DfE 'should fund GCSEs and A levels for adults'

Limited progress to level 4 and 5 qualifications is to blame for the UK’s skills gaps, Hepi report suggests

George Ryan

The government should fund colleges to offer GCSE and A levels for all learners, regardless of age, to help plug the country’s skills gap, a new HEPI report suggests

The government should fund colleges to offer GCSE and A levels for all learners, regardless of age, to help plug the country’s skills gap, a new report suggests.

In its Filling in the biggest skills gap report, the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) identifies that there are major skills shortages at levels 4 and 5 and suggests that a reason for this is a shortfall of learners progressing from levels 2 and 3. A government review of provision at level 4 and 5 is currently ongoing.

The report says that the number of young learners who do not proceed from level 2 to level 3 is 36.4 per cent and a further 20.9 per cent of all learners do not progress from level 3. This means that almost one in six working-age adults has not successfully progressed to level 4 or beyond.

Currently, the government funds level 2 and 3 education to learners under the age of 19. For those who are older, self-funding is required with an advanced learner loan.

'Increase the skills pipeline’

The report calls on the government to increase the “skills pipeline” by providing free courses for all learners, whatever their age, to study for qualifications at levels 2 and 3 at FE colleges. The report also says that higher education institutions should be encouraged to deliver more level 4 and 5 qualifications to help fill the UK’s skills gap.

Only one in 10 UK adults holds standalone qualifications at level 4 or 5 as their highest award, which is lower than in many other countries.

The Gatsby Foundation estimated that in 2015-16 there were 216,170 learners studying on standalone level 4 and 5 programmes and half of those were doing so at an FE college. Almost a third were at higher education institutions and 16 per cent were at private training providers and other organisations.

‘We need a shift in policy’

The report author is Professor David Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, which had plans to merge with Lambeth College approved by skills minister Anne Milton this week.

He said: “There is a common misconception that school leavers must jump straight to degree level if they are to continue learning. Highlighting and improving other options would make progression more achievable for many learners. We need a shift in policy to make that happen.”

Hepi director Nick Hillman said: “There are currently four major official education reviews underway: on post-18 education, on student loan spending, on technical education and on international students. So it is a great moment to build a new political consensus in the interests of individuals, employers and future national wealth.”

He added: “The signs for this are good because, in the fraught political times in which we live, there are few issues where there is less division between the main political parties than over the need to raise people’s skills.”

'Low levels of participation'

The Sainsbury review identified that level 4 and 5 qualifications available were “not consistently providing the skills employers need”. Level 4 qualifications include the certificate of higher education (CertHE) and higher national certificate (HNC), while level 5s include the diploma of higher education (DipHE), foundation degrees and the higher national diploma (HND).

Following the publication of the government’s subsequent post-16 skills plan, the DfE announced a review of level 4 and 5 qualifications.

Earlier this month, the DfE published an interim evidence overview report that stated there is not a single, simple explanation of why uptake remains consistently low in England. The report added: “Recognising the potential benefits of level 4-5 education, current low levels of participation could indicate that the education system is not working as effectively as it could to facilitate learning that is beneficial for individuals, employers, and the economy.”

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George Ryan

George Ryan

George Ryan is a further education reporter for tes

Find me on Twitter @GeorgeMRyan

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