Capital City College Group at the Labour Party Conference

On Monday 26 September, Capital City College Group (CCCG) hosted a breakfast event at the Labour Party Conference in partnership with the London business advocacy group BusinessLDN (previously London First). The event brought together political and business leaders, and education providers, for a discussion on how the levelling-up agenda can tackle the UK’s skills shortages.

CCCG’s Executive Principal Kurt Hintz, and Vice Principal for The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) Robin Hindley, represented the group at the meeting, where we invited MPs, local councillors and council leaders, and business representatives from across the country, to share their experiences and recommendations on how we can help sort the UK’s skills crisis.

Labour Party Conference – what is it? And why were we there?

All the leading political parties in the UK hold an annual conference, bringing together party members, politicians and businesses alike to discuss party priorities, policy positions and other important topics. They are an excellent opportunity for organisations like CCCG to raise awareness of important issues, influence politicians with our key policy ‘asks’, and connect with industry colleagues and develop new sector relationships.

This year Labour returned to Liverpool, with a packed timetable of events, meetings and speeches, from Sunday 25 to Wednesday 28 September 2022. We held our breakfast event on Monday 25 September, during the first ‘Business’ day of the conference, at the historic Albert Dock.

The event

John Dickie, BusinessLDN’s Chief Executive, chaired the event. BusinessLDN work with businesses across the capital and have recently won the bid to run Greater London’s Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) which will collaborate with employers, training and education providers, and local stakeholders to tackle London’s skills shortages. We will be playing a key role in the LSIP’s work.

Kurt Hintz led the discussion and explained the importance of further education to levelling up and skills. He highlighted three key priorities to give further education colleges the best opportunity to deliver the highest quality skills training for their students:

  1. Providing free courses for adults at Level 4 and 5;
  2. Devolving the adult education and skills budget; and
  3. Increasing the flexibility of the Apprenticeship Levy.

Firstly, cost is a huge barrier to adults in taking on education. Many earn less than the London living wage, so they have no spare money to spend on gaining qualifications. But as Kurt explained during the discussion, when we removed this barrier and offered free qualifications up to Level 3 for adults in 2014, we saw an increase of 30% in the number of adult learners the following year and each year after that.

We’re pleased that Government funding for adult courses up to level 3 has caught up with our idea, and these courses are now free to most people, but we would like the Government to go further and enable adults who want to study for Level 4 and 5 skills-based qualifications – including professional qualifications like those offered by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – to have their education free as well. Doing this will enable many more adults to up-skill, which can only be a good thing for people and for the wider economy.

Secondly, devolving the adult skills budget (currently only London and the mayoral combined authorities, including West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Liverpool, enjoy this freedom) will give local areas more freedom in how they prioritise their skills spending. For example, the flexibility given to CCCG by the Greater London Authority (GLA) on some of our adult skills budget has been key to providing our students with the highest quality training, based on demand and industry need. This sort of working relationship is good practice for other parts of the country.

And thirdly, Kurt spoke about the worrying drop in apprenticeship starts since the COVID-19 pandemic, identifying Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as struggling the most to take on apprentices. He recommended increasing the flexibility of the apprenticeship levy by allowing unspent levy money to cover the cost of wages for employees during the first year of apprenticeships.

Other guests offered interesting contributions to the discussions. Richard Bonner, Northern Cities Executive at Arcadis, spoke on the huge deficit in skills in the construction industry, and the mismatch between industry requirements and what training colleges are providing. CCCG consider links with employers as critical to offering our students the best possible provision in their industry.

One example is CONEL’s partnership Ardmore Construction – one of the largest family-owned construction groups in the UK – to develop the London Welding Academy. CONEL worked with Ardmore to develop a Welding Level 3 Apprenticeship training programme at the college to help fill the skills gap exacerbated by COVID-19 and Brexit. CONEL created space for the programme and Ardmore provided the high-quality welding equipment.

Henri Murison, CEO of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), emphasised the need to spend money on skills more efficiently and effectively before throwing more money at a system which is already failing to deliver; Josie Cluer, Partner at EY, called attention to the need to fix the skills shortage before we can level up, as people are lacking the skills required to fill current vacancies.

In addition, the Mayor of Newham, Rokshana Fiaz, highlighted that even in London – which in levelling-up terms is economically thriving – there are huge pockets of crippling poverty and inequality.

The need for levelling-up within London is something our Chief Executive Roy O’Shaughnessy, commented on back in February, when the Government released their long awaited Levelling-Up White Paper. London as a region has the highest poverty rates compared to any other region in the UK, with 27% of all residents living in poverty – at CCCG around 67% of our students are in the bottom three bands of social deprivation – this is why tackling the skills shortage and levelling-up our communities is central to the training and education we deliver.

