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CAF Policy Team

A champion for charities

Charities Aid Foundation


10 May 2017

Today’s political headlines are all about education, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats pledging more cash for schools and adult training.

At time of writing the Lib Dems’ plans are still to be fully unveiled, but we know that they’re pledging to spend £7bn to protect per-pupil funding, which they say will be partly funded by staying in the EU single market and from increasing corporation tax to 20%. What the remainder of that money will specifically be used for we’re yet to hear, so watch this space.

Over at Labour’s campaign, their education plans go further than the usual focus on schools, and that will be a welcome move for the millions of people currently in further or adult education.

So what have they pledged? Let’s start with early years where Labour have planned to introduce free school meals for all primary school children, reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year olds, and have a real terms increase in funding for school budgets. These announcements come after the national Audit Office estimated that schools would have to cut £3bn from budgets by 2019-20 to meet rising cost pressures.

The proposed extra spending for schools has been welcomed by teaching bodies, with many schools increasingly turning to parents and local communities to plug funding gaps and pay for additional resources for their children. A recent survey from NUT and ATL found that parents were being asked for about £20 per month from their child’s school for various things.

In addition to funding, we know that schools already rely heavily on an army of volunteers who help to deliver all of their activities. Around 5 million people in the UK volunteer at least once a month on children’s education or schools, with more than 300,000 people acting as school governors. Whilst increasing funding may help to lift some of the burden from these volunteers, Labour and others would do well to recognise the important work these volunteers do and the additional skills they bring to our education system.

But schools only form a part of today’s announcement. The meaty stuff in Labour’s new policy announcement comes in their plans for adult education. Plans to re-establish the education maintenance allowance for college students, restore grants for university students, and scrapping fees on courses for adult learners looking to re-train or upskill are all announced today.

Further education colleges in England train around 2.7 million people every year. Almost half of all construction, engineering and manufacturing apprentices are trained there. And they’re not just for 16-18 year olds; 106,000 college students are aged 60 and over. 17% have a learning difficulty and or disability. And they have close links with their communities, with the average FE college working with around 600 businesses. Investing in adult education therefore has the potential to significantly impact a number of people and their communities.

Voluntary organisations and charities know a thing or two about adult education too. Charities have long been involved with providing adults with routes into education or skills training. The Worker's Education Alliance is the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland, last year working with almost 70,000 students in England. The University Of Third Age is a charity which provides learning opportunities for retired people. They now have 993 outposts across the UK and have more than 360,000 members enjoying their services. These charities understand how important adult education is, and the long tradition of voluntary organisations supporting adult education and training should be embraced by political parties.

Labour has broadened the conversation about education to include adult education, and this will be welcomed by the many people looking to develop their skills and improve their opportunities in life. But before they go any further, they’d do well to consult with the thousands of charities and voluntary organisations who work in this space and the millions of volunteers who help it to run, and indeed put these organisations at the heart of their plans. Those people know a thing or two about education, and their input is vital.

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