Digital ambition realised? Not quite yet…

25 October 2016

In his new role as Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Matthew Hancock MP will today move an amendment in the Digital Economy Bill Committee which will sit digital skills alongside literacy and numeracy as the third fundamental skill that people have a right to access basic training for free.  

The Minister’s amendment will change the entitlements as laid out in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 which, if the amendment and Bill as a whole passes into law, will list literacy, numeracy, a level 2 vocational qualification and ‘a specified qualification in making use of information technology’ as qualifications adults can access for free.

The Government announced their intention to make basic digital skills training free for adults during Conservative Party Conference at the beginning of October. They have recognised that our debilitating national basic digital skills deficit is a problem and must be tackled in order for the UK to become ‘one of the most digitally-skilled nations’.

The issue is much bigger than that though. Basic digital skills are becoming increasingly essential is day-to-day life. Lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be digitally excluded, which is an acute problem that requires a policy solution as more and more government services, including Universal Credit, become administered digitally.

While a new entitlement to free basic digital skills training is very welcome in principle, Learning and Work Institute is concerned that there is as yet no funding attached to this new policy. Instead, the Government expects delivery of this new basic skills entitlement to come from the existing Adult Education Budget; a budget already under pressure.

As Skills Minister, Mr Hancock initiated FELTAG, the group tasked with ensuring the sector takes advantage of the innovations digital and technology can provide. As such, he will already be aware of the significant capacity issues not only within the infrastructure of the sector, but also in management and delivery. At the UKFECHAT annual conference last weekend, teachers and trainers I spoke to were completely behind the Government’s ambition; but without the extra resource, they were worried about where the necessary professional development would come from, where the additional capacity would come from and what this would mean for existing provision.

Learning and Work Institute’s Head of Digital Learning, Susan Easton, expertly articulated our view in this piece for FE News.

With the right support, particularly with the front-line, and the right freedoms for providers to build the programmes they know will engage and enthuse learners, this policy can be a success. If the opportunities available through devolution are realised, we could see an end to digital exclusion which sees a 20+ percentage point difference between basic digital skills levels in Wales and the West Midlands (62% & 63%) with Greater London (84%).

Today’s amendment to the Digital Economy Bill marks the very first step in seeing digital exclusion eliminated for good.