The government has announced plans to “overhaul” funding and accountability in further education and give employers a central role in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030.
In its Skills for Jobs White Paper, published this morning, the Department for Education (DfE) says it plans to boost the education secretary’s powers on intervention where there are “persistent problems” at a college or provider that cannot be addressed; to introduce a simplification and streamlining of FE funding; and give providers more certainty on funding, potentially through a multi-year regime.
The DfE also wants to “strengthen the governance of colleges” and says that there will be “a clearer position on what good governance and leadership looks like, and placing specific requirements on colleges and other provider types”.
The paper aims to put employers “at the heart” of post-16 education and skills, giving employers a central role in the creation of “almost all” courses. Plans also include collaboration between employers and providers to develop “local skills improvement plans” – led by accredited local Chambers of Commerce – and to establish college business centres within FE colleges.
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Education secretary Gavin Williamson said that the reforms “are at the heart” of plans to “build back better” following the coronavirus pandemic. He said: “Our reforms to post-16 education will focus on the skills people and business need for our economy to grow. As we recover from the pandemic, our Lifetime Skills Guarantee will ensure everyone has the confidence and opportunity to gain the skills they need to progress at any stage of their lives.
“These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, while providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job, no matter where they live, and in the sectors that are critical to our future economic success.”
A call for further investment
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the White Paper was an “ambitious package of measures”, which should rebalance the education and skills system to make it work for everyone, but called for more college funding to deliver on the commitments.
He said: “These are concrete plans, which can deliver the government’s levelling-up commitments. Colleges have been calling for this, after years of being overlooked and under-utilised, but the government has to not only recognise the vital college role, it also needs to increase funding.
“Colleges have shown during the pandemic that they are the vehicle to transforming lives, and supporting communities and employers, and we need the spending review this year to invest more in them. Today’s White Paper will stimulate demand from people and employers, and unshackle colleges from unhelpful policy and bureaucracy, ready for the Treasury to show that it recognises that spending on skills is an investment with a strong return.”
Mr Hughes urged the government to work with the sector on a “similar co-design of the 14 to 19 education phase” and on how higher education needs to change to work more collaboratively with colleges.
He said that the ultimate test would be whether or not the reforms deliver for the people, places and employers who all want the same things – “more inclusive economic growth, stronger communities and opportunities for all adults to realise their talents and ambitions”.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) managing director Jane Hickie said that the government had “adopted the right approach to reform” and that the “emphasis should be on learners finding jobs or retraining”.
She said: “Independent training providers have led the way in the growth of apprenticeships and they are also major drivers of provision in traineeships, study programmes, ESF (European Social Fund) projects and adult education. Therefore the proposals for chamber-led Local Skills Improvement Plans for programmes other than apprenticeships need careful unpicking and piloting, involving all the key stakeholders.
“The reforms for careers advice, especially in relation to the Baker clause, receive an unreserved welcome from AELP. The extension of the Baker clause’s scope to Year 7 pupils is fantastic because this will help raise awareness about apprenticeships further and address issues such gender stereotyping in certain professions.
“Strengthened accountability for provider performance is supported but we have been here a few times before. We have always supported provider accountability for performance and this remains an important part of sector management to ensure that good performance is rewarded.
“We hope that real teeth are evident from now in tackling poor quality and that a good track record of delivery is properly recognised in future contract awards, whether the funding system is local or national.
“AELP and its members look forward to playing a full part in taking the proposed reforms forward.”
British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall said that the BCC could play a “leading role in developing local skills plans that reflect the needs of employers in their areas, working closely with colleges, councils and other partners”.
He said: “Together, we can increase the focus on skills for the workplace – the digital, technical and broader skills that help businesses grow, succeed and create good jobs.
“We look forward to working with the Department for Education, training providers, businesses and other stakeholders across the FE sector to further develop these proposals, making sure more people can train and retrain for new and emerging jobs in their local communities.”