From education to employment

A Government-Wide Lifelong Learning Strategy by Susan Pember

Susan Pember, HOLEX

#Post16RevolutionaryReforms – We have spent the last 40 years going through the same debate, using the same narrative and the same rationale about why we need another Further Education Review. It would be ground-breaking if this white paper could be the last for a very long time, setting the framework for the next 30 years.

We must have a white paper which ensures FE achieves its full potential, at the heart of a productive, competitive economy and a supporter and facilitator of social justice. And this white paper must, once and for all, put aside the Groundhog Day of FE having to justify its existence.

Longevity of Overseas Systems

We are not a great believer in picking-up another country’s skills system and transplanting it into England’s unique economic and social landscape. But what other countries with a successful post-16 system have in common is the longevity of their approach.

We need a new narrative, one that all are willing to sign up to, starting with agreement on what works and what the remit of FE is – and then stick to it for 30 years, without change until 2050.

Recognising Success

The white paper needs to build on the success of the present system.

We have many dynamic colleges, adult education centres and Institutes for Adult Learning, with over 80% providing good or outstanding provision. We have a loyal local base of employers working with or sending their employees to those organisations.

We have amazing students who each year embrace the offer and work hard to ensure success and we have a teacher base that is inspiring and stoical who are undervalued and underpaid compared to other education sectors.

We should be proud of our system – and although there are some problems they mainly stem from systematic under funding for last 10 years combined with over complicated funding and audit systems.

A Clear Place in English Society

FE has a clear place in our society. Those who have attended FE, teach in it or lead an FE organisation know their role. They know they must engage with employers but also work with their community to support a learner’s life journey.

Providing a first- class learning experience – which embraces knowledge and skills acquisition – can take that learner on to the next stage of their life be it in employment, a job with an apprenticeship, full-time and part-time higher education or the next step up in further education.

Out of Touch Policy Makers rather than Out of Touch Learners

Just because those in government who have never been touched by FE do not understand it, is no reason to change it. The problem lies with FE policy makers not FE learners. Policy makers need to get closer to the Further Education Sector.

They need to accept that the Further Education sector is central to delivering the skills which are essential for economic success and offering individuals of all backgrounds and aspirations the opportunity for gaining productive and sustainable employment.

Restatement of Self-Evident Truths

In some respects, the white paper does not need to be revolutionary at all. It simply needs to restate some self-evident truths. Specifically, the white paper should reaffirm:

  • the twin goals of FE to help build a productive economy and inclusive society the role of FE to equip young people and adults with the skills for employability which underpin economic success, social mobility and improved wellbeing, and
  • the need to set the FE sector free with reduced bureaucracy and removal of all unnecessary and unwieldy regulation.

Placing the Learner at the Heart of the Reforms

In the obsession about doing what employers want, our policymakers sometimes forget they are also there to support the learner and be their voice – when often they are not heard. So, the white paper should be clear and reinforce the requirement to have the learner’s interests at heart, the learner’s interests should a golden thread running throughout, from the creation of policy to its implementation.

Building Blocks for the White Paper

With this driving principle in mind, the white paper should include the following basic building blocks for a world class post-16 system:

  • map and promote to learners and employers the entitlements to free post-16 education and how government and mayoral combined authorities are supporting post-18 students, including those who may not have done well at school
  • a guarantee for every 16-24-year old of either a job, a job with an apprenticeship, a subsidised job, a full-time place at university or a full-time place at college
  • create a curriculum and assessment landscape that provides clear basic skills and vocational pathways and progression routes for learners from pre-entry to Level 6, including reinvigorating the vocational Level 2 rung of the ladder
  • include a commitment to long-term sustainable funding so that colleges and adult education centres can work with their local partners to plan and grow properly;
  • introduce a fairer playing field for capital funding available to colleges and adult education centres and immediately introduce a new fund for devices for learners who have been left behind as a result of Covid-19
  • support providers to continue the movement to online and blended learning prompted by Covid-19 by establishing a development fund for teachers, and
  • develop a funding system which is driven by the choices and needs of learners and employers and is easy to understand and simple to implement.

Inserting ‘Skills’ into the 16-24 Kickstart Programme

The new Kickstart initiative is based upon the minimum wage and its goal seems to be about employers getting some cheap labour rather than what the individual really needs. DWP should strengthen the ‘learning new skills’ part of the initiative and insist that vocational skills are learnt.

Otherwise DWP are returning to the ‘revolving door’ situation where people are forced into low skilled, low paid work only to be made redundant again because they do not have the skills to succeed.

Indeed, DWP must use this opportunity to break that cycle and ensure each person’s long-term prospects are improved by going on a vocational course as well as gaining work experience with an employer.

Three Reforms for the White Paper

  1. First, the white paper should establish a Government-wide post-16 lifelong learning strategy. As part of this strategy, DWP should support access to skills training within their own employment programmes – such as the Kickstart Programme – as well as enabling unemployed and low-paid Universal Credit claimants to join DfE training and retraining programmes without losing benefits.
  2. Second, the white paper should confirm the extension of free education for first full Level 2 and 3 for all adults aged 19 and over, and introduce maintenance support – loans and grants – to encourage participation on a full-time and part-time basis.
  3. And third, the white paper should secure the means for community education to grow and be recognised as a vital part of ensuring society engagement, integration and wellbeing.

 Susan Pember, HOLEX

‘Revolutionary Forces’

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

Issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity have brought into even sharper focus, education and skills. NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), published the first in the series of ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion papers on 6 July 2020.

In this Revolutionary Forces series different perspectives and proposed reforms for the post-16 education and training system have been brought together in one pamphlet, from expert stakeholders, think-tanks and educational professionals.

Building on the recommendations outlined in the first paper for flexible reforms that support economic and social renewal, this new paper, “Reforms for a Revolutionary Post-16 White Paper“, takes a deeper look at which areas need to be addressed.

The authors are:

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