The Queen has said her government will introduce legislation to support "a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to enable flexible access to high-quality education and training throughout people's lives".
In the State Opening of Parliament this morning, she said the government's priority would be to level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom.
The Queen added that lost learning during the pandemic would be addressed, making sure that every child can achieve their potential.
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Documents published alongside the speech by Downing Street said the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill would legislate for landmark reforms that will transform post-16 education and training, make skills more readily available and get more people into work, as set out in the government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper.
It would also enable people to access flexible funding for higher or further education, bringing universities and further education colleges closer together, and removing the bias against technical education, said the government – and deliver the prime minister’s new Lifetime Skills Guarantee.
This would create a "post-16 education system that will ensure everyone, no matter where they live or their background, can gain the skills they need to progress in work at any stage of their lives".
The bill would, Downing Street added, realign the system around the needs of employers and improve the quality of training available by making sure that providers are better run, qualifications are better regulated, and that providers’ performance can be effectively assessed.
Key elements of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
- Putting employers at the heart of the post-16 skills system through the Skills Accelerator.
- Introducing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which will give individuals access to the equivalent of up to four years’ worth of student loans for level 4-6 qualifications that they can use flexibly across their lifetime, at colleges as well as universities.
- Strengthening the system of accountability by extending existing powers for the education secretary to intervene where colleges have failed to meet local needs, to direct structural change where required to secure improvement, and by amending the regulation of post-16 education and training providers to ensure quality.
- Strengthening the ability of the Office for Students to assess and regulate higher education provision in England.
Last night, prime minister Boris Johnson said new legislation reforming further and adult education would be “rocket fuel” in the levelling-up agenda.
He added he was “revolutionising” the adult education and training system. Downing Street said the promise of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee would be central to government plans as Parliament rebuilds the nation after the pandemic.
Adult education and training 'can boost economy and tackle inequality gap'
Former HE minister and chair of Tes Global Jo Johnson welcomed the government's plans.
If the Govt does little else but the Skills Bill, will be a huge achievement: an overhaul of post-16 student finance that will bust barriers dividing FE colleges & unis, bring in long overdue modular funding & allow people to study flexibly throughout their lives #QueensSpeech— Jo Johnson (@JoJohnsonUK) May 11, 2021
University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said: "The government talks about the need for outstanding colleges, but these measures will do nothing to repair the harm caused by a decade of neglect and cuts. If ministers really want to ensure our colleges can deliver the skills needed to recover from the pandemic, level-up and build a green economy, its priority must be sustained investment in the sector and fair pay for college staff – not extending a disastrous student loan system to colleges."
Wider guarantee 'needed'
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said: "The skills bill is welcome and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee will offer more adults the opportunity to improve their skills. But it needs to be a much wider guarantee that supports retraining and learning at a range of levels. And to lead to a real step change, it must be coupled with development of flexible ways to learn that fit with work and home life and better support with living costs while learning. All eyes are now on the spending review to back this vision with funding and show how central government will work together with local government."
Cindy Rampsersaud, senior vice-president for Btec and apprenticeships at Pearson said: "Access to learning and skills is a powerful enabler for economic growth and social mobility, and Pearson welcomes the government's focus on post-16 and adult education and training.
"The education, learning and skills sector not only has a major role to play in the economic recovery from Covid-19 but also in addressing the widening inequalities gap since the onset of the pandemic.
"There will be a continued need to maintain flexibility and a broad range of options to support access to learning and reskilling."
An 'employer-centred approach'
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said the bill would be welcomed by AELP members "if it implements the [Skills for Jobs] White Paper’s commitment to an employer-centred approach by interpreting it as demand-led". "Requiring providers ‘to pay due regard’ to Local Skills Improvement Plans seems therefore reasonable," she added.
"Improvements can be achieved without saddling independent training providers with more bureaucracy and unnecessary costs. The skills minister has said that apprenticeships are 'the golden ticket' to career progression and therefore putting obstacles against their supply by adding extra costs is not wise when more opportunities need to be created as part of the post-pandemic recovery effort."
Matthew Fell, the CBI's chief UK policy director, said: “Business shares the government’s ambition to turbocharge the UK’s recovery post-pandemic and reset the economy. The Queen’s Speech provides the building blocks for a decade of transformation and inclusive economic growth.
“It’s right that the golden thread in this legislative agenda is levelling-up the country. We haven’t got a moment to lose. The strong focus on skills will support high-quality, local jobs. The emphasis on rail, bus and digital will better connect local economies. And a fresh approach to innovation will unlock big, bold ideas and new sources of growth around the country."
Sam Parrett, chief executive of London and South East Education Group, said: "Rarely has there been a time when so much focus has been put on education and training for older teenagers and adults. However, this is clearly reflecting the huge role our sector is being primed to play in the post-Covid recovery.
"Coming hot on the heels of the government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper, I’m hopeful that FE may now get the recognition it deserves for the tireless work it has done (and indeed continues to do) to drive social mobility and change people’s lives."