DfE urged to set out post-Covid-19 plan for FE

Exclusive: The government should develop a post-16 plan to be rolled out in September, new report says

Kate Parker

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The government should introduce a “single, flexible, 16 to 18 education and apprenticeship participation budget”, reintroduce Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) and extend eligibility for means-tested maintenance loans to help deal with the aftermath of the cornavirus pandemic, a new report has said. 

The paper, published by NCFE and the Campaign for Learning (CfL), urges the government to develop a post-16 education, training and jobs plan by June to be rolled-out in September. The paper warns that there needs to be a different mix of provision and financial support for providers for what will be “a very different September”. 

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The paper also calls for an extention to the entitlement to free adult education for first level 2 and 3 qualifications from 19- to 24-year-olds to adults of any age. Wage subsidies of £1,000 for employers recruiting 19- to 24-year-olds for level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships should also be introduced, it says.

Susan Pember, one of the report's authors and director of policy at adult learning body HOLEX, said there was no time to lose in addressing the challenges that the FE sector will face at the start of the new year, following the coronavirus pandemic. 

She said: “It isn’t designed to scare people, but by considering the worst-case scenario and potential remedies, we hope to spark further debate, get sector leaders, policymakers and influencers thinking about what comes next and frame priorities as we look to the future.”

According to the report, the UK economy could be 15 per cent smaller by September, and unemployment could reach 2.75 million. The report says “a smaller economy and employers in survival mode will make rising youth unemployment inevitable."

David Gallagher, chief executive, NCFE said: “The Covid-19 crisis has had a profound impact on every aspect of life and every area of policy. The government has rightly prioritised managing the immediate consequences in its response so far. However, as things begin to return to a new normal, the whole of the FE sector will have a hugely important role to play in helping people to move forward successfully. Without a shift in how FE and training is delivered and funded, the sector will struggle to do so effectively.

“We are clear that business as usual will not be a viable option at the start of the next academic year. If we are to effectively support the needs of learners, providers and employers, we need a cross-departmental, holistic approach to policymaking and this process must start now. If not, thousands of people will suffer through a lack of a clear route to gain the skills that are needed for a rapidly changing labour market.”

The recommendations in full 

For 16- to 17-year-olds, the plan should:

  • Maximise participation in full-time further education, expand traineeships and introduce programme-led training to offset the loss of jobs for this age group including an inevitable fall in apprenticeship starts.  
  • Create a single, flexible, 16-18 education and apprenticeship participation budget – which accommodates growth in real time rather than on a lagged basis – and can respond to speedily to learner choice.
  • Reintroduce high-value means-tested Education Maintenance Allowances to boost incomes of full-time FE students living in households suffering from the impact of Covid-19.

For 18- to 24-year-olds, the plan should:

  • Enable as many as possible enter full-time higher education from (if they achieve the appropriate academic and vocational level 3 qualifications) and resist any national cap on student numbers.
  • Extend eligibility for means-tested maintenance loans for 19 to 24-year-olds seeking to achieve a first full level 3 qualifications.
  • Extend jobs search provision and increase the number of back to work coaches to help unemployed jobseekers.
  • Permit participation on one-year training and retraining courses in return for Universal Credit, with the cost of training met by the Department for Education.
  • Fully fund level 2 and 3 apprenticeships for non-levy payers from the new adult apprenticeship programme budget.
  • Introduce wage subsidies of £1,000 to employers recruiting 19 to 24-year-olds for level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships.

 For older adults, the plan should:

  • Extend the entitlement to free adult education for first full level 2 and level 3 qualifications from 19- to 24-year-olds to adults of any age.
  • End co-funding for adult further education courses.
  • remove the ELQ rule in higher education and bring forward to this year the £600m National Skills Fund to promote up-skilling and re-skilling at all levels in these difficult times.

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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