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Ending the absurd distinction between higher and further education: Introducing the Skills Bill

Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary
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Exclusive Gavin Williamson article on the launch of the #SkillsBill: Putting skills at the top of an ambitious legislative agenda 

This is a historic week for education in this country. The introduction of the Skills and post-16 Education Bill today (18 May) will put skills at the top of an ambitious legislative agenda as we continue to transform the education landscape in this country.

We are committed to making sure that everyone has the chances and choices that are right for them, and that means access to skills, training and education throughout their lifetime.

This transformation will be vital in our mission to level up the country, so that better-paid jobs are within reach for everybody – whatever their backgrounds.

We should not lose sight of the fact that this is a massive investment in further education and lifelong ‘upskilling’ so people can take on better-paid jobs in their local area.

This is investment in communities so people can thrive – wherever they live.

For too long education has been seen as a ladder to use to escape home towns or regions, these reforms will mean more scope to find well-paid work locally.

Putting employers at the heart of local further education

To do this, we are putting employers at the heart of local further education. As we rebuild after the pandemic, communities need a balance between the skills that local employers want from their workforce, and those that are being taught by colleges and other providers.

This is a natural progression to the reforms we have already been rolling out, such as our new T Level qualifications and apprenticeships, for instance. These have already put employers firmly in the driving seat and have started to cultivate talent pipelines that are going to deliver the skilled individuals to boost the economy and bring down unemployment.

They also work hand in glove with the Chancellor’s broader Plan for Jobs.

Our recent apprenticeship incentive, for example, means that employers can claim a new higher payment of £3,000 for each new apprentice they hire. We are also setting aside £126 million to fund a further 40,000 traineeship places next year on top of the 30,000 places we’ve committed to this year.

Our new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme will create hundreds of thousands of new, fully subsidised jobs for young people across the country.

A total of £1.6 billion will be invested in scaling up employment support schemes, training and apprenticeships to help people looking for a job.

Transforming an out-of-date system

Skills are the key that will unlock our future prosperity and will be essential if we are to achieve our ambitions. Levelling up is the obvious one, enabling people to rise above any financial or geographical disadvantage to make the most of their talent and potential

Our Skills for Jobs White Paper is the blueprint for transforming an out-of-date system, so that it is not just better placed to respond to the economic pressures caused by Covid but will also end the absurd distinction between higher and further education.

The need for retraining and upskilling is acute as industries expand and contract and technologies change at dizzying speed. To address this, in September the Prime Minister launched the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which will help people train and retrain at any stage of their lives and develop the skills most valued by employers and which is going to help drive productivity.

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As part of this, an estimated 11 million adults in England who do not yet have A levels or equivalent, are now eligible to take their first Level 3 qualification for free from a list of almost 400 courses.

The qualifications have been identified for their potential to boost career prospects, wages and help fill skills gaps. Courses are available in a range of subjects that link to sectors with good job opportunities, from engineering and agriculture, to digital and health and social care.

Qualifications such as these can open up exciting new job opportunities for adult learners, often many years after leaving school or bringing up a family. For example, a Level 3 course in horticulture helped 49-year-old mum Katharine Farrell take her first steps in an entirely new direction. Katharine said the qualification had given her the grounding to take on the challenge of a new role as an inspector at the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

Lifelong Loan Entitlement for four years of post-18 education

The Prime Minister has also announced plans to introduce a Lifelong Loan Entitlement as part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. From 2025 it will provide individuals with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their lifetime.

This means people can space out their studies and learn at a pace that is right for them, including choosing to build up their qualifications over time, within both further and higher education institutions. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement will have a huge impact on post-18 study, delivering greater parity between further and higher education.

The Prime Minister has announced the roll-out of innovative bootcamps to meet employers’ skills needs. These began with six areas across the country focusing on digital skills, but they are going to expand throughout the year to include other marketable skills.

We are changing guidance to enable those on Universal Credit to access the free qualifications and bootcamps too, because they are often the people who are most at risk of being left behind by changes in technology.

We are determined to build back greener

I am sure you’re familiar with the phrase build back better but we are also determined to build back greener.

To ensure we have the skilled workforce to deliver net zero, last year, we launched the Green Jobs Taskforce – working in partnership with business, skills providers, and unions, to help us deliver the skilled workforce needed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

This is a joint initiative between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy  and the Department for Education.

The Taskforce is also working closely with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education which has set up a Green Apprenticeships Advisory Panel to ensure our apprenticeships are being aligned with our net zero and wider sustainability objectives.

There are already a number of apprenticeships available in the green and energy sectors including community energy specialists and dual-fuel smart meter installers, and we are committed to ensuring people of all ages can benefit from the high-quality training that an apprenticeship offers.

Last autumn we published our response to the Committee on Climate Change’s 2020 Progress Report. This response outlines the various government initiatives on offer which will help drive the net zero skills agenda. And this includes using the programmes in place now, such as Apprenticeships, Skills Bootcamps, Traineeships, T Levels, and the National Skills Fund, to help us grow future talent pipelines and deliver the skilled individuals we will need.

Our post-Covid world will be very different but we are ready for the new challenges that are going to emerge. Thanks to the reforms we have put in place, we are safeguarding our country’s future but just as important we are safeguarding the prospects of a generation of young people whose lives have been so cruelly disrupted by the pandemic.

Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

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