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Skills for the North: Devolving technical education to cities

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THE North East of England is in the grip of an ‘’adult skills crisis’’ according to a new report published yesterday (17 Jan), by the think tank IIPR North.

The report, ‘Skills for the North: Devolving Technical Education to Cities’, is pressing the Government to devolve more powers and skills budgets to business leaders in Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as an integral part of the newly unveiled industrial strategy.

Stephen Lambert100x100Councillor Stephen Lambert, Executive Director, Education4Democracy, said: 

Since 2011, the achievement gap between the North east and the rest of the country has widened to 5 per cent at NVQ level 4. For IIPPR North LEPs are urged to play a fuller role in supporting small to medium sized business to use their apprenticeship levy budgets while publishing local “priority lists” where there are identifiable skills needs.

Ms Round’s report is calling on North East business, civic and educational leaders to establish a new body – ‘Skills for the North‘ – to help co-ordinate attempts to address growing concerns over the adult skills crisis.

A centralised adult education system isn’t functioning effectively, and the time has come for a more devolved approach to prevent the region from falling behind other regions in the UK like the South East.

Anna Round, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North, said:

Many LEPS have a strong record of making a difference using limited powers. But local leaders in the North need more autonomy to co-ordinate and shape the skills system – and proper resources to do it.

The report notes that if present trends continue, adult education and skills funding nationally will be slashed by 50 per cent between 2011 and 2020. The report points out that this will create a serious challenge for several General Further Education colleges and training providers as total spending on “teaching and learning” dropped by 32% between 2011 and 2015/16.

The report makes the following public policy recommendations:

  • A national skill plan developed and delivered by business and training providers;
  • Further develop the Apprenticeship levy into a flexible skills levy so companies can fund training for their employees to follow high skill quality programmes’
  • Trial local Apprenticeship Level pooling in at least four English regions including the North and roll out a full system by 2020 to better engage smaller employers in “new training clusters” or hubs;
  • Leaders and ‘movers and shakers’ such as LEPs, elected devo Mayors, the business community and college Principals must create local skills plans that address skill shortages and future skills needs.

The new report follows in the heels of the recent approval to create a North of Tyne Combined Authority headed by an elected devo Mayor in 2019. The new body will have prime responsibility for the £23m Adult Education budget which is to be used to skill up Northerners at the workplace and tackle the stubborn problem of NEETS (those not in employment, education or training).

The North of England needs a skilled workforce and a system for skills development that meets the changing needs of the regional economy.

Qualifications levels across the North of England are lower than for England as a whole. There some striking contrasts between parts of the North, The Employer Skills Survey suggests that that trends in skills shortages and gaps in the North of England are distributed differently across occupations compared to national ones. 

Devolving some powers and budgets for skills would help to align provision with regional economic and social priorities, and to create more agile and efficient systems. For this project, IIPR North worked with officers from a small group of northern Local Enterprise Partnerships.

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