Forced study for unemployed could put FE funding at risk

15th April 2011 at 01:00
Colleges warn they could lose out if mandated learners harm success rates

Colleges have warned that plans to force unemployed people to attend classes could leave them out of pocket and cause disturbance for other learners.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is introducing a "skills conditionality" policy, in which jobseekers are ordered to attend training by Jobcentre Plus staff in return for unemployment benefit, as part of an overhaul of unemployment benefits.

The programme is targeted at benefits claimants who are unable to find work due to their lack of qualifications.

If they fail to attend or complete the training - which could include vocational skills, literacy, numeracy or employability classes - they could have their benefits cut.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) has warned that mandated learners could be "disruptive" in classes, and colleges left with extra administrative costs.

While the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) said it supports the idea in principle, it insisted that providers should not be forced to take on students, and warned that they should not lose out on funding if the mandated learners adversely affect success rates.

Following a public consultation, a joint response from BIS and the DWP revealed that respondents have identified potential "financial and reputational risks for colleges and training providers if mandatory referrals result in fewer learning achievements".

"Concerns were also raised around the potential additional administrative burden on colleges and training providers," it added.

The AoC's submission said: "Individuals who have been `forced' to attend training are rarely as motivated as those who have actively sought it out.

"Pressures on delivery budgets could well see mandated claimants training alongside individuals who have paid for their training. This could prove to be disruptive."

The association also criticised "quite poor" relationships between some colleges and Jobcentre Plus branches, and called for consistent national guidelines to prevent "postcode lotteries".

The ALP's submission to the consultation warned that "mandatory referral and attendance by a claimant should not be confused with a mandate on the provider to accept the individual".

Referrals "should be seen as a positive development, rather than as some form of threat", it said, and the benefits claimants should be given a say in what training they attend.

Providers will also need "reassurance" that taking on mandated clients would not adversely affect their success rates or funding, ALP's submission added.

The response from BIS and DWP said consultees had expressed concerns about mandated learners being "disruptive", and being left with an "administrative burden" which would "divert resources away from teaching and learning".

"We recognise that some mandated claimants may be less inclined than voluntary participants to engage positively in learning and that presents a risk for colleges and training providers - and for the other learners on the course," the departments' response added.

It said that Jobcentre Plus advisers should only refer claimants who would "benefit from the intervention" to FE training, and that they would be expected to adhere to the provider's code of conduct.

The Departments said they would look at "minimising the risk of disadvantaging" FE providers if their success rates dropped as a result of taking on claimants through the scheme.

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