“Building the British ‘Dual System’”
A speech to the 2015 Skills Summit by Liam Byrne MP,
Shadow Minister for Universities, Science & Skills
Westminster Central Hall, 12th February 2015
It’s a great pleasure to join you at the last skills summit before the election.
I’d like to congratulate you on such a successful programme this year; I hope you got a bit of light and not just the heat of the parties’ pre-election manoeuvres.
This is a great week to be here.
While we might lack a little of the glamour of the weekend’s BAFTAs today, I think it’s worth reflecting on what a brilliant country we live in. Where one of our greatest scientists, Stephen Hawking is celebrated at one of the greatest cultural events of the year. We’re brilliant at science and technology in the country. We know it and we have known it for centuries. Indeed we’ve been burying our scientists with our sovereigns since the death of Sir Isaac Newton.
Yet companies like Jaguar Land Rover show how science and technology are not just a nice part of our history, science and technology are part of our future. A little known fact is that a Jaguar model XJ needs around a 100 million lines of software code.
The question for policy makers is whether our performance is going to match our potential. And the argument I want to make this afternoon is that we’ll fail unless we crack on and build a British ‘dual system’ with a strong new path to technical and professional skills – much like the system we designed for the Germans, 70 years ago, but forgot to build ourselves.
Now we’ve long had this problem.
Indeed Lord Percy, in his report to parliament in 1944 concluded that:
“The position of Great Britain as a leading industrial nation is being endangered by a failure to secure the fullest possible application of science to industry… and…this failure is partly due to deficiencies in education.”
What was true in 1944 is true today.
The challenge is that the skills crisis is getting worse.
Business leaders like Mike Wright at Jaguar Land Rover tell us that:
“We are not educating nearly enough skilled apprentices or graduates to replace those retiring from manufacturing roles…”
Firms have had to sponsor in 282,000 people from abroad over the course of this parliament because they could not get the skills they need here in this country. As someone who represents the constituency with the highest youth unemployment in Britain I can tell you that that is just not good enough.
But you’ll forgive me for arguing that the Government is destroying our chances to build a ‘dual system’ of the sort that works so well on the continent.
When Labour was last in government we left strong foundations: we rescued the apprenticeship system and rebuilt our FE colleges.
But a good ‘dual system’ needs good technical education that starts in all our schools, yet over the last few years there’s been a 16% increase in unqualified teachers.
A good ‘dual system’ needs a good careers service but the CBI says that the careers system is currently “on life support”.
A good ‘dual system’ needs strong further education yet post 19 FE funding has been cut by 40% and Mr Cameron has refused to promise to protect it in the years to come.
A good ‘dual system’ needs a big, high quality apprenticeship system – but apprenticeships for the under 25s are falling and most are at Level 2 not Level 3 or higher.
A good ‘dual system’ needs the freedom to take a technical, professional path to degree level skills – but only 2% of apprentices do and there’s been a 40% fall in those starting HNCs, HNDs and foundation degrees.
Today those on a professional and technical path, from the age of 14, pass through systems overseen by Ofqual, Ofsted, the AQA, the EFA, the SFA and HEFCE. It’s a dog’s breakfast and it needs to change.
I think there’s a better way forward and I want to set out today the building blocks in building the British ‘dual system’.
First, everyone from the age of 14 must be able to access some kind of technical education.
Second, it’s patently obvious we need to rebuild a careers service incorporating the extraordinary success of initiatives like the Skills Show.
Third, we need a high-quality, gold standard technical baccalaureate and of course everyone needs to study English and Maths up to the age of 18.
Fourth, we need a new degree of specialisation in our colleges, which is why Institutes of Technical Excellence are such a welcome idea.
Fifth, our apprenticeship system needs to be bigger and better: we should be sending as many young people onto an apprenticeship as to university.
Apprenticeships should be studied to Level 3 and crucially we need a huge expansion in the number of apprenticeships at degree level, Level 4 and above – much in the way that Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce and BAE System have pioneered.
That is why we’ve said Technical Degrees – what I’ve called ‘earn while you learn’ degrees – are our priority for expanding higher education.
That in turn will require our FE colleges and our universities to join together, in what I’ve called Technical Universities, to offer students a clear flight path to degree level skills.
Now building this ‘dual system’ won’t be free – it needs a strong system of further education as a strong spine in the system.
That is why today I’m confirming Labour’s plans to protect in real terms the budget for 16-19 further education, local authority and other maintained 6th Forms, 16-18 apprenticeships and 16-19 bursary funding. Today these add up to about £8bn of public spending but protecting this in real terms will be worth £8.4bn by 2018/19.
In my research I’ve written about a new competitive threat to this country from rising economies from Germany to Guangzhou.
I know that if we want to live better than others we have to be better than others. That means building a skills system that gets everybody, not just some, to the very highest levels of their potential.
Only in that way can we offer a future that is optimistic and ambitions.
Only in that way can we be a country that is full of hope and not a country that is facing the future with fear.