Recent publications in the sector place work-based training at the heart of reforms to provide the economy with a workforce that is highly trained. Putting rigour and responsiveness at the heart of our skills system will help build sustainable growth and stronger communities.
Publication of the Government’s Rigour and Responsiveness strategy has been welcomed by the Further Education sector. In the paper published last month, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock sets out how the strategy, “will accelerate the reforms to the skills system, to ensure that our vocational training offer allows our citizens to compete with any in the world.”
This is both socially and economically vital to support those leaving education to enter the work place with relevant skills.
Following the reforms set out in 2010, the sector has been freed from excessively bureaucratic control. A devolution of centrally determined targets has provided more control and, as a result, greater flexibility and healthy competition between the training providers. By accelerating these reforms further, the strategy sets out a more rigorous and responsive framework.
These assurances will serve to stimulate the sector and create a greater sense of purpose for these reforms. This should provide the catalyst for change and encourage providers to become more accountable and commercially aware in a growingly and competitive market place. Given the autonomy to respond more readily to these demands, the sector will have greater impetus to achieving ambitious targets, and more success in meeting them.
The first of these has focused on raising standards in the quality of teaching across the sector. The newly formed FE Guild will be funded for assuring this quality in the FE. A series of ‘quality marks’ will ensure that these standards become internationally recognised as a mark of quality for learners and employers.
Intervention from an independent commissioner will be swift to act on any underperformance in the sector. This follows reforms to the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, which came into effect at the end of last year; designed to tackle the one third of colleges that still require improvement. This will ensure that weak performance is identified quickly and corrected robustly.
Apprenticeships are placed high on the agenda. Reforms in the way employers and training providers work together, as described in the Richard Review published at the end of 2012, will not only encourage those into the workplace, but also support SMEs (These represent some 70% of the private sector). The demands that the Richard Review places on employers creates a greater sense of accountability and responsibility to makes these changes possible. Employers’ involvement in the setting of these professional standards, and aptitudes that employees will need to gain, will ensure they gain the relevant skills.
An agenda to drive Traineeships will also provide a combination of focused periods of work preparation with employers, as well as college attendance. Contact with employers while still in education is important as research suggests “that it can substantially cut the risk of being ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET)” in the sector. Employers will also have a say in the structure of these programmes, designed to equip learners with the right skills for the workplace.
The strategy plans to rationalise the funding for qualifications in the sector for 14-16 year olds, as well as adults. The intention is to fund only those that are relevant and recognized, and have input from employers. This will add credibility to vocational training courses which have lacked the support in recent years.
Many providers have struggled to show the full impact of any changes they had made to their provision with the aim of reducing youth unemployment and supporting local economic growth.
Ofsted recently published a review of its own survey highlighting how the FE sector has begun responding to past government policy. Local Accountability and Autonomy in Colleges describes how these providers should have more freedom to tailor their curriculum to meet local and community needs.
Initiatives such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were previously set up to act as a strategic partnership between businesses and civic leaders to drive local economic growth. These have had little impact and have resulted in funding wasted on training that employers would have provided without government intervention, or on courses employers didn’t need.
A better understanding in the progression of learners to employment, together with the skills that are required, could provide a more closely aligned strategy between the provider and regional partners. Often represented on the board of governors at colleges, the review highlighted the role of governors in these providers and their responsibility in holding leadership teams to account for the quality of their provision, as well as the outcomes for their learners (data determining the proportion of those who achieve their qualifications). Whilst these answers provide some clues to the improvement of governance and performance management in the FE sector, they rely fundamentally on the relationship between employers and providers.
If our ambition for the UK is to have a world class skills base, we need to closely align these to a new range of professional standards in the workplace.
According to government statistics, approximately 80% of the people who will be in the workforce in 2020 have already left compulsory education.
The proportion of this demographic who have yet to receive sufficient training for their chosen profession will be supported by the Coalition’s introduction of new FE loans, from 2013/14, to help these people access the funds they need to gain intermediate and higher level skills.
The conclusions drawn from the report suggest that employers are ready to invest, and are prepared to work with funding agencies, regional and local representatives to achieve a far greater impact than ever before. The proof will be in the understanding and motivation that these leaders can instill in their colleagues to respond to the needs of individuals within increasingly diverse communities in an ever changing economy.
Tim Evans is the Director of Lean4Learning, the education solutions provider that aims to remove waste and create a continuous improvement