FE system faces period of uncertainty

19th March 2013

NIACE believes that the Government’s response to last year’s No Stone Unturned report by Lord Heseltine, is a bold statement about making localism a reality over the coming years. The implications for learning and skills are profound even if some of the detail is yet to be decided. The response also provides some concrete decisions, but much is still to be clarified through the spending review process later in the year. It is now known that transport, housing and skills are the three areas highlighted as being critical to the success of the new Single Local Growth fund: the proposed single pot of central government funding into which Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will be able to bid from 2015.

NIACE has identified five core policy priorities to ensure that the needs of all learners remain at the centre of the agenda. These policy priorities state that:

  • Each local area should develop a medium to long-term strategy for learning and skills based on a local area assessment of the skills needs of all adult learners, including those outside the labour market, married to the economic development plans.
  • The learning and skills strategies should bring together an expansive view of adult learning and skills that provides resilience for families and local communities, addresses issues of social justice and mobility, supports and develops the local economic development plan, supports young people and adults into employment and sustainable careers and meets the needs of employers.
  • There should be a strong partnership between the LEPs and their education and skills providers (colleges, universities, community learning providers and independent/third sector) to develop a whole system approach to the learning and skills needed in an area.
  • The new system should provide a strong basis for improved information, advice and guidance to ensure that all young people and adults are given every opportunity to make informed choices.
  • The new system should enhance the local accountability of all of the education and skills providers in an area and acknowledge that learners themselves should have an active voice in shaping the system.

David Hughes, NIACE Chief Executive, said:

“This announcement provides a great opportunity to improve the local partnerships between employers, learners and education and skills providers. Those partnerships will need to develop new ways of working which balance the economic and social ambitions we all have for economic growth which is sustainable and inclusive and which supports stronger and healthier communities.

“By forming new local systems for learning and skills we can help more young people and adults to get the skills they need to gain work and to progress in employment; for resilient and democratically engaged communities and for innovation and future growth.”

The following recommendations have been accepted by the Government in full:

  • All FE learning providers must consult and agree their provision with LEPs to ensure that the courses they offer to 16-18 year olds reflect local labour requirements. In addition, any vocational courses delivered by FE providers to learners of any age must conform to the defined national standards set by employers and industry. The chartered status for FE colleges is now dependant on having taken account of the skills priorities of local LEPs.
  • Industry Councils should work with the higher education sector to ensure that courses are relevant, incorporate placements in industry, and match the skills for which there is demand. Government needs to consider incentives to encourage and develop this further.
  • Higher Education courses should, where appropriate, be a collaboration between employers and universities. For shortage subjects for which there is strong employer demand, universities and employers should develop models where a commitment from firms of between a third and a half of a student’s course fees will commit the student to working for that employer for a fixed number of years after graduation. This should be taken forward by the relevant Industry Councils.

The spending review process will decide the following:

  • How careers advice is best provided in a LEP area to meet the needs of both the adult population and the requirement under the Education Act 2011 for careers advice in schools.
  • The amount of budget included in the single funding pot for vocational training for learners aged 19 and over – and all funding currently set aside for Apprenticeships for those aged 16 and over – should be devolved to local areas through the single funding pot.
  • The future role of the Skills Funding Agency.
  • The resources available through the single funding pot to address the needs of young people not in education, employment and training.