The devolution agenda marches on. So far, 11 areas are covered by a skills deal; by 2018, funding will have been transferred to nine of them.
Within two years, approximately half the available adult education budget for England will be delivered through a different funding system. This may sound a long way off but, from experience, this timescale appears very tight given the substantial changes envisaged.
For an adult education system to work properly, providers need to be able to manage the process, and those funding them need to ensure that providers have the tools and information to do so.
Providers cannot stand back from the design of these funding and planning processes. They should be proactively working with the new devolved authorities to construct new ways of working. Here are my nine top tips on how to survive and thrive.
1. Getting started – be proactive
Do your own research. Don’t wait to be approached. Use existing links to build a strong adult and community learning (ACL) localism partnership across the combined authority (CA) area. Establish where “ownership” of the localism agenda resides, and draw attention to your work and its benefits for productivity and wellbeing.
2. Influence the vision setting
Articulate a clear vision for your community learning service and the impact it has in relation to skills and employability, then work together to draft a CA vision. Explain how you support social integration, community cohesion, health, the unemployed. Promote the ACL sector’s track record and have confidence in what community learning delivers.
3. Participate in governance processes
Make sure you know what structures are in place and find a way to ensure the ACL sector has a voice at the table.
4. Know what the community wants
Remain grounded in the needs of the community, residents and learners. Make sure you understand the local enterprise partnership’s skills plan – and that it matches your provision. Ensure students and prospective students have a voice in any talks.
5. Describe the benefits of your offer
Emphasise the importance of work up to level 2, backed by national and local data on benefits to the economy and individuals. Highlight the role of soft skills in improving job opportunities, and work with other services (eg, health) to describe the difference your service makes to social integration.
6. Establish new relationships
Challenge assumptions and create new alliances. It’s worth exploring opportunities with businesses, the Department for Work and Pensions, public health and third sector partners. You won’t get anything for nothing, but drive a hard bargain.
7. Look at new ways of delivery
Get involved in area reviews if you want to influence their outcomes. Create a community learning plan for the CA area, and consider sharing back-office functions: there could be efficiencies to be found in IT, marketing and financial services.
8. Consider outcomes and what you can and should measure
Ensure outcome agreements are fit for purpose for national reporting, while meeting local priorities. Build up a data set to enable monitoring, and use national benchmarking data to inform the local outcome agreement process. Look for outcomes, in addition to qualifications and jobs, that will be understood by the local community.
Agree a communications plan for stakeholders. Make connections with other deal areas that impact on employment and skills (eg, transport). Be tolerant: not everyone understands the ACL agenda yet. If you get it right, you could help to change this.
Dr Sue Pember is director of policy and external relations at Holex, a network of community learning and skills providers