The Liberal Democrat manifesto is now out. The Lib Dems refer to it as ‘Jo’s plan for the future‘ in an attempt to turn Jo Swinson into a celebrity politician who can stand alongside other one name celebrities (Madonna, Beyoncé, Boris and Jeremy). In this post I’m going to pick over it a bit from the perspective of career guidance and related subjects. My plan is to do this for all of the manifestos when they come out.
The manifesto promises: a stronger economy, better education and skills, a green society and economy, health and social care, a fairer society, freedom, rights and equality, better politics, a better world, motherhood and apple pie (I added those last two in, but you get the gist). So let’s dive into the detail…
Changing world of work. The Lib Dems buy into the ‘changing world of work’ narrative, saying that ‘the great advancements in technology and the ever-changing nature of the world of work mean that more of us will change careers throughout our lives’. Broadly they seek to address this changing world of work with a moderate improvement in employment rights (including a very vague promise to improve things for trade unions) and some investment in skills and retraining. Which are all good things in my opinion.
Career education and guidance. On career education and guidance they have some positive things to say. They promise that all adults will have access to free career guidance. This seems likely to be focused around the ages of 25, 40 and 55 to align with their Skills Wallet idea (of which more later). But the details of how this will be delivered are left to the imagination.
Within schools they promise to improve career guidance and links with the world of work, but are pretty short on details as to what this actually means. They miss the opportunity to reintroduce career education as part of their new ‘curriculum for life’ which is essentially a revamped PSHE curriculum with more liberal sex education. They then miss this opportunity again when they talk (vaguely) about introducing more teaching on the ‘skills requires for children to flourish in the modern world’. This is a great shame, but hopefully if they do get to move these ideas forwards, there will be an opportunity to discuss the content of them in more detail.
In general their career education and guidance policy seems positive, but is vague enough that it would be difficult to pin down what it really means if they got anywhere near power.
Schools. They will improve school funding, deal with poor infrastructure and increase teacher pay, reform Ofsted to make it more developmental, reduce high stakes testing, strengthen local authorities oversight of schools and oppose grammar schools. They also talk about reducing the influence of league tables, but they essentially tie themselves in knots on this one and end up pretty much back where they started. There is also some nice stuff on early years that others will probably have more to say about than me.
Adult learning/skills wallets. One of their big pledges is the introduction of a skills wallet which will give individuals the right to access education and training. The government will pay £4,000 at age 25, £3,000 at age 40 and £3,000 at age 55 into these wallets. Individuals and employers can then also pay into these wallets (although why they would do this is not clear – presumably they will want to offer some kind of tax break incentive, but this isn’t spelled out). One question is what this will buy you. Will these amounts be enough to pay for meaningful courses (it doesn’t sound enough to me) or will they essentially be a coupon that you will have to find the rest of the money in order to actually use. The answer to that question could make a big difference to how real this proposal actually is in terms of reinvigorating the adult education system.
They have nothing at all to say about unemployment and helping unemployed people, which is a bit worrying.
Apprenticeships. They want to relabel the Apprenticeship Levy as a ‘Skills and Training Levy’ which you would have thought they could link to the skills wallet idea nicely. But instead of that they seem to view levy money as essentially an additional tax which they can redirect towards a vaguely defined ‘social mobility fund’. This policy seems like a bit of a mess to me and could result in an undoing of the last government’s apprenticeship policy (which I think is flawed, but has some merits – see the ISE paper on this). It is also essentially giving up on increasing the volume and quality of apprenticeships for young people, which I thought was one of those motherhood and apple pie things that we all bought into.
Vocational education/further education. They promise increase further education funding. They also say that they will bring back some kind of payments for young disadvantaged young people to stay in further education (which I believe they were instrumental in cutting the last time they were in government?). In general they have very little to say about further education and nothing at all about vocational education more broadly. For example, they don’t even mention T-levels.
Higher education. This is just a load of blah! There is nothing concrete in here at all.
In summary there are quite a few interesting ideas in here, but it is a bit hamstrung by vagueness and odd omissions. In general where I’ve got serious problems with what they are proposing it is more because the policies are vague and muddled than because they are actively advocating for things that I disagree with. There is an acknowledgement of the importance of career guidance in schools and a more substantial (if still vague) commitment on adult guidance, but it is difficult to know whether any of this is really likely to go anywhere.
One of the key questions is what out of all of this would they actually insist on as part of a coalition agreement. My guess is that increased school funding would be easy to get as everyone is likely to promise that. Beyond that it is probably the ‘skills wallets’ that we are most likely to see again if Jo decides to head back into coalition after all. These skills wallets deserve more scrutiny as it is very unclear how they are going to work.
So that is my take on the Lib Dem manifesto. I’d be interested to hear more from others about what they make of it and would be very happy to feature a guest post from someone from the Lib Dems providing us with more detail.