From education to employment

5 ways to Improve the Levelling Up White Paper

The Levelling Up white paper published this week amounts to the government’s cross-departmental strategy “to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it”.

Levelling Up – boosting economic growth and productivity across those parts of the UK that have been left behind in recent decades – is at the heart of LTE Group’s mission.

We strive to improve lives and build economic success through learning and skills, working with learners from all backgrounds, from prisoners to higher education students.

This gives us a unique perspective on the issues which must be addressed if Levelling Up is to be put into practice.

Here are five ways in which we believe the white paper could be strengthened:

1. Be more ambitious

John Thornhill, CEO of LTE Group:

“The government’s moves to use education and skills to address inequalities in our society are to be applauded.

“However, we would like to see more ambition to redress places lost and add more for a growing population and specific sectors. Creating 200,000 training places by 2030 only replaces a quarter of the places lost as a result of funding cuts during the 2010s.

“Rather than focusing on small programmes such as Skills Bootcamps, Institutes of Technology and supported internships, increasing the per-adult funding rate, for instance, would improve the life chances of far more people.

“And introducing more joined-up policy thinking – linking investment in new housing with investment in developing the green skills needed by housebuilders, for instance – would allow these policy initiatives to have a more sustainable, long-term impact.

“LTE Group is ready and willing to share its expertise and insight, and support ministers in their goal of creating a truly Levelled Up country.”

2. Ensure access for all

Lisa O’Loughlin, principal of The Manchester College:

“While the details of the proposed ‘elite’ sixth forms are yet to be published, we will be keenly watching to see how they complement the existing further education routes available to learners, in particular how they will sit alongside T Levels – the new flagship technical qualifications equivalent to A Levels.

“The concept of ‘elite’ sixth forms seems at odds with the government’s commitment to ensuring that a high-quality technical education is seen as an aspirational route to future employment for young people.

“The Levelling Up ethos professes to be focused on ensuring all young people receive a high-quality education, not just a chosen few. It is difficult to reconcile this with creating new institutions at a time when established providers have to contend with challenging levels of 16-18 funding which, even by 2024-25, will remain 10 per cent lower than 2010 levels.

“If the government is to see through its Levelling Up agenda and achieve improved social mobility, ensuring that learners of all ages can acquire all the skills they will need for a future career will be vital.

“This will not only require increased investment but also a concerted effort at national level to ensure a technical education is seen as just as aspirational as established academic routes.”

3. Support localised best practice

Michael Walsh, vice-principal and dean of UCEN Manchester:

“Young people should not have to leave the community in which they have grown up in order to get on in life.

“This message comes across loud and clear throughout the Levelling Up white paper, which rightly points out that while talent is distributed evenly throughout the UK, opportunity is not.

“All too often, young people end up moving away from their homes to study higher education at a distant university, accumulating additional rent costs as well as racking up tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fees.

“What UCEN Manchester offers to young people living in Greater Manchester and surrounding areas is the opportunity to study for a degree programme while staying with their families and friends in their own communities.

“Our courses are career focussed, and are based upon high-quality teaching from tutors who are experts in their disciplines and are highly respected in their own industries, offering a route straight into employment thanks to our links with the region’s most visionary employers.”

4. Bring apprenticeships to the fore

Melanie Nicholson is managing director of Total People and MOL:

“Apprenticeships enable people of all ages to earn a wage while they develop new skills.

“While it is pleasing that positive mentions of ‘apprenticeships’ are scattered through the Levelling Up white paper, it announces no additional investment in the programme.

“This is particularly disappointing, coming in the week that a popular £3,000 incentive scheme encouraging employers to hire apprentices was switched off.

“As well as offering individuals the opportunity to earn and learn at the same time, apprenticeships allow employers to meet the demand for the skills needed to build a post-Covid economy.

“They should be at the heart of the Levelling Up agenda.”

5. Focus on the hardest-to-reach learners

Peter Cox is managing director of Novus:

“While the Levelling Up white paper talks about the need to reduce crime and tackle the entrenched poverty that sadly often results from individuals ending up in a cycle of reoffending, it fails to recognise the crucial role of prison education in helping individuals to upskill and find stable employment.

“Research by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Policy Evaluation and Research Unit found that engagement with prison education reduces the likelihood of reoffending by around a third, bringing significant savings to the taxpayer and bringing social benefits to local communities.

“If Levelling Up is to have a genuine impact throughout our society, it must not exclude those on the lowest rung of the ladder.

“With more than 30 years of experience in supporting those learners furthest from the labour market, Novus is ready to play its part in working with government to make the rhetoric behind Levelling Up into a reality.”

By LTE Group

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