Let me take you back to 1996: it was the year I sat my GCSEs, and I was pregnant. Having my son meant more to me than any qualification in the world, but you wouldn’t have been a cynic to think my life chances, and those of my son, were limited.
I’ve spoken about how Sure Start helped me become a better mum, but my son and I weren’t going to get far if I didn’t have a decent job. I needed to gain some qualifications, so I decided to enrol at Stockport College.
It was there I learnt British Sign Language, and then I took a course on counselling. Later, when I then got a job as a home help, I returned to college to gain an NVQ 2 in care.
For the first time in my life I enjoyed learning. It didn’t feel like education was something for other people anymore. At times I’d felt embarrassed about myself growing up, but I now felt confident and inspired. I felt like I could do anything. So, when I was encouraged to become a union rep, I went for it. I then became the regional convener for my union, Unison, in the North West – representing over 200,000 workers.
The rest is history, but I wouldn’t have got there without further education. It gave me a vital second chance; however, many people today aren’t as lucky as I was.
We’ve seen brutal cuts in adult education since the Tories (propped up by the Lib Dems) came to power in 2010. Since then, billions of pounds have been slashed in real terms, and the number of adults currently learning is at its lowest point since 1996.
This can’t continue. So today, Jeremy, Gordon Marsden and I are announcing an overhaul in adult learning.
We’re going to remove the financial barriers that exist in education so that those who want to get the knowledge, training and skills they need, can. Whether you left school with 10 GCSES or none, your ability to pay shouldn’t stop you from accessing opportunities that can help transform your life.
That’s why we will ensure that every adult is able to access a qualification in English and Maths at GCSE. And, if they don’t already have them, we’ll provide the funding for qualifications at A-Level or T-Level, or NVQ or any other qualification at Level 3, too.
But our offer doesn’t stop there. We’re also going to take radical action to address the skills gaps facing our country, and ensure that adults have access to high level skills and training opportunities, throughout their life.
Our policy means that over the course of their life every adult in the country will be entitled to six years’ worth of education and skills training at level 4 to 6; qualifications that are above A-levels, but below a masters degree.
I’m sure many of you will be wondering, though, what does this mean for me?
Well, it means that if you left schools without any qualifications, a Labour government will support you to get your GCSEs, your A Levels, and any other training you might need, without you having to pay for these qualifications.
Or, if you’ve been working in one industry for your entire life and you decide that role is no longer for you, we will help you access the qualifications, skills and training you need to help you transition into another career.
It means that throughout your life you can be sure that you can access a wide range of education and skills opportunities, without having to worry about the upfront cost of the course or the training.
I know the Tories will say that we can’t afford to do this. But we can, our proposals are fully costed.
And to them I say we can’t afford not to do this. We can no longer afford to ignore the education and skills gaps that exist in our country.
Education changes lives. It changed mine.
And Labour will ensure it can change yours too.
Angela Rayner is Labour parliamentary candidate for Ashton-under-Lyne and Shadow Education Secretary.