Scrap IfA and create new FE regulator, say Lords

Further education ‘weakened and undermined’ by funding cuts, finds House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee

Stephen Exley

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FE needs a single regulator with “sufficient resources and credibility to champion further education”, according to an influential committee of peers.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee – which includes former chancellors Lord Darling of Roulanish and Lord Lamont of Lerwick – today publishes its report Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education.

The wide-ranging report makes many recommendations, including abolishing the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), scrapping the government’s 3 million apprenticeships target and creating a single, Ucas-style application system for all FE and apprenticeship programmes.

Committee chair Lord Forsyth, who also spoke to Tes ahead of the report's publication, said: “The way we expect students to access higher and further education is deeply unfair. We must create a single system, including apprenticeships, that offers more choice and better value for money.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We agree that for too long young people have not had a genuine choice post 16 about where and what they wish to study. That is exactly why we have overhauled apprenticeships to focus on quality and why we are fundamentally transforming technical education, investing £500m a year in new T Levels that will provide a high quality, technical alternative to A levels and make sure we can keep up with the world’s best.

“On top of this, we are undertaking a major review of post-18 education and funding, to make sure students are getting value for money and genuine choice between technical, vocational and academic routes.

“We will consider the report and will respond in full in due course.”

Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for research and development at the Learning and Work Institute welcomed the committee challenging the "monoculture" in post-18 education. She said: "On apprenticeships, we welcome the committee’s focus on driving up quality and improving access. This echoes calls made by ourselves and a range of leading experts in our All Change report, released last week.

She added: "We strongly support the committee’s calls for full funding for a first level 3 qualification – for all students, full- or part-time, irrespective of age. Our performance in intermediate skills is among the worst in the OECD, and creating entitlement and opportunity for adults to develop their skills at this level will be good for them, good for business and good for our wider society and economy."

Key recommendations for FE

  • A “better  distribution  of  public  funding  across  all  forms  and  institutions  in  higher  and  further  education”, as the system at present is “too  heavily  skewed  towards  degrees”. The report continues: “The structure  and  distribution  of  funding  in  the  post-school  education sector  is  unfair  and  inefficient.  Further  education  is  the  poor  relation  to higher  education  and  its  position  has  been  weakened  and  undermined  by reductions to its budgets and a complex funding architecture”. This “accentuates  the  perception  that  routes  into  higher  education  that begin in further education are inferior to the A level/undergraduate degree option”. It adds that the government should “explore restoring some teaching funding for further  education colleges so they can cover costs and stimulate demand for courses at levels 4 and 5”.
  • To  assist with this rebalancing  of HE and FE, there should be a single regulator for all higher education (level 4  and  above, including apprenticeships)  and  a  single  regulator  for  other  post-school  education  (level  3 and below). This new regulator for level 3 and below should have “equivalent status to the Office for Students (OfS), and have sufficient resources and credibility to champion further education”.
  • The 3 million apprenticeships target has “prioritised  quantity over quality, and should be scrapped”. The report says: “The levy has encouraged the rebadging of training activity, most notably MBAs, that should not be funded or described as an apprenticeship”. Rather, an apprenticeship should be a method by which a young person, or new entrant to an industry, develops skills whilst working”.
  • .The  IfA  should  be  abolished, as its role is “unclear”.  The  quality  and  outcomes of level 2 and 3 apprenticeships should be the responsibility of the new further education regulator; for level 4 and above, this  should  be  the  responsibility  of  the  OfS.
  • Schools  “must  present  all  post-16  and  post-18  options  as  equal.  Incentives  aimed  at  schools  which  encourage  them  to  promote  sixth  form  and university should be removed. Every pupil aged 16 should spend one day learning about apprenticeships and how to apply for them.”
  • The report says there is “merit  in  a  single,  Ucas-style,  portal  for  covering  all  forms  of  higher  education,  further  education  and  apprenticeships”, and Ucas should be asked how this could be designed and implemented.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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