Reforming the skills system is one of the most important challenges we face as a country
Getting it right is crucial to our future prosperity, and to the life chances of millions of people.
Real progress has been made following changes in the last Parliament, including those resulting from the Wolf Report1 and growing investment in apprenticeships. The current system has a number of strengths, including a network of dedicated professionals.
Despite progress there are still some serious issues. Technical education remains the poor relation of academic education. The choice of courses and qualifications can be confusing, and links to the world of work are not strong enough.
Perhaps most significantly, we have not paid enough attention to the lessons of the past or from abroad. Years ago, our international competitors realised what it takes to ensure there is access to high-quality technical education – and have moved even further ahead of us as a result.
The economic case for further reform of the skills system is compelling. Bringing training for young people and adults in line with the needs of business and industry will drive up productivity, which has lagged behind in this country even as economic growth and employment have improved. But for a One Nation government there is a strong moral case for reform, too.
Sustained and skilled employment leads to prosperity for individuals, but for too long it has been those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who have been denied this opportunity by poor-quality and irrelevant education.
Too often they have been taken down paths which have led nowhere. We are determined to make technical education an option that leads to long-term success and to see through the continued delivery of lasting change in the skills system, which is why I am so delighted with the recommendations by Lord Sainsbury’s independent panel.
I convened the Sainsbury panel on behalf of the Department for Education; the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; The Prime Minister’s Office; and HM Treasury because we needed a thorough and serious review.
Lord Sainsbury has been committed to the cause of better technical education for decades. The Sainsbury panel’s membership included experts from both further and higher education, and from industry. The panel consulted widely, its deliberations were non-political and its conclusions are pragmatic.
Lord Sainsbury has himself served in government as a member of a different political party to mine and the panel’s criticisms of the existing system apply to previous governments of all colours. The report points out that political consensus has been one of the factors that has allowed other countries to create stable and effective systems of technical education.
My hope is that there can now be broad consensus behind the panel’s recommendations. These recommendations give us the opportunity to go beyond the achievements of the last Parliament and secure real and lasting improvements: building a dynamic, highquality technical option, which is grounded in engagement with employers, fits soundly with the rest of the system and is responsive to the changing needs of the economy. We accept and will implement all of the Sainsbury panel’s proposals, unequivocally where that is possible within current budget constraints.
We want to ensure there is a strong and stable network of colleges and other training providers; and want to take this chance to put in place wider changes to the system, including reforms to accountability, funding, and careers education and guidance.
This Skills Plan describes our vision for the system but there will be more detail to set out later in the year as we develop our plans; in particular to employers, colleges and other training providers, so they can rightly shape and lead the agenda. We need to make sure we see this through.
Past reforms, over previous decades, have often failed because they lacked real commitment, with governments changing plans before they could have real impact. We now have an overarching structure, a common set of principles, and a guiding vision which build on the progress we have made since 2010 and can deliver lasting change.
I am grateful for the contributions from the wide range of people who have worked with us to develop this Skills Plan. We will continue working closely with employers, colleges and students of all ages on how we improve the skills system, as we move to implementation of this plan.
Nick Boles MP, Minister of State for Skills
Lord Sainsbury’s Post-16 Skills Plan
Published today (8 Jul 2016), the Post 16 Skills Plan, developed in response to "Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education", from an expert panel chaired by Lord Sainsbury, proposes replacing the current outdated system of more than 20,000 courses provided by 160 different organisations with 15 high-quality routes, with the content for those streamlined routes and standards developed and respected by employers.
The key points from the 34 recommendations in the Sainsbury Review
- At the age of 16, students will have to choose between the “academic option” – comprising A-levels leading to an undergraduate degree – or the new “technical option”. This will signal the end of 16-18 students being able to opt for a mixture of academic and vocational qualifications, and is likely to lead to greater specialisation in individual providers and schools. For learners, however, there will be the option of switching between the two routes after completing A-levels or equivalent qualifications.
