Cuts to FE funding are doing “permanent damage” to the UK economy and limiting the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in society, Jeremy Corbyn has claimed.
In his first major speech on education since being appointed Labour leader, Mr Corbyn also hit out at government cuts to Esol (English for speakers of other languages) funding and called for better careers advice in schools.
Addressing the University and College Union’s Cradle to Grave conference in London this morning, Mr Corbyn said that, rather than being a “source of national pride”, the country’s education system was “struggling under the weight of cuts and mismanagement”.
“Attacks on student loans, primary and secondary education, nurseries, colleges, adult education, vocational skills; all these cuts and attacks are doing permanent damage to the whole of our society, and the ability to develop a much stronger manufacturing base and innovative economy for the future,” he continued. “Education is of fundamental importance for a better future for everybody.”
Mr Corbyn stressed that academic and vocational education were “both very, very important”, and said that the skills gap was the “biggest challenge facing the economy in Britain at the present time”.
“You have many new industries trying to develop that simply cannot recruit the necessary skills because we’ve cut so many courses which could have provided the workers in the first place,” he told the audience. “Where is the sense in that? So we’re facing a situation where businesses are in crisis because the pool of workers with the skills needed is [decreasing].”
He also argued that the provision of higher education courses within FE colleges had a vital role to play in social mobility, but said that this route was being adversely affected by the rise in tuition fees.
“Further education and those who study and work in colleges will be significantly affected by this, because more than one in 10 of students doing a higher education level degree course does it in a further education college. That’s why FE is so crucial, because many of these people from disadvantaged family backgrounds are able to access further education and able to go on to higher education through the college system. It’s absolutely essential that we understand that and protect it.”
He criticised the £40 million cut to Esol funding last year as “absolutely disgraceful”, arguing that language courses were a “gateway to lifelong learning for many, many people in our society”.
Mr Corbyn also hit out at the announcement last month by prime minister David Cameron that he was providing an additional £20 million in funding for Esol provision, to be largely targeted as Muslim women in order to boost integration.
“If he’s going to put money back into Esol, I welcome that. But please, prime minister, have the humility to recognise it was you who cut Esol funding in the first place," he said.
The quality of school careers advice was causing “a massive gender gap in university applicants, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds”, the MP for Islington North added. “I want there to be proper support services in all schools, colleges and universities so every young person gets the same level of opportunity, advice and support. Otherwise we end up as a society losing out, and those young people lose out as well.”