Category Archives: Education

GK Launches New Podcast on Trending Policy Issues

Education with Edward Timpson MP

In the inaugural episode of the GK Strategy Podcast, David Laws, GK Strategic Adviser, spoke with the former Children & Families Minister, Edward Timpson MP, about the future of special educational needs and disability policy.

The lively discussion covered everything from SEND policy to social services, with Mr Timpson offering insight into the reform to SEND services and the current policy environment across social care.

Mr Timpson spoke specifically on the 2014 Children and Families Act which he helped push through Parliament. He noted that the legislation “still stands up to scrutiny” 10 years after it was passed and serves as a blueprint for joining up and improving services across education, health and social care. However, he also described some of the challenges associated with the legislation’s implementation, which has led to many parents having vastly different experiences with the SEND system.

During the episode, Mr Laws and Mr Timpson brought to light the “tough” spending environment across the education sector, highlighting the need for increased funding from central government. However, they also touched on other issues that have impacted SEND provision, including the capacity within the workforce, the importance of educational psychologists, SEND ‘deserts’ and out of area provision, and the extent to which mainstream settings should take on more responsibility for SEND provision.

You can listen to the full episode on Spotify here.

SEND and AP Improvement Plan

The SEND and AP Improvement Plan – A Year Without Progress

GK Advisers Noureen Ahmed and Felix Griffin evaluate the implementation of the SEND and AP Improvement Plan.

The Government and the Opposition face questions on their SEND policy plans

Nearly a year has elapsed since the Government unveiled its SEND and AP Improvement Plan, which reiterated its commitment to ensuring every child and young person with SEND receives the high-quality support they need. What exactly has changed since publication? The answer – not much…yet.

The plan outlined several key policies, including the long-overdue standardisation and digitalisation of Education, Health, and Care Plans (EHCPs), the implementation of new national SEND standards, and the introduction of a revised funding approach for alternative provision.

Although these policies were warmly welcomed by the sector, they’re not expected to come into effect on a national scale until 2025 at the earliest. This delay has raised concerns about the precariousness of the SEND landscape, prompting calls for a quicker implementation timeline.

A recent report from the Guardian, citing Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, revealed instances where children and young people in certain local authorities waited over two years to receive an EHCP. Moreover, insufficient funding for SEND services has put local authorities in a difficult position, exacerbating the existing strain on resources.

Questions have also been raised about what a Labour government might look like for the sector. At present, the Party has said very little on SEND but noted that interlinking services and improving data use” would help identify a child’s needs much earlier.

The Government has stressed its ambition to reform the SEND landscape. However, given the escalating crisis, doubts continue to grow as to whether the plan will suffice in addressing and alleviating the issues facing the sector.

Digital skills

Adult Education: A Model for Devolution?

GK Adviser Rebecca McMahon explores the localisation of adult education and whether it could provide a template for devolution plans in other policy areas.

A rare win for the Levelling Up agenda?

Over the last 13 years, a series of Conservative governments have made various stabs at improving regional inequalities, and by the time of the Levelling Up White Paper 2022, there was a consensus that at least some form of devolution is necessary to heal regional divides and accelerate British growth.

However, plenty of obstacles remain in the way of a strong devolved power system in the UK, stemming both from central government (particularly due to reservations held by the Treasury) and local government (whose various financial difficulties over the last year have undermined their case for greater responsibility over policy and fiscal decision-making.) Plus, recent high-profile blows to the Levelling Up agenda – notably the collapse of the multi-billion HS2 project at the end of last year – have created further setbacks.

However, one of the more successful devolution efforts has materialised in the seemingly unexpected domain of adult skills. The Government kickstarted the devolution of the Adult Education Budget in the 2019-20 academic year, transferring decision-making powers over the pot of money to six Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) plus the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Since then, a further three MCAs have been handed these powers, and the trend of devolution suggests that more deals are to take place in the near future. The success of ‘trailblazer’ deals in Greater Manchester and West Midlands makes this more likely. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, confirmed that the North East MCA would also receive a deal as part of the continued ‘Skills for Growth’ agenda.

