LEI talks, the Prime Minister listens
This year’s Conservative Party Conference has confirmed that the Lifelong Education Institute is starting to have an influence at the highest levels of government.
Education, particularly for 16-19 year olds and adults, is moving high up the political agenda and is now a key strand of the Prime Minister’s revitalised strategy. The link between education and economic performance that is at the heart of the LEI’s vision, has been emphatically embraced.
Rishi Sunak’s conference speech included a number of big ideas about further education, including the headline-grabbing proposal to replace A-Levels with a Baccalaureate-style new qualification. But amongst the more detailed announcements it also contained a commitment to implement several of the LEI’s recent recommendations.
Sponsored by the prestigious Chartered Institution for Further Education, we launched a report, “Developing Industry-Expert Teaching” in February of 2023, at an event in Parliament, at which Skills Minister Robert Halfon MP welcomed our findings. Based on extensive research with FE Colleges across England, the report identified the shortage of specialist lecturers as a big obstacle to expanding technical education. Colleges simply can’t afford to match the salaries technical experts command in the commercial sector, and there are insufficient incentives to attract individuals into the FE sector.
The report made nine recommendations, including: “funding for colleges delivering technical courses in skills shortage sectors should be increased to a sufficient level to enable expert teaching staff to be paid at rates comparable to those in the private sector.”
Eight months later, the Prime Minister has taken a big step in this direction, announcing an additional £600m in funding over the next two years focused on “building up the great workforce we need in colleges and schools”, and specifically subject teachers in key science and technology subjects.
The DIET report also recommended “providing incentives, such as tax breaks for companies and individuals, to encourage the release of members of staff to deliver higher skills teaching”. It was therefore very pleasing to hear the Prime Minister announce that teachers of key shortage subjects will receive an additional tax-free payment of £6,000 per year in the first five years of their career.
Both these initiatives are very welcome first steps in addressing the higher skills teacher recruitment crisis our report highlighted. Of course, more will need to be done. In the document that accompanied Rishi Sunak’s speech there is an acknowledgement that this “will take time” and the funding announced should be seen as a “down-payment” for the future. We see this as a clear sign of a positive response to another of our key recommendations, “to move away from piecemeal initiatives towards a more integrated strategy for increasing the volume of industry-expert teachers”.
Our belief is that a world class technical education system requires the development of a strong cohort of “dual professionals”, individuals who continue to be practitioners in their field while also becoming teachers and lecturers. The Prime Minister’s announcements go a long way to making this vision a reality.
Perhaps Rishi Sunak has taken to heart the words of the Chairman of the Chartered Institution for FE, Lord Lingfield, in his introduction to our report: “This report…is a clarion call for action in a policy area where, as a nation, we simply cannot afford to fail.”