Richard French, education policy director from BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT

Richard French, education policy director from BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, discusses the potential implications of a single competitive pot of funding for local enterprise (LEPs).

BCS is concerned that funding for Approved Centres that provide vocational IT user qualifications could be affected. The concern arises from the announcement by George Osborne as part of his 2013 budget that he would accept Michael Heseltine's idea of a single competitive pot of funding for local enterprise which arose out of his report ‘No Stone Unturned’ published last November. The aim is to ‘ensure the future generation leave school and college with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that make them ready to succeed in the work place’.

BCS supports the report’s aim to ‘increase employer engagement, challenge underperformance and emphasise learning outcomes’ as this will drive up the learner experience and ultimately this will increase the opportunities for learner employability. However, we are concerned about the potential impact on funding.

Currently the majority of funding for FE Colleges and independent learning providers comes from the Adult Skills Budget distributed by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

These current stable funding streams could become very unstable and lead to severe difficulties for people who have to plan education timetables based on stable and reliable funding streams, potentially impacting over 20,000 learners a year who take IT user qualifications in particular.

The SFA provides in the region of £10bn of funding over four years, whereby the plan announced in the budget would see that funding brought together with offender learning and apprenticeship funding (together totalling £3bn) in to one pot and would be used for the financing of Local Enterprise projects (LEPs).

This would mean LEPs will compete with each other for funding and whichever bids are successful will be able to spend on whatever their particular programme intends, it could be housing or other infrastructure projects and this could be ahead of skills training in the local community.

LEPs need to ensure that local skills and learning providers such as FE colleges are engaged at every step of the process and not simply handed a group of learners with skills needs identified by local employers who may have not fully appreciated the learning process and wider requirements, such as digital literacy. This is particularly important with apprenticeships, traineeships and the imminent onset of the raising of the participation age (RPA) where structured programmes of study will be required for learners post 16.

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As the Chartered Institute for IT, which works to promote the understanding of IT, we are particularly concerned about the potential impact on vocational skills training, especially in relation to digital literacy.

Digital literacy is vital for society as a whole if we are to ensure that students are prepared for future employment by meeting the needs of the modern workplace where more than 77% of jobs require digital skills. Having the aptitude and basic skills to work effectively utilising technology is vital when applying for a role. Equally employers have much to gain from a workforce that is appropriately skilled for the 21st Century workplace.

However, digital literacy goes beyond employment. It’s a requirement of every day life and with the government’s Digital by Default programme, then it is even more important that we continue to develop the IT capability of citizens in order that they can benefit from the internet and digitally enabled world in which we live.

However, all of this is in jeopardy if providers of training do not have a stable and consistent funding stream to be able to deliver learning and qualifications.

In conclusion, while we fully accept and support the involvement of employers through groups such as Chambers of Commerce which the Heseltine report correctly proposes should work with LEPs, at the same time we are voicing a note of caution to remind government that local providers need stable and consistent funding that is democratically accountable to enable learners and providers to deliver what employers are searching for.

Richard French is director of education policy at BCS, the professional body for those working in IT

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