Today's Skills for Jobs White Paper is the further education sector's "day in the sun" and colleges will be instrumental in delivering the government's agenda, apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan has said.
Instead of removing autonomy from colleges and providers, the government's proposals put colleges at the heart of delivering what the economy needed, she told Tes this afternoon.
The Skills for Jobs White Paper was published this morning, and promises to “overhaul” funding and accountability in further education and give employers a central role in designing “almost all” technical courses by 2030.
It also 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.
Skills for Jobs White Paper: The FE sector reacts
FE White Paper: Government to ‘overhaul’ accountability
The paper aims to put employers “at the heart” of post-16 education and skills, and plans for a 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.
Ms Keegan said: “While it puts employers at the heart, it also puts colleges at the heart of delivery. Our common goal is to fill those skills gaps.”
Boosting the education secretaries powers of intervention was about making sure where there were problems in individual institutions, recommendations were followed. “We had some examples, of course not many, where we have had local provision get in trouble, and someone goes in and makes recommendations, and because of local relationships or local autonomy, these are not followed,” she explained.
This left the government “between a rock and a hard place”, with little power to act until issues got significantly more serious. “This is about making sure where there are recommendations, they are implemented.”
Ms Keegan acknowledged the sector's challenges in attracting and retaining staff, and said the government had last year increased funding for colleges, and plans for more certainty of funding and multi-year funding settlements for the sector would help colleges “attract the right talent with the right salary”.
Ms Keegan said the White Paper was the sector's “day in the sun”. “We have a massive opportunity that this sector can close the local skills gaps and offer those opportunities, but we have to deliver it.”
It would be about introducing some “quick wins”, the minister said, with T-level capital funding and trailblazer projects around employer engagement.
Sector response to the paper had been positive, she said. “This is the first time we have seen the sector really excited about something that really focuses on them. I think they feel that something is different and they are in the right place at the right time with the right offer.”
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the government's proposals came too late for families, businesses and the country. Speaking this afternoon in Parliament, Ms Green said that while she supported the expansion of the right to lifelong learning, it only “served to reverse the damage inflicted by years of conservative governments, which saw learning entitlements caught and replaced with loans, that meant the number of adult learners plummeted.”