Sajid Javid is to announce £400 million of extra funding for further education in England to support the introduction of new T-Level qualifications.
The chancellor wrote in The Guardian that the additional money, which is part of his spending review, will help fund the new technical and vocational qualifications as well as “more expensive” courses in science, engineering and mathematics.
‘I want this investment to start to end the snobbishness in some quarters about the quality and importance of a vocational education,’ he wrote. ‘It was a FE college that equipped me with the qualifications needed to pursue my ambitions.’
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the funding will help young people “get the skills to get the right jobs”.
T-Levels were first announced in the 2017 Spring Budget as a new two-year qualification that will provide an alternative to A-Levels. They will combine a mix of classroom learning and on-the-job experience, with the first courses starting in September 2020.
News of further investment follows a pledge from then-chancellor Philip Hammond in his 2018 Spring Statement to channel £500 million into the new qualifications and £50 million into supporting employers to roll out T-Level placements.
Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson welcomed Javid’s funding announcement. “We hear a lot about schools. We hear a lot about universities. But it’s actually the further education sector that has had the biggest cuts since 2010,” he said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Javid’s pledge comes as business groups have written to him urging government to use the spending review on Wednesday (4 September), brought forward to earlier in the month than planned, to broaden the apprenticeship levy.
In the joint letter the coalition of bodies said that a reformed levy would allow employers to spend funds more flexibly, helping millions more workers to benefit from training and career progression opportunities, and providing a much-needed boost to the UK economy.
The bodies, which represent hundreds of employers and include the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and CIPD, have written to the chancellor in response to commitments he made during his campaign for leadership of the Conservative Party.
Javid wrote in the Financial Times on 7 June that he would open up training opportunities to more workers. “I will broaden the apprenticeship levy into a wider skills levy, giving employers the flexibility they need to train their workforce while ensuring they continue to back apprenticeships,” he said.
The letter said ‘this would be the right step’: ‘A levy that allows businesses greater flexibility to fund accredited quality training that is effective for workers and employers – rather than meeting a government target – would be ideal. It would help to fill skills shortages and enable higher pay for workers,’ it stated.
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said that the current levy system is not flexible enough and locks too many workers out of training.
“The apprenticeship levy was designed with the best intentions, but the current approach has not worked. The number of young workers doing apprenticeships has slowed and non-apprenticeship training has taken a huge hit. It’s time to think again. Moving away from a complex system that locks many workers out to a flexible skills levy that lets firms buy the most appropriate high-quality training for any worker is the right choice,” he said.
Carberry added that increased funding is vital to increasing productivity in the UK:
“Our Report on Jobs survey tells us that there are skills shortages all across the economy – from logistics to hospitality to health and social care, and the recruitment industry is doing its part to help. However, they employ almost one million temporary agency workers who are currently shut out of levy-funded training. A flexible skills levy would allow recruiters to provide quality training for temps, which would help them progress at work, earn more and fill some of these vital roles.
“At this critical time for the UK skills matter more than ever. It is time for this policy to be redesigned in order to boost productivity and help workers to learn and progress.”
CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said that the apprenticeship levy is too restrictive and prevents employers from creating more opportunities for workers.
“The apprenticeship levy is too inflexible and fails to encourage or create the best opportunities for employers to invest in the skills they need to boost the UK’s productivity and competitiveness. Our research shows employers want a more flexible training levy that supports investment in apprenticeships, as well as other equally-important forms of workplace training and development,” he said.
Javid has promised increased spending for schools, the NHS and the police in his spending review, but said public spending would still be restricted: “At a time when the global economy is slowing it’s important that we don’t let our public finances get out of control. Any departments expecting a blank cheque will be sorely disappointed.”
At a pre-spending review speech last Wednesday (28 August) shadow chancellor John McDonnell criticised the spending plans as trying to appeal to voters. “People see through this exercise as crude electioneering […] You take the top three or four issues that are prioritised in the opinion polls and throw as much and as little money and promises at them that will shift enough votes,” he said.
“That’s why we have had a number of grandiose announcements from Boris Johnson throughout the past month on the NHS, education and policing. If nothing else this has proved what we have said all along: austerity was always a political choice not an economic necessity.”