- In the “technical option”, students will embark on one of 15 technical education routes
- Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
- Business and Administrative
- Catering and Hospitality
- Childcare and Education
- Creative and Design
- Engineering and Manufacturing
- Hair and Beauty
- Health and Science
- Legal, Finance and Accounting
- Protective Services
- Sales, Marketing and Procurement
- Social Care
- Transport and Logistics
- Within each route, learners can – following a transition year or traineeship for those “not ready to access a technical education route at age 16” – choose between a two-year, college-based programme (including compulsory work experience), or an employment-based programme, such as an apprenticeship (including at least 20 per cent college-based provision). Older learners will also be entitled to take these programmes.
- Each college programme will include a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills, as well as “specialisation towards a skilled occupation or set of occupations”.
- After this, the pathways lead on to either level 4 or 5 higher technical education programmes, degree apprenticeships or higher apprenticeships. There will also be the option in some cases of taking “bridging provision”, leading to an undergraduate degree.
- The new Institute for Apprenticeships will see its remit expanded to encompass “all of technical education at levels 2 to 5”. It will be responsible for bringing together expert groups to set the content and standards for each of the 15 routes.
- The report calls on the institute to review all existing apprenticeship standards “at the earliest opportunity” to ensure there is “no substantial overlap”.
- Each qualification at levels 2 and 3 will be awarded by a single awarding body or consortium “following an open competition”, rather than the current market, which sees awarding bodies competing with one another. There will be one qualification for each occupation (or cluster of related occupations).
- There will be a single set of “exit requirements” of minimum standards in maths and English for both college and work-based provision. Each college student will be required to complete a “high-quality, structured work placement”, and complete a logbook to demonstrate what tasks they have undertaken and what they have learned.
Mr Boles called on employers and training providers to embrace the exciting plans and help turn this country’s highly able young people into the most skilled workforce in the world.
Skills Minister Nick Boles said:
“Britain has all the ingredients needed to compete with other skilled nations but we must create a technical education system that can harness that talent.
“This cannot be the government’s job alone; we must work with employers and post-16 providers to unlock the potential in this country.
“The Skills Plan is the next step towards that goal, building on the progress we have already made by investing in apprenticeships, and creating a skilled workforce that is the envy of every other nation. This won’t just help our young people get the best jobs but it will also boost our economy benefitting us all.”
The first routes will be made available from 2019 for students who have finished their GCSEs. Each route will take place at a college and include a work placement, or through apprenticeships.
FE Sector Response to the Post -16 Skills Plan:
The proposals in the plan have been praised by Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Adviser on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Development.
Mr Schleicher said: “Modernising apprenticeships has been on the policy agenda for some time already, but now the UK has a promising plan to advance technical education from a last resort to a first choice.”
Mike Putnam, President and CEO of employer Skanska UK, said: “The Skills Plan provides an excellent opportunity to position academic and technical qualifications on an equal footing, which can only help to encourage new people into construction.”
"All technical routes will build in English, maths and digital skills, according to employers’ needs, and will set standards of excellence that are every bit as demanding as A levels".
Karen Spencer, Principal at Harlow College, said: “As colleges we are not just about courses, we are about careers – we therefore believe that any reform that brings us closer to employers mean our students gain higher skills and better jobs. The reforms will take some time to bed-in, but we see tremendous opportunity and are ready for the challenge.”
Commenting on the publication of the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education and the launch of the Government’s Post-16 Skills Plan, Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said:
“Technical education has for too long been regarded as a poor cousin of academic study. The Government’s Post-16 Skills Plan provides a welcome roadmap to redressing this longstanding anomaly. The Plan rightly sees colleges being at the heart of the reforms with the new qualifications providing them with a cornerstone to build distinctive courses that meet the needs of employers, students and the economy.
“There is still much detail to be worked through, however, and we look forward to working with the Government and the new Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to develop the new system most effectively.
“A skilled workforce engendered by engaged employers and supported by colleges will be the backbone of this country’s future economic success.”
Mark Dawe, CEO of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) comments:
“It is excellent news that a coherent strategy is being developed. AELP is really keen that the implementation is undertaken in a way that achieves the goals of a nation wanting to lead on technical skills. This may require time, so we would welcome the proposals receiving cross-party support.
“It is important that the reforms lead to a young person benefiting from easy transition from classroom based to work based learning during the 16-18 phase.
