Social mobility action plan: DfE vows to rebuild relationship with FE sector

Government has 'inadequately' supported FE institutions and failed to engage employers, admits Justine Greening's new social mobility strategy

Stephen Exley

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The government has vowed to create a “genuine partnership” with colleges backed by “real investment” to address decades of underfunding and neglect, as part of its social mobility action plan announced today.

The document outlines the Department for Education’s overarching approach to social mobility, designed to improve the life chances of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

And apprenticeships, T levels and technical education are key strands of the strategy, which has been developed by education secretary Justine Greening.

While the document has few new policy announcements, it explains how a raft of initiatives unveiled over the past few years will combine to offer opportunities for young people across England.

'Neglected by successive governments'

The plan outlines the government's plan to create a new working relationship with colleges. “We will invest in our further education sector, which for too long has been neglected by successive governments,” it states.

“We want genuine partnership with colleges, backed by real investment and capacity-building from government, demonstrated through our half a billion pound a year investment set out in the March 2017 Budget.”

The plans outlined in the strategy include: introducing T levels; reviewing level 4 and 5 technical education; introducing the apprenticeship levy; and expanding degree apprenticeships.

The document also pledges to increase spending on further education. It states: “Historically we have not done enough to invest in further education, which is the sector responsible for delivering training from basic skills to postgraduate degrees, including the bulk of technical education.


“The hard work and dedication of teachers and college leaders has not been matched by successive governments who have overlooked further education. This is a major problem, given that the sector disproportionately serves students from disadvantaged backgrounds and challenging areas.”

However, the document stops short of announcing major new investment, and instead focuses on announcements from recent Budgets, such as £170 million to establish institutes of technology and £40 million to create centres of excellence for English and maths to improve GCSE resit grades. The latter programme, it explains, will support providers by “investing in the research, development and evaluation of new, high-quality teaching methods – and fill the evidence gap standing in the way of success”. It will inititally focus on “areas facing specific challenges such as areas of lower educational attainment” and will support the sector in using “diagnostic tools – helping teachers to target teaching more effectively”.

The report also acknowledges the difficulties of the GCSE English and maths resit policy, adding that among those who do not achieve good passes at 16, only 13.9 per cent go on to do so by 19. It reiterates that the reformed functional skills qualifications will be launched in 2019.

T levels also feature prominently, with particular mention given to the compulsory work placements lasting at least 45 days. The plan reveals that £70 million will be allocated to supporting the delivery of the placements.

Focus on SMEs

As well as building relationships with large employers, the report stresses the importance of working with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “We know it can be difficult for SMEs to provide opportunities or engage in education, which is why we will work with SMEs in targeted areas to make it easier for them to offer apprenticeships, traineeships, and work placements,” the document adds. “We will review what government can do to make this simpler and easier and we will meet with a wide range of SMEs to understand how we can make sure the system works for them.”

An entitlement for all adults to free basic digital courses, as is currently the case for maths and English, is also confirmed.

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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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