Labour conference 2023: education recap

Labour conference 2023: education recap

DeHavilland has produced an education round-up from this week's Labour Party conference.

DeHavilland has produced an education round-up from this week’s Labour Party conference.

Key takeaways:

  • Skills and apprenticeships will form a key part of Labour’s agenda for growth to make it more attractive for employers to hire apprentices and reap financial benefits. 
  • Labour will look to recruit 6,500 teachers and aims to increase recruitment and retention in schools, and ensure children are taught by specialist teachers.  
  • Colleges and universities will form a key part of promoting skills education, training and filling the skills gap under a Labour government.
  • Skills and apprentceships 
    Tony Blair once famously stated that his mission for a Labour government would be “education, education, education”. If there were three words to sum up the themes of this year’s conference, it would be “skills, skills, skills”.  

The primary focus of education fringe events this conference was undoubtedly vocational education, training and apprenticeships. At a fringe event titled “Skills Revolution Now!”, shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said that Labour would reform the apprenticeship levy into a growth and skills levy.  

She added that there aren’t enough training schemes or opportunities across the UK – an issue which would be corrected under Labour, with more technical colleges providing specialist training courses. She stated that the current state of vocational education was dire and serious work was needed to ensure equity of provision and get Britain’s economy growing again.  

At the same event, Kevin Rowan of the TUC said there also needs to be a right for workers to train and retrain, which many people see as a barrier to filling skills gaps where they’re needed. He argued that apprenticeships needed reforming to get employers to take on less experienced young workers and that universities and colleges have a role to play in highlighting and filling skills gaps for the economy.  

Similarly, Lord Blunkett criticised the Government’s decision to scrap BTECs during the current skills shortage, as well as the lack of stability in the education sector.  
Schools and teaching workforce  
With recent news of an absence crisis in schools and burnout in the workforce following the pandemic, conference events on schools focused heavily on getting children back into school and helping the workforce.  

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, launched his union’s manifesto for schools and the teaching workforce. He called for pay restoration for teachers to 2010 levels of income. He also cited the need to increase more mental health support for teachers, support staff and children to get more of them back into school after the pandemic.  

Dr Roach also called on Labour to make teaching a valued profession again, calling for an end to the scapegoating of education professionals, which he claimed is the root of many problems in the system.  

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson also reiterated Labour’s policy of charging VAT on private school fees and reinvesting the money back into the state education system, as well as recruiting 6,500 more specialist teachers.  

Speaking at a Centre for Social Justice event on “Reducing educational inequalities”, Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel D’Souza argued the absence crisis in schools is down to the poor mental health of students and a lack of adequate support for them. She told the audience that in her conversations with children, they want to learn but need more support, such as SEND resources and extra tutoring, to close the disadvantage gap.  
In her conference speech, Ms Phillipson also announced that Labour will introduce a maths plan that will centre on upskilling primary school teachers who are not maths teachers with the right skills and knowledge to deliver high-class maths teaching through the Teacher Training Entitlement. She also announced that the maths curriculum will be changed to show students how maths is relevant in their daily lives.  
Higher education  
From the many fringe conversations at the Labour party conference, higher education is now clearly seen as a key part of Labour’s growth mission.  

At HEPI’s event titled “What should a Labour government include in its manifesto for higher education?”, University of Manchester Professor of Government Andy Westwood suggested the next government needs to urgently look into completely reforming the HE sector funding model, arguing it would not last as it is for the rest of the decade.  

University of Birmingham Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Tickell also argued that the Government is using universities as a political football and interfering too often, with universities best left to enjoy their independent and autonomous status in order to get the best out of them.  

As mentioned previously, Bridget Phillipson also underlined that universities have a role to play in promoting growth in the UK by educating the workforce of the future in highly skilled professions such as AI, green energy jobs and computer technology.


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