Though the marketisation of our education service has been the cause of many of the problems it now faces, the monetising of an individual’s entitlement, and therefore service provision, remains necessary.
Without it, you cannot empower individuals to make flexible and informed choices that are mindful of the cost of provision; you cannot ensure the rapid innovation of provision, and you cannot rebalance the disproportionate benefit that the middle class get from a universal tertiary education entitlement.
The establishment of “Adult Education Funds” could do all of this.
In such a system, an annual funding entitlement would be credited to each account at the beginning of each financial year – starting as an individual enters their final term of secondary education. For the first couple of years, the entitlement would be a large one, sufficient to cover the cost of a university degree or five-year apprenticeship.
Beyond that, the entitlement would be smaller, sufficient to cover or contribute to three-to-five days’ worth of education/training, an evening course, a distance-learning course or similar.
If not used, the entitlement could be saved to contribute to a more expensive, longer, full-time course.
If, as is likely, a large proportion of the population do not use their entitlement, then that entitlement, or at least a proportion of it, could at state pension age be transferred to their “Combined Defined Contribution Pension” (a policy proposal I have written about elsewhere).
Such a move would be equitable, progressive, and go much of the way to redressing the fact that a universal education entitlement often disproportionately benefits those who are already better off.
Ability to access new employment
In a fast-changing world, the education and training system must prioritise re-learning alongside learning. This is a priority that has not been met by this government, which has overseen a 39 per cent drop in mature students since 2011.
The next Labour government must ensure that people working in declining industries and occupations are able to access new employment in growing areas of the job market and establish a new right to continue training while in work.
One of the cornerstones of these strategies would be everybody’s eligibility to spend up to four days a year undertaking approved training courses – helping people to maintain a relevant skill set, as both society and the workplace change.
These four days of training would be in addition to statutory annual leave and would be enshrined in the rights of all workers. People would be able to choose the courses that best suit their needs, with advisers on hand to help everybody make the most from their annual allocation.
Some will want to take productivity-enhancing courses to improve their ability in their current role; others may wish to incrementally pick up new skill sets that could help them move into new industries or occupations.
Everyone would be eligible for this scheme, which would ensure learning did not finish at school, university or further education, but was established as an ongoing feature of everyone’s life.
Reinvigoration of night schools
For those who do not wish to take time off work, are self-employed or want to educate and train themselves beyond their four days a year, Labour would provide other options.
The next Labour government would invest in both the development of new vocationally focused online courses (by both the Open University and other providers), and also the reinvigoration of the UK’s night schools.
Despite the great contribution these institutions have made to the UK’s tradition of autodidacts, under the current government, they are in terminal decline. The next Labour government must support them both in principle and in practice.
Dan Jarvis is the Sheffield City Region metro mayor and Labour MP for Barnsley Central. This an edited excerpt from the newly published book, Spirit of Britain, Purpose of Labour, edited by Stephen Kinnock and Joe Jervis