Skills bill: £83m to future-proof further education

New government fund to create more classrooms and teaching facilities to ensure that colleges can keep up with demand

Kate Parker

Skills bill: £83m announced to future-proof FE colleges

The government has launched a new £83 million post-16 "capacity fund" to future-proof post-16 provision as the skills and post-16 education bill is presented to Parliament.

The bill underpins the government’s plans for skills and training as set out in the Skills for Jobs White Paper in January this year. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the bill “marks a significant milestone in our journey to transform the skills, training and post-16 education landscape and level up opportunities across the country”.

He added: “This legislation will be vital so we can make sure everyone can gain the skills they need to get a great job locally and businesses have access to the qualified employees they need to thrive.

“We’re also investing £83 million to create more classrooms and high-quality teaching facilities, to ensure that colleges can keep up with demand and offer a training place for all 16- to 19-year-olds that want one.”


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The bill will make it a legal requirement for employers and colleges to collaborate and develop skills plans so the training on offer meets the need of local areas. It will also give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, usable at any point in their lives.

Skills legislation 'a radical reform of post-16 provision'

It will introduce new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and to direct structural change where needed to ensure that colleges improve. The legislation also includes the prime minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

The bill was officially announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech. In a subsequent debate in Parliament,  Mr Williamson said that "radical reform of post-16 has been too long needed".

However, Labour's shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said ministers had "chosen to close the door on millions of people who need to retrain", and added that the government had merely reannounced "a months-old commitment for a Lifetime Skills Guarantee that is simply not guaranteed". 

Growing numbers enrolling

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Today’s legislation is confirmation that colleges will be central to the country’s economic recovery. For too long, the snobbery towards further education has meant it’s been neglected and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is a chance to put that right.

"I hope the government continues to step up and throws its full support behind the college sector as we approach the spending review later this year. The only way to bring ambitious and wide-reaching legislation to life is with fair and long-term funding from the chancellor to back it up." 
 
He added: "It’s good to see the announcement of the capacity fund. With growing numbers of 16- to 18-year-olds enrolling, colleges will be considering how their buildings and facilities can meet the needs of future larger student numbers. We are asking that funds are usable in summer 2022 and not just for one year. We look forward to working with the government to help deliver the skills and lifelong learning to build a stronger economy, redress long-standing regional inequalities and make the transition to a net-zero carbon economy.”

Sixth-form colleges 'delighted' to see launch of 16-19 capacity fund

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said he was delighted to see the launch of the new 16-19 capacity fund.

"SFCA has been making the case for a dedicated capital expansion fund for 16-19 providers since 2018, and this was one of two recommendations we made ahead of the 2020 spending round in November," he said.

"Our members have been eagerly awaiting the detail since then, and we expect a significant number to submit a bid to expand their estate in order to create more student places. The fund will benefit institutions in areas where there is a demographic increase in this age group and it is an important first step to accommodating the 260,000 additional 16- to 19-year-olds that will participate in education in the coming years. Although the £83 million announced today is only for one year, we hope a longer-term deal can be struck in the forthcoming spending review."

AELP: 'Opportunities need to be aligned with both classroom and work-based provision'

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said: “The capacity fund will be welcome if it’s enabling parity for school leavers and other learners; for example, living on the same housing estate, regardless of where they choose to access their opportunity. There is a clear need for ensuring these opportunities are aligned with both classroom and work-based provision. Levelling up requires recognition that post-16 classroom opportunities are not easily accessible everywhere.”

FAB: 'It gives the secretary of state sweeping new powers'

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: “The publication of the skills bill is the first major piece of legislation since 2009 when Ofqual was established. It gives the secretary of state sweeping new powers to end FE college autonomy as we know it. The bill also has the potential to place in statute a lifetime entitlement to education so that people can retrain for a lifetime of jobs, when a job for life no longer exists. Like any new law, parliament and government will need to vote for the necessary resources to make the ambition contained in the draft legislation a reality. 

“The federation broadly supports the direction of travel of the government’s technical education reforms in England. However, we will examine carefully the clauses in the bill that appear to change the focus of independently regulated qualifications, particularly those that give the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education new powers to accredit technical courses. In no circumstances must we return to a situation where public agencies are marking their own homework when it comes to ensuring public confidence in apprenticeships and qualifications. That’s why Ofqual was set up in the first place.” 

Learning and Work Institute: "only be a piece of the jigsaw"

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “The Skills Bill contains the welcome implementation of the Lifetime Loan Entitlement and Lifetime Skills Guarantee, giving adults in England an entitlement to funding for a first level 3 qualification. But this guarantee needs to be broader and more flexible. It should include learning at level 2 and shorter learning options such as modules.

“The Bill also legislates to give the secretary of state powers to intervene where colleges are judged not to have met employers’ skills needs as set out in new Local Skills Improvement Plans. But it’s not clear how these plans work with existing plans, such as those developed by Skills Advisory Panels. And this risks being too narrow and centrally driven – we need to be thinking about employment and skills systems as a whole and a key role for local government.

“Overall, it’s good to see the Government looking to make progress on skills but this bill can only be a piece of the jigsaw. The Government will need to back its words with investment in the Spending Review, develop more flexible learning options to fit around people’s lives, and take greater action to create a culture of learning.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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