Dear Secretary of State,
Many congratulations on your appointment. The education portfolio is a unique area to lead and nothing can be more important than realising the potential of our citizens and future leaders.
In light of this, a number of important commissions and committees have been developing well-researched solutions for how we might transform England’s education system. They have been led by highly-respected professionals across the sector and they speak with a unified voice calling for:i) A fair, long-term education strategy ii) Prioritising skills as well as knowledge iii) Evidencing a wider portfolio of talents iv) Turning the tide on technical education and v) Developing a balanced scorecard. We have expanded on these key priorities below.
For context, the world is changing fast and the UK faces wide-spread and growing skills shortages (summarised in our regular bulletins), causing particular concern in sectors such as healthcare, construction, and hospitality. Take our brilliant NHS as an example. We currently have 38,972 vacancies within the Registered Nursing staff group alone.
Businesses are reinforcing this message, and the Open University Business Barometer 2022 report highlights 68% of SMEs and 86% of large organisations reporting skills shortages. This costs businesses £6.1bn per year in recruitment fees, temporary staff and training for workers. Education and training can be the key to restoring a sustainable upward trajectory in productivity.
You have also inherited a fantastic workforce of highly skilled and enthusiastic teachers in schools, colleges and universities. However, institutions continue to face a mounting crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. In 2020, a record one in six early career teachers left the profession after serving just one year, while an estimated 40% leave after five years. Teachers are the bedrock of education, so any reforms will need long-term investment and greater support for our workforce.
Given the tight fiscal climate and the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, HM Treasury has rightly kept a cautious eye on the government purse strings. However, nothing can be more important than investing in education. It is an investment in our human capital, future talent and future generations.
So now is the time to take action on the key priorities being called for across the education sector:
Finally, the education sector has experienced countless policy changes over the years, providing a wealth of information about what has already been tried. We want to see a real focus on making good education policy, including learning from international examples (as well as those outside the usual case studies), learning from front line practice and learning from the past. It is critical that we learn from these lessons to ensure that your policies have the best chance of success.
Education has the potential to create meaningful change in every area of society and following Covid-19, England now has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restack the educational card deck in favour of all young people, rather than just a select few. The Government’s commitment to lifelong learning can only be fully realised through a developed strategy which creates opportunities at all ages. These calls offer just a glimpse of the key priorities for education and there are many others calling for important changes across the sector.
We look forward to working with you to deliver this important work.
Alice Barnard – Chief Executive, Edge Foundation