From education to employment

What we learnt from AELP Autumn Conference 2022

Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

It was really good to be back in Manchester last week for our annual AELP Autumn Conference – and it was almost certainly our most successful yet. As usual, the agenda was packed full of engaging speakers and thought-provoking panel discussions. So, with another great AELP event behind us, I want to reflect on what we learnt from the day.

Rising to the Challenge- an appropriate theme

This year’s conference theme was ‘Rising to the Challenge’. With a tough economic outlook and significant change at the top of government, this autumn feels like a crucial time. Rising costs, issues with staff recruitment and retention and reforms of qualifications are all impacting the sector. On top of this, the Chancellor is due to give his Autumn Statement on 17 November – where he is expected to announce a series of tax rises and spending cuts to balance the books.

Our message was clear; the situation is serious, but we are determined to play our part in building a skills system fit for the future – and we can do that if we get the support. On the day we had over 250 delegates and collectively we gave some very strong evidence that the sector is ready to rise to the challenges ahead.

Providers and employers will be able to apply for temporary funding uplifts

AELP has lobbied hard over the past several months for recognition that delivery costs simply did not match funding rates. Our recent cost of living survey, which over 200 AELP members contributed to, gave us an evidential basis to argue that the effects of rising costs are really starting to bite.

I was therefore delighted that both Peter Mucklow of the Department for Education (DfE) and Jennifer Coupland of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education announced plans to allow providers and employers to apply for temporary funding uplifts for apprenticeships where costs have “substantially” increased. We understand that we should be given more details by mid-November about how this will work in practice.

This announcement is very welcome and a step in the right direction, but we all know it won’t be a silver bullet. We will continue to push for all funding bands to be reviewed regularly.

AELP continue to provide a significant contribution to policy debates

Paul Joyce, Deputy Director for Further Education at Ofsted, opened his conference speech by highlighting the significant contribution AELP makes to the policy debate within FE. And he produced his own example by announcing that Ofsted will adopt AELP’s shadow nominee proposal, as of 1 January 2023. We’ve been lobbying Ofsted on this for some time now. Providers need to have a route to appropriate succession planning for the next generation of inspection nominees. A shadow nominee role ensures there is appropriate practical exposure for future potential nominees to the inspection process. The announcement from Paul raised an applause from delegates – and we all welcome this very positive move.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) are in listening mode

Following his visit to our offices in Bristol recently, it was great to have David Withey, the new ESFA Chief Executive, join Autumn Conference to deliver his first big speech to the sector. ESFA are undergoing a shift in culture under David’s leadership – and it seems they are very much in listening mode. David is really keen to meet providers of all sizes and sectors to hear directly from them about how ESFA can engage more effectively. Much of his speech included talking about getting better balance on oversight, risk, trust and simplicity in the system – a very welcome fresh approach from the ESFA!

Learners are at the heart of what we do as a sector

Whenever we’re pulling together a conference agenda, I always hope we can get together a panel of learners so we can hear directly from them about their experiences. This time we had four apprentices – Niamh, Jake, Maria and Lukman – who talked about their impressions of work-based learning. The session was truly inspirational – and a great reminder of why we all do what we do! It was particularly brilliant to hear their experiences of equality, diversity and inclusion both in the workplace and during their off-the-job training.

It was frustrating to hear that none of the apprentices had proper careers guidance around apprenticeships in schools. We really must continue our push to improve careers, information and guidance so everyone knows all of the academic and vocational options open to them. Their contribution was brilliant, all four were an absolute credit to their employers and providers.

I hope those who attended the AELP Autumn Conference found it as enjoyable and insightful as we did! I look forward to our next big event- a joint conference with DfE on removing barriers to apprenticeships. Perhaps I will see you there?

Jane Hickie
By Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of AELP

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