Debate on the Address: Education, Skills and Training
A debate took place in the House of Commons today (25 May) which considered the aspects of the Queen’s Speech which relate to education, skills and training.
Shadow Secretary of State for Business Angela Eagle led the opening speech for the opposition. The MP for Wallasey responded to the Queen’s Speech’s opening statement about improving life chances by questioning how life chances could be improved in education and training with raised tuition fees and barely any mention of further education institutions.
The Shadow Business Secretary cited the 14 per cent drop in funding provision for 16 to 19 education since 2010 and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who predict that in the school sector there will be an eight per cent fall in funding per pupil by 2020.
In response to the Government’s plans to make it easier to open new universities, the Shadow Secretary express her party’s concerns that these “untried, untested” institutions and the introduction of market forces into higher education are not the answer to widening participation.
Universities and Science Minister Joseph Johnson led the response from the Government as the Secretary of State for Business is out of the country on business regarding Tata Steel.
In a speech dominated by higher education policy, the Minister argued that education and life changes were at the top of the Government’s legislative agenda and that their proposed policies offer clear routes to employment for young people, with a clear message that it is never too late to learn.
The Minister cited the 2.4 million apprenticeship starts in the last Parliament and the record university applications, as well as arguing that employers are at the heart of the Government’s apprenticeship drive.
There was also a mention of Local Enterprise Partnerships and their role of invigorating the skills agenda by establishing where the needs are and responding to them.
When asked about the status of the Skills White Paper, the Minister asked the opposition to be patient to see the “full fruits” of the work from the Skills Minister, Department for Education and the expert panel led by Lord Sainsbury.
Neil Gray MP, representative for the SNP, also gave a speech and there were additional contributions from other interested MPs including Neil Carmichael and Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, who said she was “astounded” that the Queen’s Speech has failed to announce plans to tackle the reduction in part-time learning or to promote lifelong learning and upskilling for adults – issues she hopes will be addressed in the Skills White Paper on its release.
The debate followed Prime Minister’s Questions, led by Chancellor George Osbourne while the Prime Minister is out of the country.
Cat Smith MP spoke on behalf of an autistic boy in her constituency regarding the forthcoming Initial Teaching Training (ITT) review, urging the Government to ensure that autism support forms part of the ITT curriculum.
The Chancellor responded by saying that the Education Secretary has personally raised this issue with the Chair of the Initial Teaching Training Review and as a result he will be including recommendations in the report. The report is due to be published soon.
Julie Elliott MP also challenged the Chancellor on his views on higher education tuition fees, following the emergence this week of a letter the Chancellor wrote to a constituent in 2003 which explained that the Conservatives would scrap tuition fees when they came into Government.
The Chancellor responded by arguing that the Government is now offering a credible higher education policy which gives the country the best universities in the world, with a record number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds participating in higher education.
You can watch the full debate here.