Theresa May Announces Post-18 Education Review In Derby

Peter Marples

Tuesday 20th February 2018

So yesterday saw the announcement in our home city of the post 18 review by the Prime Minister. It was good to see her come North for the announcement that has been long overdue. I would say, we are still suffering from when the old Polys all suddenly became Universities in the early 1990’s.

It is interesting to read the terms of reference and note the membership of the review panel. What is not in the review is as interesting as what is in ! and it is disappointing that there is little or no representation on the review panel from those ‘outside’ the system. The inclusion of Alison Wolff for me was a welcome addition as she is always good to come up with sound and challenging ideas – let’s hope this continues.

The review hasn’t even started but as both an owner of a provider in this space and a Chairman of a large MAT, I will be watching with some interest and hopefully contributing to the debate as it develops.

I would like to see the following:

  • Student finance – we must not reverse wholly the move years ago to introduce student fees, but a return of maintenance grants for some and developing a more competitive market has to be something that comes out of the review.
  • Opening the market – the Universities have had it their own way for far too long – hidden by a mask of academic ‘rigour’ and I would argue intellectual snobbery in great order. Vice Chancellors don’t own the Institutions, they are simply employees of those organisations, very well paid and should in my opinion act much more in the interests of their customers – the students and in many case the parents of students. So let’s open the market to new entrants, not just FE but also the private sector and we will see the emergence of 2 year degrees, even 46 week years and a much closer alignment between what is taught and what UK PLC and indeed young people need to equip themselves for the future.
  • Equalising Degree Apprenticeships and University Finance – it cannot be right to have a situation where you study a Degree Apprenticeship in the workplace and pay nothing whereas the equivalent in your University is going to cost you not far off £50,000 over a three year period. We must equalise this imbalance through increasing the co-funding requirements for those studying in the workplace and forcing the payment to be made by the recipient rather than their employer – without this, we will witness in some areas, a dramatic reduction in undergraduate places and resulting financial issues for Institutions – in my humble opinion there should be a contribution, whether employed or not for a Degree equivalent apprenticeship.
  • Impartial Careers Advice – our system for impartial careers advice in this country is simply a disgrace and has been for many decades, not just in the recent past. Parental snobbery, lack of awareness and accountability in Schools, the ‘system’ comprising funding, league tables etc – all driving the wrong behaviours in professionals means as a society we are letting down young people, particularly those from poorer social backgrounds – I see this almost every day ! – So let’s get serious and have a truly national integrated system starting at Year 7 – not an odd ½ day in Year 11 with the message being ‘it’s sixth form followed by University, or if you’re not good enough go to College’. We are wasting £bn’s every single year on the consequences of poor careers advice – if one good thing could come out of this review it is the need to address this and invest in it NOW !
  • Parity of Esteem – lots will be written about this and much research will be undertaken – unfortunately from my research not one of the panel has taken a career path other than through University so I am not sure we are going to get a wholesome view on the benefits that other pathways could just provide. As someone who didn’t go to University, hasn’t done too badly so far and whose children took the Apprenticeship route as well, I do hope that this issue is finally addressed fully and there is some thoughtful consideration to all of these issues.

The review is most welcome at this time but let’s not disturb the Apprenticeship levy which is still in its infancy and let’s hope the review delivers something that is lasting and sustainable giving everyone affordable and high quality opportunities to support their own development and the contributions they can make to UK PLC throughout their careers.

But we must address what causes the disparity in earnings and potential referred to in the prime ministers speech yesterday. This starts at aged 2 and not 18 with early years and support for parents and carers as much as the young people. Invest here and we will reap the benefits.

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