The future of the left since 1884

How Labour’s National Education Service can be brought to life

Now, with Labour drawing closer to power, it is time for the left to turn stirring words into a practical blueprint.


Press release

Life Lessons, published today by the Fabian Society in partnership with the University and College Union, examines how Labour should deliver on its promise to create a free, universal ‘cradle to grave’ education system.

People will always remember Labour’s 2017 election campaign for the party’s promise to scrap undergraduate tuition fees. But Labour’s pledge of free higher education was just the standout feature of a broader vision for an integrated nationwide system of education for all, free at the point of need – the National Education Service. Now, with Labour drawing closer to power, it is time for the left to turn stirring words into a practical blueprint.

The report features an introduction from shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner MP and contributions from experts in further and higher education, including shadow minister Gordon Marsden MP, former education and employment secretary Lord Blunkett and leading figures from the NUS, UCU, Open University the Learning and Work Institute.

Between them the report contributors argue for a National Education Service that is:

  • Accountable – democratically account­able and open at every level
  • Devolved – with local decision-making which delivers coherent, integrated local provision, albeit within a national framework
  • Empowering – ensuring that learners, employees and institutions are all ena­bled and respected
  • Genuinely lifelong – with opportu­nities for retraining and chances to re-engage at every stage, and parity for part-time and digital distance learning
  • Coordinated – flexible pathways for learners between providers and strong partnerships involving providers, employers, unions and technology platforms
  • Outcome-focused – designed to meet social and economic needs, with far more adults receiving productivity-en­hancing education but also recognising that learning brings wider benefits

The report also suggests that the ultimate price-tag for the new service may be more than Labour pledged in its 2017 manifesto.

In her introduction to Life Lessons, shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner MP writes:

The mission of Labour’s National Education Service is not just to underpin our economic prosperity, but to transform the lives of individuals and society, and bring meaningful opportunities to all those areas that, for too long, have been left behind.

That is why one of the most important pledges we made at the last general election was to provide higher and further education free at the point of use, for all those who need it, whenever they need it.

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said:

The challenge for the National Educa­tion Service is to recreate the best of the NHS, not the worst of it. Labour must strive to establish the strong values, ethos and entitlements of a national institution, but not the top-down silos and inflexibilities. Life Lessons offers a practical blueprint for Labour on further and higher education reform.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said:

The National Education Service proposal sets out a clear idea that education should be a constant in people’s lives, and that it should be delivered by well-trained and well-supported staff. UCU welcomes Labour’s commitment to developing a professional workforce at the heart of a high-quality system, and is ready to help ensure staff are fully engaged in building a more coherent and collaborative education offer for the UK.

– Ends –


  1. Contact: Claire Sewell, head of media and communications at the Fabian Society

0207 227 4906 | 07905776318 |

  1. Download – Life Lessons: A National Education Service that leaves no adult behind
  2. The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with over 7,000 members. It is constitutionally affiliated to the Labour party.
  3. The report Is supported by the University and College Union (UCU). The UCU is the union for academic and professional staff in post-call education.



Claire Sewell

Claire Sewell is head of media and communications at the Fabian Society


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