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Successive governments' policies have ‘failed’ FE, claims former skills minister

John Denham calls for the creation of an 'academic and policy council' to inform FE and skills policy

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John Denham calls for the creation of an 'academic and policy council' to inform FE and skills policy

Former skills minister John Denham has concluded that the government has “failed” the FE sector due to “a lack of understanding” about how employers take decisions about supporting higher level skills.

A report by Mr Denham, who served as secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills from 2007 until 2009, argues that, because of failings in the policy process, successive governments have “not delivered a consistent approach to policy or implementation” to get employer-supported higher-level qualifications to become a major part of the skills system.

Mr Denham, now professorial research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs at LSE, calls for the creation of an "academic and policy council" to identify future policy choices and necessary research on higher skills.

'Treated as a secondary issue'

“Despite bi-partisan ministerial aspirations over many years, employer-supported training for higher-level qualifications has failed to become a major part of the skills system, and may even have reduced,” the report states.

“Consistent ministerial ambition has not delivered a consistent approach to policy or implementation. Employer-supported higher-level skills have been treated as a secondary issue, to be addressed after other elements of skills and higher education policy have been addressed, and effectively lowering the priority for providers.”

Mr Denham said: “It is hard to see how we can have expected to develop effective policy without a good understanding of how employers take these decisions.”

On Thursday, it was announced that FE and skills was being brought back into the remit of the Department for Education, and that Justine Greening, a former college student, would become the new secretary of state for education.

The news has brought a mixed response from the FE sector. David Hughes, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “We recognise the opportunities created by bringing together FE, skills and apprenticeships with schools and early learning. Joining these areas up can create a more coherent and seamless approach to lifelong learning, with real advantage for students, learners and apprentices.”

Meanwhile, Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, warned Ms Greening that “colleges are not the same as big schools” and that “the move to incorporate skills into the DfE must not be allowed to preface any loss of focus on technical education as embodied in the recently released post-16 Skills Plan”.

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