Labour’s thinking on Adult Education

Central to Labour’s skills agenda is the replacement of the Apprenticeship Levy with the Growth and Skills Levy. Notionally, this points to a more flexible skills and training landscape, with accommodation for all types of learners.

However, some people have expressed concern about the sustainability of this proposal, suggesting that an altered levy would be a step in the wrong direction for apprenticeship uptake, at a time when other viable further education alternatives seem more important than ever. In terms of devolution, Labour have made a lot of noise about their commitment to the cause, threading it through various ‘missions’ upon which they have built their policy agenda, and publishing high-profile reviews by legacy figures like Gordon Brown which showcase their support. But in practice, the landscape is less certain, owing to Rachel Reeves’ fiscal ‘iron fist.’ Given the pressure that the Shadow Chancellor placed on Keir Starmer to backtrack on their flagship £28bn pledge to the green economy, she will be hesitant to hand over budgetary responsibilities to local authorities given their recent track record on finances.

The increasing localisation of adult education budgets in the UK somewhat offers a model for the Government and potential future governments to further the devolution agenda. However, any party will inevitably face a gamble on whether to trust local authorities with increasingly large pots of money and whether this will ultimately reap long-term rewards.

The Early Years Conundrum

GK Point of View – The Early Years Conundrum

GK Adviser Felix Griffin assesses the potential battle lines between Labour and the Conservatives in the early years sector ahead of the General Election. 

A Political Football in the Education Arena 

In the ever-evolving education landscape, early years policy has found itself thrust into the centre of a complex and highly contested arena. Incrementally, the situation has worsened over the years, with the ‘cost of living’ crisis and systemic staff recruitment and retention issues taking their toll. Early years policy is now a political football, bouncing between competing ideologies and vested interests. 

There are now clear division lines between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour appears staunchly focused on prioritising comprehensive child development, emphasising a holistic and nurturing approach to early education. On the other side, the Conservatives have pivoted towards viewing the early years as a means of getting parents back to work, shaping their policies with a lens primarily focused on economic productivity. 

With the Conservatives using free childcare as a ‘vote winner’, as previous governments have done, there is concern that the implementation failures that have plagued the sector for so long will persist. 

As the prospect of Labour taking the reins becomes increasingly likely, it stands at a crossroad. The Party is confronted with the pressing decision of whether to persist with a clearly broken framework, risking further erosion of the quality of early childhood education, or opting for the challenging path of withdrawing the current ‘free childcare’ system, potentially facing backlash from parents and stakeholders.  

However, amidst this dilemma, there is a transformative opportunity – to reform the existing system comprehensively. By engaging in strategic overhauls and policy adjustments, informed by its ‘major’ review of the early years sector, Labour has the chance to steer the course towards a more effective, equitable, and responsive early years education system, ensuring a brighter future for the nation’s youngest minds. 


GK Insights- Student visas reform

GK Point of View – The impact of student visa reforms

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett assesses the recent student visa reforms, and what they mean for the higher education sector.

With the Government continuing to struggle in the polls, Rishi Sunak has launched a full-frontal assault on the immigration system aimed at bringing numbers down and cutting into Labour’s seemingly unassailable lead. 

Following a record net migration figure of 745,000 in 2022, the Government has undertaken a series of measures to tighten the UK’s immigration system. As they are the largest group of non-EU migrants, international students have come into the firing line. 

In May 2023, the Government introduced new restrictions to student visa routes by preventing international students from bringing family members on all but post-graduate research routes, as well as banning people from switching into work routes until their studies have been completed. These measures officially came into force on 1 January 2024. 

The Government expects this to result in an estimated 140,000 fewer people arriving in the UK. However, with years of frozen domestic tuition fees and reductions to teaching grants stemming from Britain’s exit from the EU, it is unclear whether the UK will retain its attractiveness to international students, the very group who have been covering the sector’s budgetary shortfalls. 

