Real “appetite” at Labour Conference for education reform

Tue 24 Sep 2013

From Nick Isles, Milton Keynes College Deputy Principal, with Labour in Brighton

If one thing is clear from the dozen or so fringe meetings and countless conversations College Principal Dr Julie Mills and I have had here “by the seaside,” it’s that education and the transition to work is very high up on the delegates’ agenda.  As ever, much of the real debate is taking place away from the conference floor at the myriad fringe events.  There’s a big sense that reform of 14-19 education is long overdue, and that Apprenticeships in particular could have significantly greater potential for the economy and for young people than is currently being realised.  A big question is, where do Further Education Colleges like Milton Keynes fit in this drive to create better jobs and to grow the economy?  Encouragingly for us, many people seem to think partnerships are key – something we in Milton Keynes have a proud track record of building.

Here’s a shocking statistic:  of the 850,000 children born in Britain this year we can predict that 40,000 will achieve three As or better at A-Level.  60,000 will be awarded two As and a B and these highest achieving groups will all go to top ranked universities and on to good careers.  For the remaining three quarters of a million children there really is no clear path into work, no readily understood structures in place and they face uncertain futures.  That’s something which really has to change and there seems to be a genuine appetite here to find answers which will be translated into policies to offer at the next election in 2015.

The conference itself feels quite different from ones I’ve been to previously. It’s much more purposeful, much less about the bars and more about discussion and debate.  I wonder if in these austere times delegates are commuting more and using the hotels less?  
Julie and I have a string of meetings with senior figures today and we’re grateful they’ve all taken the time to talk to us.  We’re seeing Shadow Education Ministers Gordon Marsden and Tristram Hunt as well as Jenny Chapman who is the Shadow Prisons Minister with whom we’ll talk about our big Offender Learning programmes.  On top of that, of course it’s the leader’s speech; we’ll let you know what we made of anything Mr Miliband says about education tomorrow.

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