The referendum managed to put the spotlight on many public policy areas, but perhaps the most lasting exposure is on the vexed issue of the relationship between the skills the UK economy requires, and the widespread concerns over immigration. In short, a classic public choice question is on the table – how can the demands of the world of work be matched with a more restrictive approach to border control?
One answer is education, hence PLMR will be hosting a debate on skills at the Conservative Party Conference, which I will chair. The line-up of speakers is Robert Halfon MP (Chair of the Education Select Committee), Russell Hobby (Teach First Chief Executive), Laura McInerney (Schools Week Editor) and John Blake (Policy Exchange, Head of Education).
At least five themes are likely to emerge; transition of pupils from primary to secondary, introduction of the new ‘T’ Levels, recruitment and retention of teachers, funding of Further Education and making universities globally competitive. A wider debate on the future of work, with artificial intelligence, robots, innovation in the workplace and jobs in the future still undefined, might or even should underpin the debate.
There are, potentially, three restraints on policy makers. Firstly, there is the matter of timing – can the supply of domestic skills be increased in line with the anticipated Brexit timetable, notwithstanding transitional arrangements? Second, in times when reducing the budget deficit remains a priority can sufficient resources be allocated to education? Third, in seeking a new equilibrium in the supply and demand of skills, is there reliable and comprehensive data available to bring efficiency and transparency to process?
A simple answer to the exam question as posed above is, probably, no but the debate will rage on, not least because it is complex and, ultimately, of huge importance to the UK’s future. Understanding how difficult it is all going to be is a crucial first step.
For more information on the event that Neil’s Chairing click here