‘We need a revolutionary FE White Paper more than ever’

The challenge ahead for further education is enormous and complex but the sector is ready to step up – the FE White Paper must support them
6th July 2020, 5:31pm


‘We need a revolutionary FE White Paper more than ever’

Fe White Paper: 'we Need It To Be Revolutionary More Than Ever'

We are promised a post-16 White Paper that revolutionises further education. 

The need for a truly revolutionary approach is greater than ever. Wider forces are at work.

The post-16 skills system needs to adapt to the changing environment. Britain’s place in global trade after Brexit, moving towards a greener economy, wider and faster automation, restricting low-skilled workers through a skills-based immigration system, a flexible labour market with a reliance on low-paid and insecure jobs, mass adult unemployment and longer working lives, mass youth unemployment and a rising population of 18- to 24-year-olds, and national debt over 100 per cent of GDP. 

Covid-19 has caused some of these revolutionary forces and reinforced others. The impact will be long lasting. The UK, and the entire world, will be for ever different. 

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These revolutionary forces will shape employer investment in training and demand for apprenticeships. Not every new job will be a permanent, full-time, pensionable job. Insecure, gig jobs could be on the rise, including self-employment. Adults in employment, especially the low paid and those in gig jobs, will put earning before learning because they need that extra overtime or that extra shift to get the pay they need to support their families. 

Some so-called “low-skilled” jobs could be lost forever. Low-skilled workers face competition from unemployed, more highly skilled workers who are potentially trading careers in order to apply for the jobs that are available across different industry sectors. A job search, work placement, CV writing and employability approach will need to be matched by an up-skilling and re-skilling option for adults in and out of work.

There will be greater demand from young people for full-time study to shield themselves from relentless competition for jobs, not just through full-time higher education - undergraduate and post-graduate - but full-time further education, too. We need to ensure that there is capacity in the system, in terms of funding, workforce and estates, to cope with this additional demand. 

An enormous and complex challenge

The post-16 sector will need to meet the needs of a different mix of employers as the structure of the labour market changes, employed and unemployed adults as joblessness rises, and full-time relative to part-time study if maintenance and welfare support is available as young people and adults seek to shield themselves from the labour market, but also to upskill to acquire the jobs of the future.

We have an increasing understanding of how experience of engaging in education can impact on mental health, both positively and negatively. Data also shows that, across the whole system, outcomes are often different for black, Asian and minority-ethnic people, people with disabilities, and people from deprived areas. More needs to be done to support better outcomes, and new systems and processes must be designed with this in mind.

The starting point for the post-16 White Paper is these wider revolutionary forces and identifying where and how post-16 education and skills - especially further and technical education - can respond to meet the needs of employers, adults and young people in the 2020s.

The challenge ahead is enormous and complex. A perfect storm now lies before us. Yet we have reasons to be optimistic. There are signs that this government will rightly view investment in skills as an investment in our future prosperity. There is a wealth of knowledge and ideas in the sector, across a variety of organisations. There are people who have dedicated their careers to improving lives through research, analysis and collaboration. 

I am delighted that NCFE and Campaign for Learning have been able to assemble a range of such experts to articulate the challenges ahead for our latest policy paper. The sector recognises the need for a revolutionary White Paper, and is ready to work with the government as we strive towards a world-class, 21st century post-16 education system.

Michael Lemin is a senior policy specialist at NCFE

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