Notably, the Government’s own impact assessment refuses to consider the effects of preventing international students from bringing dependants on all but post-graduate research routes, given the lack of available evidence to determine how many students (who bring dependants) will be dissuaded. On a more positive note, the impact assessment finds that only 2% of total students with an expired student visa would be affected by the ban on switching work routes until their studies had been completed. 

Given the distinct possibility that numbers of international students arriving in the UK drop because of the changes, financial pressure will grow on higher education providers who have made over-optimistic assumptions about future growth in international student numbers as a means of balancing the books. 

As we enter an election year in which the Conservatives will be reluctant to loosen immigration controls, the likelihood that some providers collapse under the financial strain cannot be overlooked. 


GK Point of View – The Contested Future of the Apprenticeship Levy

GK Senior Adviser Robert Blackmore assesses the criticisms of the Apprenticeship Levy, from unspent funds to the over-provision of apprenticeships for affluent employees, and highlights the many contested proposals to reform the Levy.

While it may not dominate the front pages, the Apprenticeship Levy is fast becoming one of the more controversial areas of UK public policy. The Levy, which is charged at 0.5% of an employer’s total payroll, applying to those with a payroll of more than £3 million, is contested at several levels.

Government officials, however, would argue that they are attempting to find a delicate balance between keeping to a pre-determined budget, whilst simultaneously ensuring that provision for priority skills areas is enhanced. Ahead of November’s Autumn Statement, it was reported that Number 10 and the Treasury were considering plans to limit the number of degree-level apprenticeships. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was said to be concerned that too great an amount was being spent on level 6 and 7 apprenticeships that tend to be filled by older and more affluent employees.

This proposal faced opposition from the DfE, while course conveners argued that high-level apprenticeships were “critical for the productivity agenda and fiscal sustainability”. Employers also pointed out that the allocation of funds should be their preserve, noting that the Levy was established to be “employer led”. Ultimately, no such proposals were included in the Autumn Statement. Instead, documents published alongside the fiscal event highlighted how apprenticeships had become a ‘prestigious and high-quality alternative route to higher education’. Despite its omission, it remains a topic of contention within Government.

Outside Whitehall, the calls for reform grow louder. Earlier this month, EDSK, a think tank focused on education and skills, proposed an even more radical overhaul of the Levy. Its report, ‘Broken Ladders’, recommended that individuals who have already achieved an undergraduate degree should no longer be eligible to start a levy-funded apprenticeship. It was also suggested that employers should be prevented from accessing further levy funding if they have trained more apprentices aged 25+ than those aged 16-24. EDSK believe that such reforms would ensure that the focus of the Levy remains on those young people who have elected to pursue a non-academic pathway. Unsurprisingly, EDSK has faced criticism from training bodies, most notably from Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive of the University Vocational Awards Council, who argued that “we should dismiss the false notion that apprenticeships are the only suitable for school/college leavers unable to reach the ‘academic’ standards needed to take them to university.”

Furthermore, last week, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the National Farmers Union (NFU) and UK Hospitality (UKH), alongside others, issued a joint statement calling for the Government to develop a wider skills levy, for businesses to train up a greater number of domestic workers to plug the UK’s skills gaps. Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the BRC, went as far as to state “The government should stop dragging its feet so businesses can upskill our workforce.”

This position aligns with the Labour Party’s stated aim to “increase the quality as well as quantity of training opportunities” through a “growth and skills levy“. Such an expansion of the Levy, however, has faced criticism from officials inside the DfE, who estimate that plans to expand the Levy would limit the number of apprenticeship starts per year to 140,000 (down from 349,000 in 2021/22) and cost an additional £1.5 billion. It should be noted, however, that this analysis has been labelled ‘quite simplistic’ by Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute.

A Labour victory at the next election, expected in 2024, would provide a mandate for a ‘growth and skills levy’, yet the party have yet to fully expand on their policy, and it is unlikely that the future manifesto will delve too deeply. Many will hope reform to the Levy is not lost in the maze that is nascent government policy making.