to depend solely on their hard work and talents, not their background or where they are from” – such opportunity she ‘alleges’ were not initially available to her.
Recent proposals on education
It has been reported that Truss told the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs that if she became Prime Minister, she would end the ban on grammar schools. This proposal is welcomed by many – especially in the Conservative party – but there is evidence to suggest that while grammar schools may stretch brighter pupils, they increase inequality overall as the attainment of other pupils in other schools suffers.
On universities, she has proposed that all students who receive 3 A*s at A-Level to automatically be offered an interview at Oxford or Cambridge University, to make Oxbridge more accessible. This idea has already faced criticism, as those who attend private schools and the best state schools are more likely to achieve such grades – inevitably still excluding less-privileged students.
She has also stated that she would reform the university admissions system to a post-qualification admission system – meaning that students apply to university after they receive their A-Level results, rather than getting offers based off predicted grades. A post-qualification admission system has already failed to gain support in Parliament due to the additional bureaucracy and pressure on institutions and the academic calendar.
Mrs Truss and her new Ministerial team have a large in-tray. With the cost of living crisis raging, the NHS in trouble and the prospect of a multi-year, multi-billion pound bill to stave-off the worst effects of the energy crisis, it is perhaps not surprising that the government do not yet have a solid plan to support further education and enable it to deliver the skills that UK plc needs.
And her proposed tax cuts might make matters worse. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the proposed tax cuts and corporate tax incentives, will initially lead to a loss of at least £30billion per year in tax receipts – losses which will probably not be offset by the rise in investment that she anticipates would result.
At CCCG we will be sure to engage with the new Prime Minister, as well as her new Secretary of State for Education Kit Malthouse (welcome to the best job in Government!) and his education Ministerial team – to do all we can to share with them the importance of further education to the future skills of our population and our nation’s success.
Three asks that we think should be on the new PM’s desk, addressing further education and skills are:
- Free courses for adults up to Level 4
- Allowing for greater operational freedom for further education colleges to help them to be more financially sustainable organisations
- A real focus on apprenticeships and reforming the apprenticeship levy, to make apprenticeships more accessible to Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) and students.
We are hosting a breakfast event at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday 3rd October in partnership with BusinessLDN (formally London First). We have invited key Conservative stakeholders, education providers and businesses to discuss levelling up and the skills agenda, so we look forward to these conversations and where the attendees see the education and skills sector going forward.