The speeches that got away: Investing in further education and learning throughout life 

The Education motion at conference stated  “The UK faces a serious skills deficit”. 

That is an understatement. Take for example what happens when young people fail GCSE Maths and English and move on to sixth form or college. 

When I taught at a general FE College, I remember a group of 17year old girls, who aspired to be nurses. I had to spend time, for example, teaching them quadratic equations when they really needed much more time improving their understanding and application of decimals, percentages, and ratio relevant to their career. 

Force-feeding young people to resit GCSE Maths and English which they have just failed and hated is bad education. Statistically, results show it does not work. On average 25% pass; in Maths this year only 20% passed and can we claim that even these have sufficiently improved, with a pass mark around 20 out of 100, so was it relevant to their career? 

This approach can even be dangerous; on more than one occasion in my lifetime a baby has died because the decimal point in a drug prescription was in the wrong place. 

Our party motion makes clear that young people need to develop their Maths and English in a free course that is suited to their needs.  Functional skills qualifications have this year been improved, so there is no excuse. Colleges at the moment are constrained by strict funding rules. We will give colleges the freedom and resources to judge the best way to improve basic skills for everyone at age 16+. 

In this country skills and ‘vocational’ learning have  not been given the attention they need for decades. Note these points. 

First, the department for Education Skills Index, shows since 2012 the contribution of skills to the nation’s productivity declined by 27%. Second, we have now the lowest on record of adults pursuing any form of education. Third, the new T-level courses due to start in September 2020 look like being under-resourced.  Fourth, the new apprenticeships while welcome are failing at the lower levels; companies who pay the levy have reduced their other training provision. 

So, with all these recent failures to deal with the skills deficit, what does Boris Johnson do ?  He removes the post of Skills Minister. 

This follows a period when Michael Gove distorted the whole Education curriculum by his obsession with academic learning and theoretical testing. Under the veneer of improved exam results, many feel the harmful consequences of that and those at the lower end are not catching up.

So we have yet another reason for booting out Boris and Michael. 

This government has little understanding of the FE and Skills sector and even when it tries (like Sajid Javid has done) to entice people with a temporary hand-out for 16-19 yr olds, it has given absolutely nothing for Adult Education and Life-Long Learning.  

Our policy provides for each of these three. 

The Personal Education and Skills Accounts (PESAs) not only provide financial help for people aged 25 to 55, but does it in the right way; it puts the person who needs the learning at the centre. That’s a typical Liberal Democrat approach. 


* Nigel Jones is currently secretary of Newcastle under Lyme Liberal Democrats and the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Education Association.

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  • Mavarine Du-Marie 27th Sep '19 - 3:13pm

    “The Personal Education and Skills Accounts (PESAs) not only provide financial help for people aged 25 to 55, but does it in the right way; it puts the person who needs the learning at the centre. That’s a typical Liberal Democrat approach.”


    As you know I support this 100%.

    However, I believe it can go farther. For instance making those who want the funds to show a personal development plan and build it into the system that goals are being met. This would be evidence that they take it seriously and would give the data to show that it is working as a result of implementation.

    And also perhaps to link it to a vocational endeavour of the ones that are professional and the ones which are emerging such as those industries that have no age restrictions for example, starting a business, recruitment field or social media marketing influencers, coaches/mentors trainers.

    These additional criterias would make the PESA applicants accountable, aspire them to reach their potential and support diversity in the workforce.

  • Charles Rothwell 27th Sep '19 - 3:43pm

    Linked to this, I followed the debate on this at Bournemouth with great interest and have TRYING to contact the LD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION to find out more (e.g get a full copy of the Policy) but all the mails I have sent have either been undeliverable or I have never received a reply. Does anyone know the trick?

  • Daniel Walker 27th Sep '19 - 3:56pm

    @Charles Rothwell

    I don’t know much about the LD Education Association, but policy papers from the Autumn Conference are all here:

    The Lifelong Learning Commission Report is amongst them. ( the passed motion is here)

  • Charles Rothwell 27th Sep '19 - 8:16pm

    Many thanks indeed to Daniel Walker and Nigel Jones. I thought I had checked this site out (without success) (but evidently not thoroughly enough!) Now safely accessed.

  • Thanks for this Nigel.

    I see a big issue lurking unseen in the undergrowth. Namely that reform of education and training will struggle to achieve traction unless and until more thought is given to how the in-school phase interacts with the post-school phase.

    For those aiming to go university the system is simple; students, teachers and parents all know, in outline at least, how it works. Crucially, various intermediate hurdles like GCSEs and A-levels provide targets to work towards while at school.

    But for the ~50% who won’t go to university and the additional ~25% who arguably aren’t best suited by academic study, there’s no equivalent pathway common to the multitude of specialities that exist that’s remotely as well understood.

    The solution is to create a common framework for post-school studies based on apprenticeships that are (a) vocational, and (b) national. These would necessarily – and usefully – vary in the degree of book learning involved and its level; some might require candidates to have relevant A-levels, others might require little beyond basic literacy meaning applicants could leave school early which would free up a huge amount of funding for post-school training.

    ‘Vocational’ matters because a young person who doesn’t thrive on book learning probably wants to get into the ‘real world’. My brother once taught a boy he describes as “the worst student ever” who is now, many years later, is a multi-millionaire. So, why do we persist in detaining youngsters in school to 18 when they get nothing from it and the country can’t afford it?

    ‘National’ matters because qualifications should be portable and not just tied to one (usually very large) employer although clearly Rolls Royce will always be more prestigious than some back-street engineering company just as Oxbridge is seen as top of the university pile.

    But … that back-street engineer might spot the talent in a troubled nephew or neighbour’s teenager who would never pass a formal interview and who is not well suited by school giving them purpose and direction. So, it’s essential that any scheme is fully accessible to any employer and that means that it must be SIMPLE because small firms just don’t have the management resource to cope with complex systems.

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