Labour will “throw open the door” for adults to study and retrain, says Rayner

Sienna Rodgers

Labour will create new adult education opportunities and “throw open the door” for those wanting to study and retrain throughout their lives, Angela Rayner will announce in a key speech on Tuesday.

Revealing the policy offer in Blackpool, Labour’s education spokesperson will say that the plans would make way for a radical expansion of lifelong learning and put vocational education on par with university degrees.

Under Labour’s plans, every adult would be able to study for free over six years towards an undergraduate degree and for vocational equivalents such as higher national certificates and diplomas, foundation degrees, certificates and diplomas of higher education.

Making the fresh announcement, Rayner is expected to note: “For many, adult education is too expensive, too time-consuming or too difficult to get into. People have been held back for too long.”

As a response to those concerns, in a serious effort to boost access to education and training for adults, Labour will promise to do the following:

  • Enable any adult without A-level or equivalent qualification to attend college and study for them for free;
  • Give every adult a free entitlement to six years of study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and vocational equivalents);
  • Provide maintenance grants for low-income adult learners to complete their courses;
  • Give workers the right to paid time off for education and training;
  • Give employers a role in designing qualifications to make sure training is equipping learners with the right skills;
  • Support workplace learning and improve basic skills by reversing cuts to the Union Learning Fund;
  • Make sure everyone has access to the information they need to return to study through a national careers advice service.

Rayner is expected to promote the move as one that aims to address the UK’s “severe” skills shortage as well as allow the workforce to adapt to changes resulting from automation across all sectors of the economy.

Commenting ahead of the policy launch, the Shadow Education Secretary said: “We’ll make sure no one is shut out of education by giving people the support, time and funding they need to train so that we have the skills we need to meet the changing nature of work and tackle the climate emergency.”

The new set of Labour proposals will form part of the party’s National Education Service and fit into the broader framework of a green industrial revolution, which would require people to have skills fit for green and high-tech industries.

“I see education like an escalator running alongside you throughout life, that you can get on and off whenever you want,” Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say. “That’s what Labour’s National Education Service will offer people – free education, as a right for all.”

Joining local Labour candidate Gordon Marsden as well as Rayner in Blackpool, the Labour leader will add: “We don’t just benefit from our own education, we benefit from everybody else’s too.

“Tomorrow’s jobs are in green and high-tech industries. We need people to have the skills to take those jobs. By ensuring the ultra-rich pay their way, we can provide training to everybody who needs it.

“I’d rather give a break to the worker who wants to learn, than a tax break to the billionaire who wants for nothing. That’s the difference between Labour and the Conservatives.”

Total spending on adult education has fallen by 47% since the Tories took power in 2010, according to the latest annual report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The OECD says more than a quarter of working-age adults in England have low levels of literacy and/or numeracy skills.

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