Government announces 400 free courses for adults

The government has published a list of qualifications – but there are fears a limited budget might suggest low expected take-up
9th December 2020, 12:01am
Kate Parker


Government announces 400 free courses for adults
Lifetime Skills Guarantee: The Government Has Announced 400 Free Courses For Adults

Almost 400 courses will be made available to study for free from next year, the Department for Education has said.

The courses form the first part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, announced by the prime minister in September. They will be available to adults who do not hold a full qualification at level 3, and are said to range in subject from health to conservation. The DfE said the qualifications will be "reviewed regularly" so that courses offered can be updated as the economy changes. 

The £95 million of funding for the courses will come from the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund - and the guarantee will also include a lifelong loan entitlement to allow adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes.     

News: Ofsted should inspect on FE collaboration, says Association of Colleges

More: Is there a problem with the Lifetime Skills Guarantee?

Need to know: Boris Johnson to announce Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Prime minister Boris Johnson said he was "determined to help everyone who has lost their job to retrain, develop new skills and find new opportunities".

Free courses to improve job opportunities

Education secretary Gavin Williamson added: "Throughout our lives, we may all need to boost our skills or gain new ones. These free qualifications will help open doors to better employment opportunities for thousands of adults and support businesses to access the workforce they need to grow.

"Our new Lifetime Skills Guarantee promises to help you get the skills you need at every stage of your life. I'd urge all those eligible to see what course they can take from spring next year and start thinking about their next steps."  

Association of Employment and Learning Providers' managing director Jane Hickie said she was disappointed that "hospitality and retail have been left off" the government's list of qualifications.

She said: "The latest announcements are a positive step and will help training providers to plan their provision for next April. The inclusion of adult care on the qualifications list is welcome and vital in terms of attracting more home-grown talent to the sector after Brexit. But we can't fail to hide our disappointment that hospitality and retail have been left off when these sectors are being hit so hard by the effects of the pandemic.

"Time is short for making the required funding available to providers and colleges, but we hope that the ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency] and the mayoral combined authorities take care to allocate it to providers with a good track record of delivery. In normal times, providers and colleges should be required to bid for this funding, and the long-term solution lies in giving the individual learner the purchasing power for their level 3 entitlement via skills accounts. Alongside the 'carefully chosen' qualifications, responding directly to individual learner demand helps minimise the risk of public money being wasted."

'Colleges are eager to start'

Chief executive of the Association of Colleges David Hughes said that colleges were eager to start work and begin to plan delivery. 

"I'm pleased to see progress in the roll-out of the new level 3 entitlement as part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The qualifications will help people to get the skills they need in the labour market emerging from the pandemic, so it is great to see that essential services like child and social care have been included alongside engineering, agriculture, construction and many others," he said.

"This breadth of courses is vital in supporting rural and urban economies to build back better. The impact Covid-19 is having on people's livelihoods requires urgent action, so we look forward." 

'A limited take-up'

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said that the "limited budget" suggested that the government expected a limited take-up.

"The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is welcome and it's good to put some flesh on the bones. But the limited budget suggests the government expects a limited take-up. This is a good start, but we hope that it is a downpayment on a more ambitious approach to drive a levelling-up of skills after the pandemic," he said.

"Rather than a centrally driven approach, we need to empower people and employers to choose the learning that works best for them. And alongside investment in level 3 skills, we'd be keen to see much greater support for learning at basic skills and level 2 to create a true ladder of opportunity." 

Sue Pember, policy director at HOLEX, the lead professional body for adult community education and learning, said she would like to see clear progression routes for level 2 learners.

"It is fantastic that DfE is making new funding available to support adults to take their first free high economic value level 3. We are pleased that the door isn't shut to other qualifications being considered also,"  she said.

"We would have liked some more information on how students are to be supported. For example, will they be eligible for a maintenance loan or continue with their universal credit? And we are keen to see clear progression routes established for level 2 learners."

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of City & Guilds Group, said: "The government's commitment to offer adults without A levels funding for level 3 courses is a step in the right direction, but, given its aim is to boost skills in the post-Covid-19 economy - it is limited in scope and not nearly ambitious enough to move the dial on the UK's lifelong learning lag.
"As a starter for ten, by limiting this offer only to those who haven't got a level 3 qualification, the government is effectively ignoring the vast swathes of people who are losing their jobs within industries that have been decimated by the pandemic. These individuals need help to retrain and reskill to find work elsewhere and the offer of funded training could provide a much-needed lifeline. The priority for adult retraining right now is to get people back into work quickly and it's vital the funding goes towards courses that will genuinely lead to meaningful employment in industries where there are real job opportunities.
"And time could not be any more of the essence - so why wait until April? We know the end of March could mark yet another unemployment spike, so we need to fast track funding and open up opportunities in real-time. If we are to give the economy a fighting chance of recovery sooner rather than later, we need to act now."

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