“The proposal for a ‘transition year’ looks positive because it recognises the value that Traineeships are already producing in being more than just a pre-apprenticeship programme. The proposed extension of the maximum duration to a year is worth exploring but one of the strengths of the programme is its flexibility and we mustn’t lose this.
“We need to consider carefully whether there should be only 15 apprenticeship standards for ages 16 to 18. The review team acknowledges the work of the employer-led trailblazers and in an employer driven skills system, reassurance will be needed that all sectors will now get the staff they need, even if it is only at level 2 or 3.“
The Learning and Work Institute also welcomed the proposals within the report, particularly the defined technical education pathways from intermediate to higher levels, tougher regulation of qualifications and an expanded role for the Institute for Apprenticeships have been welcomed by Learning and Work Institute.
David Hughes, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute said:
“The Skills Plan provides a clear way forward for technical education and a welcome sense of commitment and direction from the Government. I congratulate Lord Sainsbury and his team on what is a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve the coherence of technical education alongside apprenticeships.
“Although clearly focused on 16-19 year olds, learning and skills can, as the Skills Plan says, provide security for working people as labour markets evolve, jobs change and our interests and talents develop. I welcome this further demonstration of the government’s commitment to lifetime learning.
"With the employment rate at an all time high, the Skills Plan rightly acknowledges that a key task for a functioning technical education system is to help people to boost their earnings through progression in-work and be accessible to people who need extra support on to the career ladder. That’s why I particularly welcome clear progression pathways for adults mid-career as well as for 16-18 year olds.
“Learning and Work Institute is keen to engage in the reform process. In particular, we want to see more flexible education and training provision made eligible for Advanced Learning Loans and are keen to see Traineeships play a key role as part of the transition year proposals. Our STEM Traineeship work in the Humber shows how powerful a combination of learning well-structured work experience can be in opening doors to employment and further learning for young people.
“This is, rightly, an ambition plan which rests on timely and successful implementation of other reforms, such as the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and completion of area review recommendations, over the next six years. We look forward to supporting providers and government make the most of the opportunities these reforms can provide to learners, employers and the economy."
Kirstie Donnelly Managing Director City & Guilds commented:
“We are thoroughly supportive of the Skills Plan which is finally putting high quality technical education on a level footing with academic pathways. For too long, young people have been denied a choice when it comes to their education and talented individuals have been lost to a narrow, one-size-fits all approach to education.
“We have long recognised this and two years ago we launched the City & Guilds TechBac, a technical curriculum that provides young people with earlier exposure to deep and specialist industry knowledge alongside the workplace skills and attributes that employers really need. There is clearly still detail to be worked through but my hope is that for the first time, this plan will enable high quality technical pathways through to employment, apprenticeships and higher education, and make it much easier for young people to see their end destination and plot how to get there.”
Lindsay McCurdy, CEO of Apprenticeships 4 England highlights whether the apprenticeship and skills message is actually reaching young people:
“A new YouGov survey commissioned by employment specialists Reed in Partnership and qualifications body NCFE suggests only 7 per cent of people aged 18-24 considered apprenticeships as the best way forward, while 68 per cent think high education is the best option.
“The Apprenticeship message is not reaching young people, numbers of young people entering apprenticeship has not seen growth in a decade , numbers have grown but mainly to people who were already employed when starting an apprenticeship. Young people do not know about apprenticeships as an career option and this is what has to be addressed.”
Paul Eeles, Chief Executive of the Skills and Education Group, comprising of ABC Awards, ASDAN and emfec, stated:
“The publication of the Post-16 Skills Plan could not be more timely and we welcome the initiative to raise standards across qualifications and ensure they provide learners with the knowledge and skills they need to forge successful technical and professional careers.
“Vocational and academic qualifications are different in nature, and are designed to meet the varied needs of learners. We hope that these reforms will enable vocational pathways to be given the recognition deserved of the hardworking students, tutors and institutions who support the skill development of our many industries across the country.
“While the report is certainly a step in the right direction, we hope that we will see further clarity emerge over the course of this Parliament, in terms of understanding the role and expectation of our colleges, training providers and employers in delivering and developing the ambition of the report and we look forward to engaging with the Government and the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education.”