Education, education, education – why lifelong learning could win it for Labour

Labour has shown before that it can deliver on education, and it will do so again


‘Education, education, education’ was one of the cornerstones of Labour’s three election victories under Tony Blair. Indeed, Blairite strategists were fond of saying that being trusted on education policy got you to 40 per cent in the polls. What wouldn’t Ed Miliband give for that?

More important, at the end of Labour’s last period of office in 2010, 50 per cent of school leavers were going on to higher education, school exam results were continually improving and the old, crumbling classrooms of Conservative rule were a distant memory. Yes, Labour not only saved the NHS – we saved our schools too.

So, in the midst of this absurdly close election (during which education has featured curiously little), it is great to see the focus given to lifelong learning in Labour’s manifesto. Unlike the Tories, Labour understands the importance of investing in the lives of everyone in order to create a fair and balanced economy. As Ed Miliband wrote in the manifesto:

We believe that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. As the economy at last recovers, people want the opportunity to use their skills and talents to make a better life for themselves and their children. Our country’s greatest asset is the hard work and talent of our people.”

And this is not mere rhetoric. Labour’s manifesto includes a strong focus on the five million people on low pay by forming new partnerships between employers and employees to improve business performance and job quality. It even contains a commitment to reduce the proportion of citizens unable to use the internet.

More support, better options, apprenticeships to prepare for progression to higher level jobs and learning, a new Youth Allowance to even the playing field, Institutes of Technical Excellence and so on. All of these are about long-term investment in our society and should make to help every young person become a confident lifelong learner.

This is the essence of Miliband’s rightful belief that Britain can do better than this.

But of course Labour can do more. In recent years, no organisation has done as much as NIACE (The National Voice for Lifelong Learning) to promote the value of a society that aspires to education throughout people’s lives.

Therefore it is worth bearing in mind NIACE’s ten key asks for the next Labour government:

  1. Helping low-paid workers progress and earn more money: establish a new Career Advancement Service.
  2. Better support for disabled people and those with health conditions: introduce a new Employment Support Programme.
  3. Putting people in charge of their own learning and careers support: set-up Personal Career Accounts for adults.
  4. Making migration work: introduce new rights and responsibilities to learn English.
  5. Ensuring everyone has the skills they need: create a Citizens’ Curriculum programme.
  6. High quality apprenticeships: launch an Apprentice Charter quality mark.
  7. Learning and earning routes for young people: establish a new Youth Allowance.
  8. Unlocking the talents of our Young Adult Carers: instigate fairer support to allow Young Adult Carers to access learning and training opportunities.
  9. Helping older people gain digital skills for the 21st century: recognise digital skills as the third basic skill alongside maths and English.
  10. Work and career support for the long-term unemployed: introduce a better Work Programme.

Of course, the gap between rhetoric and reality can often be large, but Labour has shown before that it can deliver on education, and it will do so again. For what is true above all is that to win the battle of ideas in this country, a party must first convince people that it believes in their aspiration to learn.

So when people say that Labour ‘doesn’t get’ aspiration, remind them of this: we are the only party that truly believes in the power of education to unlock human potential and to create a freer, more equal society.

We are the party of education that lasts a lifetime.

Sam Stopp is a Labour councillor in Wembley Central, and works as a senior account executive for Four Communications on behalf of NIACE

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