Karla Archibald, Business Development Manager, EMSI

In his comments to the recent AoC Autumn Curriculum Conference, Ofsted’s Deputy Director, Paul Joyce made a number of interesting observations about the current state of curriculum planning in the Further Education sector. After calling for colleges to design a curriculum that is “meaningful and relevant”, he went on to sound out some of the concerns Ofsted have in this area. These include:

  • College curricula are not generally aligned with the number of local jobs or careers 
  • There are few examples of colleges that are letting local employer demand shape their curriculum

He went on to make a number of points about how the sector can start to solve these problems, one of which was better use of accurate Labour Market Insight to inform on what skills are actually needed from employers. Obviously, as someone who is working with colleges throughout the country to provide them with LMI solutions, I can’t help but concur with that point, but what I want to do in this piece is to flesh out a little more around why there is a misalignment problem in the first place; how LMI is an essential part of the solution; and what it can do to solve the issues highlighted by Mr Joyce.

The root cause of curriculum misalignment

The root of the problem Mr Joyce addressed is basically one of supply and demand. By saying this, I am of course not trying to reduce Further Education down to a matter of economics. What I am saying, however, is that inasmuch as what is taught (skills supply) is well or badly aligned with what employers need (skills demand) then yes, it is a question of supply and demand.

Employers often complain that they are just not seeing people with the right skills coming through. From this, we might assume that the problem is therefore one of undersupply of the right skills. However, this is only part of the problem. The actual problem is one of both over and undersupply. Some skills are being taught that are not necessarily needed (oversupply), whilst other skills that are more in need are not being taught (undersupply). The problem is therefore not simply an undersupply of the right skills – it is instead a general misalignment of the skills that are taught to the skills that are needed.

What causes this mismatch? With any supply and demand question, the basic cause is either that those on the demand side are not effectively communicating their needs to those on the supply side, or that those on the supply side are not effectively identifying or understanding the needs of those on the demand side. Or more usually both. And so it is with curriculum misalignment. Employers are not effectively communicating their needs to education providers, whilst colleges are not effectively identifying those needs and responding to them accordingly.

Although there are many other factors involved in this – I don’t want to pretend that this is a simple problem with an easy solution – the fundamental issue is therefore that there is an information gap between the suppliers of skills (education providers) and those that demand the skills (industry). And so at the heart of any solution there must be more and better insight – insight that can communicate the skills demands of employers effectively to education providers who, having identified those needs, can respond with a balanced and well-aligned curriculum.

Accurate LMI can identify how well your curriculum is aligned to industry needs

Which is why LMI is so crucial. It provides the information link between the college and industry. It offers a mechanism whereby education providers can simply and quickly identify which industries are growing, and what the skills needs of those industries are.

Yet it is also more than this. If LMI were simply able to help a college identify demand in its local economy, that would of course be useful. But it would still leave the college with the question of how well it is meeting those needs. The really exciting part of good LMI, though, is not so much that it can simply identify demand, but that by linking occupations to courses, it can then be used to identify how well the college’s curriculum is meeting that demand. Which are the skills it is oversupplying? Which are the skills it is undersupplying? Which areas is it actually well-aligned?

Mr Joyce’s comments are a clear indication that Ofsted is looking for a complete change in thinking around curriculum planning. They want to see more examples of colleges identifying the skills that their local industry needs, and responding with a curriculum that hits the mark. That might seem like a tall order. But as I have argued above, with better use of accurate LMI – that is LMI that can identify skills needs at the most granular local level – and by then undertaking an analysis of current curriculum to identify areas of misalignment, a college is in a far better place to produce exactly the kind of “meaningful and relevant” curriculum that Mr Paul Joyce and Ofsted are calling for.

Karla Archibald, Business Development Manager, EMSI

Emsi will be hosting a free webinar on 7th November, which will look at how LMI can be used to produce a curriculum that is better aligned to the skills needs of employers. To sign up for this, click here.

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