From education to employment

The adult skills budget offers opportunities and threats to the Further Education sector

David Grailey is the chief executive of NCFE, the qualification awarding body

Recent uncertainties about Adult Learner Responsive funding caused much anxiety among training providers right across the country, especially as it took so long for the new system to be clarified. I first wrote about the need for clarity on this issue in April last year and it’s only in the last few weeks that the funding regime has become more defined.

In essence, Adult Learner Responsive funding has been combined with Employer Responsive funding to form a single pot, which will be known as the Adult Skills Budget (ASB), bringing together college-based courses and workplace learning. The hope is that this will simplify funding streams moving forward, giving training providers more flexibility to deal with the overall cuts in further education funding.

One step that is to be welcomed for training providers is that the overall funding allocated to apprenticeship programmes will be increased under ASB, although the funding per apprentice is falling. The additional resource reflects the growing popularity of this path as an alternative to academic studies. With the introduction of higher university fees in September 2012 this trend can only accelerate, so increased funding provision will help to accommodate the anticipated expansion.

Because training as an apprentice requires a contract of employment, a key concern for NCFE and our training partners is the willingness of employers to take on apprentices. While current government promotional campaigns are to be welcomed, more needs to be done if we are going to meet the growing demand for vocational training in a workplace environment.

With the running down of Train to Gain, apprenticeships are now the key focus across England and Wales, but there is a risk that colleges will have the funding and the would-be apprentices, but not the employers to give them jobs. This threatens to create a bottleneck in the system and further support from central government is going to be needed over the next 12 months in order to recruit more employers.

There is another key change under ASB funding which, although lower profile than the extension of apprenticeship funding, marks a greater change in policy. While the focus remains on employability and the funding of courses in this area, the government has realised that, due to their obligation to accept any reasonable job, long-term unemployed people may not be available for long-term courses, so there is new provision to fund short and very short courses as well.

This new focus on shorter qualifications with lower guided learning hours will have far-reaching effects on the provision of training for unemployed adults, opening up a number of courses to ASB funding for the first time. This creates an opportunity for organisations like NCFE to to promote our suite of short qualifications, encouraging engagement with the world of work and providing personalised support.

We are currently finalising a new system that will allow us to register students on single units from the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF). This will also allow training providers to monitor student progress and combine units where needed. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has identified a large number of our units that are fundable and we are liaising with our customers on which of these will be available for unit registration.

As of this month, NCFE has almost 200 full qualifications that are unconditionally approved by the SFA under the ASB funding stream. These include awards in Enterprise Skills, Personal and Social Development and our flagship Job Search and Interview Skills qualifications. The list includes a number of NCFE qualifications that can be offered by colleges and training providers as part of their funded offer to support learners who are on state benefits and/or seeking employment.

This is a challenging time for the further education sector, managing increased demand in tandem with falling budgets, but overall these changes are to be welcomed. We need to ensure that the opportunity provided by increased apprenticeship funding is not wasted through the lack of suitable workplace employment, while also working to ensure that our qualifications meet the new approach to funding jobseekers’ training provision.

As ever, NCFE will continue to work hard to make sure that our qualifications are fit for purpose, fully compliant with current policy and in line with funding requirements, making life easier for education providers and students.

David Grailey is the chief executive of NCFE, the qualification awarding body

Read other FE News articles by David Grailey:

New qualifications can boost career confidence

Working in partnership to give young people the education they need

How education providers can help young people into work

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