On to the next Party Conference …

With the Labour Party Conference wrapping up today, we turn our attention to Birmingham where we will be heading next week for the Conservative Party Conference. There we will host a whole new set of guests to continue our discussions on Levelling-Up and skills.

Liz Truss is our new Prime Minister, but what are her views on further education and skills?

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.

Looking forward

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:

  1. Free courses for adults up to Level 4
  2. Allowing for greater operational freedom for further education colleges to help them to be more financially sustainable organisations
  3. 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.

CCCT’s Managing Director Jackie Chapman speaks to Parliamentarians on Apprenticeships in the House of Commons

Jackie Chapman, Managing Director of Capital City College Training (CCCT), spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Apprenticeships meeting in the House of Commons on Tuesday 14 June.

The meeting examined flexible working and apprenticeships, looking at the lessons learnt from remote apprenticeships. Jackie, alongside fellow industry speakers, discussed the challenges that apprenticeships faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how a hybrid model of working has enabled new opportunities for apprentices. She also called on Government to make changes to the Apprenticeship Levy.

What’s an APPG?

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal, cross-party groups formed by MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a common interest in a particular policy area, region or country.

Although they are not official parliamentary committees, these groups can be influential because of their non-partisan and cross-party approach to an issue. In addition, the fact that APPG usually have both MPs and Peers in them makes them uniquely representative of both chambers of Parliament.

Parliamentarians interested in the education sector can join a number of APPGs, including for Further Education and Lifelong Learning, Digital Skills, Adult Education, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and Skills, Careers and Employment, as well as this one – on Apprenticeships.

CCCT is the largest further education apprenticeship provider in London, training more than a fifth of apprentices in the capital. The APPG on Apprenticeships meeting was an excellent opportunity for Jackie to raise the profile of CCCT with MPs and Peers. With over 25 years of experience within the apprenticeships sector, Jackie shared her knowledge with to the APPGs members, giving examples of the effect of the pandemic on apprenticeships and apprentices.

The meeting was chaired by APPG Officer, Lord Alastair Aberdare, who introduced the speakers. In addition to Jackie, the session also heard from Dr Jacqueline Hall, Head of Apprenticeships and Skills, BAE Systems Plc; Sue Parr, Director of Part-time Programme and Work-based Education, Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick; and from the HomeServe Foundation, Michelle Price, Director, and Liz Slee, Research and Public Affairs Specialist.

Jackie spoke of the challenges that CCCT faced at the start of the pandemic and how they worked to overcome them – these included “learning about data poverty for the first time because although we supplied devices [with help from the Department for Education’s donations], we also had to supply broadband or mobile data to a lot of households, particularly for young apprentices – so they could actually use their device.”

CCCT adapted to the needs of the sector during the pandemic, for example in Pharmacy, where the pressures of the pandemic changed the hours and shifts of pharmacists and increased their workload, making it harder for them to support our apprentices.

“What we found is that every industry is different in terms of the pandemic, the impact on apprentices and how we had to adapt” she said.

CCCT had around 100 Pharmacy apprentices working in the NHS during the pandemic, and the programme had to be adapted into bite-sized chunks of learning, with breaks in the programme when the pharmacists’ working hours became too busy. This resulted in some apprentices taking two years to complete a 1-year Level 2 apprenticeship, as COVID-related disruption meant they were only learning for 12 months of those two years.

Mental health and the lack of peer-to-peer support was a particular challenge for our apprentices during the pandemic. Jackie praised the staff who offered to take on pastoral support during evenings and over the weekends and said one of the most frequent compliments she gets from apprentices on completion of their course, is “my assessor was there when I needed them, but there isn’t someone in the workplace who could be there”.

Jackie concluded by calling on the Government to offer greater flexibility for providers by allowing the transfer of the Apprenticeship Levy to the organisation that provides the apprenticeship training (typically a further education college or a private provider), so they can continue to support the apprentice when they change jobs – currently as soon as an apprentice concludes their studies, the provider can no longer support them.

Lord Aberdare, Baroness Garden of Frognal and Baroness Verma asked questions about how apprenticeships can become more accessible to small and medium businesses, whether the Apprenticeship Levy works, and what the Government can do to improve the apprenticeship system. Jackie confidently answered the questions that she was asked and the APPG’s members were very interested in her suggestions.

Capital City College Group is the largest further education apprenticeship provider in London. As well as sharing our views with influential parliamentarians, we also train 22% of all of London’s apprentices. While most of our apprentices are trained by Capital City College Training, our hospitality and culinary apprentices are trained at Westminster Kingsway College’s School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts in Victoria.

Through CCCT and Westminster Kingsway, we deliver over 1,600 apprenticeships each year, working with well over 500 organisations across a wide range of industries. Find out more about our apprenticeships and training courses and how to apply here.