Commenting on Labour plans for vocational education, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The NEU agrees that we need to address how education gives adults and young people the skills and knowledge needed for the modern world. 

“The removal of education maintenance allowances for 16-18-year-olds, university tuition fees that are among the highest in the world, and the ending of student maintenance grants, have denied many the opportunity to study for post-16 qualifications, and engage with further and higher education.

“We know that following years of devastating funding cuts to Further Education there is a huge lack of adult education provision in many areas of the country. FE is the main provider for non-university adult learners, including SEND young adults, ESOL for adults of all ages and adult returners, who come into FE to improve their English, maths and digital skills as well as to learn vocational skills.

The current offer for students in secondary education and beyond is narrow and too focused on knowledge that is easy to test.

“Whilst knowledge is important, the wider skills that the OECD and businesses report we will need for the future are being restricted by current Government policy, particularly around the EBacc accountability measure, massive funding cuts to schools and colleges, and pressure built up by other accountability measures in the form of league tables and Ofsted.

“Education should foster creative thinking, develop communication skills and the ability to work with others. The next government and any future curriculum should look to address this.

“Learning should be a right for all, not a privilege for a few. Introducing free education at all stages of life – from the early years through to lifelong learning – is the right thing to do both for the rights of individuals and to reskill the economy to meet the challenges that lie ahead, particularly those posed by the climate emergency.”