The Labour manifesto – a careers perspective

Today I’m going to look at the Labour Party manifesto and ask what that offers for career guidance and related areas. There has been a lot more excitement about the Labour Party manifesto than there has about other manifestos, with the Party putting a lot of faith in its ability to convey a radical alternative vision for Britain. It is certainly a bit more substantial than some of the other manifestos weighing in at 107 pages and also offering other supplementary documents that tackle the costing issues.

At the top level the manifesto promises a green industrial revolution, the rebuilding of public services, a commitment to tackling poverty and inequality, a final say on Brexit, and a commitment to a new internationalism. All of this is wrapped up in social justice inspired rhetoric and a commitment to share wealth and power whilst addressing climate change.

An important rhetorical and ideological shift signalled in this manifesto is the move from ‘social mobility’ to ‘social justice’. This is based on the critique that:

Implicit in the notion of social mobility is the idea that poverty and inequality are acceptable provided some people can climb the social ladder. Social justice, on the other hand, demands that we end poverty, reduce inequality and create a society in which the conditions for a fulfilling life are available to everyone.

This kind of change has some big implications for careers work, which has been very tied to the social mobility agenda historically. As I’ve argued in my work on social justice, this is a role that career guidance can fill, but it requires some big changes in theory and practice.

Career education and guidance. They will create a lifelong career guidance system which will connect with the whole of the National Education Service. Importantly they will also expand the Union Learning Fund to improve the access and engagement of working people with guidance and lifelong learning. Unfortunately they are a bit too quiet about what career education and guidance in schools would look like under a Labour government, but the commitment to lifelong provision at least offers a good starting point for dialogue on this.

Education. The Party plans to create a ‘national education service’. Essentially this is a new brand for the existing education system, but with a serious commitment to make education far more coherent and cradle to grave. As part of this we see a lot of new energy being promised on both early years and lifelong learning.

Schools. They will increase school funding, reduce high stakes testing, broaden the curriculum, return control of schools to local authorities (along with staff, students and parents), improve SEND education, replace Ofsted with peer-to-peer support mechanisms and a developmental agency, create a new teacher supply agency, clamp down on the practice of kicking difficult students out and reform alternative provision. Sadly (in my opinion) the promise to get rid of private schools, which was announced at conference, seems to have been deprioritised.

Further education. The party will increase funding for FE and broaden its focus to be more lifelong. The will bring back the Education Maintenance Allowance and provide a universal entitlement to six years of adult education, involve employers in the design of curriculum, improve ESOL provision

Apprenticeships. They plan to broaden the range of training that the apprenticeship levy can be spent on. They will also earmark some of the apprenticeship levy money for ‘climate apprentices’ which is basically about training people to deliver their Green Industrial Revolution. They’ll also increase funding for disadvantaged groups in an attempt to increase the diversity of apprenticeships. Finally they are going to try and engage SMEs in apprenticeships further by increasing the possibility of funding transfer and creating an online matching service. This is a good aim, but I suspect might need a bit more thinking if it is going to be successful.

Higher education. In higher education the party will scrap tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants, have a complete rethink of the assessment of teaching and research quality (yippee!), and develop a new funding formula that reduces casualisation. They will also introduce post-qualification admissions (which the wonk community will probably get excited about) and move towards more contextualised admissions.

Green industrial revolution. As in the Green Party manifesto there is a commitment to addressing climate change through a process of investment in new jobs and new industries alongside appropriate training. Again I’d make the point that this kind of large scale reorientation of the labour market is likely to need a substantial investment in career guidance to help people to make these moves, retrain and build new working lives.

Workers rights and industrial democracy. The party are also offering some very interesting ideas around workers rights and industrial democracy. These clearly have some big educational and career implications, which it will be interesting to discuss further at a later date. The Party also plans to reform Universal Credit for unemployed workers, but at the moment these proposals are a bit under-developed and the link with training, guidance and other forms of employment support is not clear.

All in all, Labour have got their work cut out for them. This is a very radical set of proposals that includes some very promising ideas. Of course I would like to see more on career education and guidance (particularly in schools), but the general direction of travel is to emphasise education, including vocational education and a strong relationship between education, communities and employment.

Whether they will be able to use this to get elected and then prioritise it once is government is another matter, but I’ll be watching with interest.

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