From education to employment

How will the #AugarReview affect further education in cities?

We’ve heard a lot about the Augar Review in the past couple of weeks.

Most of the headlines have focused on the impact it will have on higher education, but the truth is, most of the focus of the Review was actually on further education.

The Review – which pledged a very welcome shift towards further education – was packed full of recommendations. Some of these have the potential to change further education provision for the better.

Let’s look in more detail to what they mean for cities:

Devolution of the Adult Education Budget: Providing longer term and more flexible funding

Currently, the Adult Education Budget (AEB) provides really important funding for people with few or no qualifications to achieve level 2 maths and English qualifications.

However, the current funding system means FE college provision is less efficient that what it could be for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, funding is allocated on a yearly cap based on historic performance and does not respond to the number of students, meaning colleges cannot easily respond to business needs, nor plan long term.
  2. Secondly, the strict eligibility criteria result in colleges not being able to meet local business demand.

The devolution of the AEB to the six Mayoral Combined Authorities and London starting from September 2019 could go some way to fix these issues.

Cities will be able to better address eligibility criteria to meet local needs but, ultimately, much will depend on how much the Government commits to the budget overall and its timeframe.

Augar’s recommendation around providing an indicative three-year Adult Education Budget is welcome as it would allow cities and FE colleges to more efficiently plan provision and delivery.

Extending the funding period is key to help places offer more high-quality services and investment. This is a principle that goes beyond just skills – and it should be done more often in other policy areas too as we have stressed in the past in regards to the Local Growth Fund.

Promoting coordination and minimising duplication in the FE network

FE colleges have been at the centre of scrutiny in recent years. From the FE Area Reviews it emerged that in some places, particularly large cities, FE provision is messy and poorly coordinated, with colleges often providing similar and competing courses.

The Augar Review rightly urged policymakers to build a better FE network by continuing the process of reducing course duplications within large cities’ travel to learn areas .

This is welcome, and city-leaders – while not having any formal power in this space – should use their position to lead this change.

This is an idea we have previously explored in our work, suggesting city-leaders should gather momentum around adult education, and bring together key stakeholders – education providers, businesses and other organisations – to map existing provision and reduce duplications, creating an efficient FE network in their area.

Monitoring take-up of apprenticeships and ensuring it is reflective of different needs across the country

A third set of recommendations with important geographic implications was around apprenticeships. As we’ve analysed previously, the number of apprenticeships has not only has dropped since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, but has dropped the most in areas that used to be more reliant on apprenticeships.

This has two important consequences:

  1. Firstly, as stressed by the Augar Review, apprenticeships provision is patchy across the country and doesn’t meet local needs.
  2. Secondly, rather than targeting areas with acute skills needs, current provision of higher level apprenticeships is concentrating in cities where higher-education take-up is already higher.

Increased monitoring and evaluation of apprenticeships take-up is welcome, especially with a focus on more detailed geographic data.

While many of the skills policies are national in nature, different places have different needs when it comes to provision and take-up. Having better data on skills at a more local level would help understand better these challenges and address them more efficiently.

The Augar Review set out a number of recommendations to bring Further Education back to the front line. Who should implement these recommendations is as pertinent as the recommendations themselves.

Most will require government intervention, such as the design of the Adult Education Budget. But there are things that cities can and should do to improve Further Education take-up and provision, such as using local knowledge to create an efficient FE network and gathering better data.

Only by doing this can we prevent the national political uncertainty from side lining the Augar Review’s recommendations.

Elena Magrini is an Analyst at Centre for Cities

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