Michael Lemin, Policy and Research Manager for NCFE and Julia Wright, National Director at Campaign for Learning.

NCFE and the Campaign for Learning believe the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in England by the government represents a review of a lifetime.

We are delighted, therefore, to publish a volume of opinion pieces,  'The post-18 review of education and funding: a review of a lifetime' on the future of post-18 education and trust it will make a valuable contribution to the work of the Independent Panel chaired by Philip Augar.

Since the formation of the Independent Panel, the government has announced a review of the UK apprenticeship levy. If radical reform is judged to be desirable, changes will only start after 2020.

Although both reviews are separate, they are also inextricably linked. The government will need to ensure reforms from both reviews create an integrated post-18 education and skills landscape in England by the start of the new decade.

The Task

Our six contributors, Mary Curnock Cook, John Widdowson, Susan Pember, Stewart Segal, Mark Corney and Mick Fletcher, are well known experts on post-18 education and skills policy, from higher education to adult apprenticeships, and adult further education to welfare-to-work programmes.

The task we set them was simple but challenging. We requested highly personal opinion pieces restricted to the size of a lengthy column in a printed newspaper.

In addition to three specific recommendations, we asked for a must do reform which each author views as their red line for the Independent Panel to include in its final report and a reform the government must ultimately implement.

A final piece of guidance was that each article should concentrate where possible on higher education and adult further education.

Our authors have followed this guideline but have rightly ventured into the territory of 16-18 education and skills.

Over the course of the next few days these essays will be published in full on FE News as part of a mini-series reviewing these recommendations. We very much hope each of the contributions will be read in full as they go far beyond the must do reforms collated and reproduced here.

Why a Post-18 Review?

A strong case can be made for a review of post-18 education and skills.

In the state system, education and training for the 16-18 phase is funded differently from post-18 education and training. The cost of provision for learners up to Level 3 is free. Tuition loans do not apply.

Maintenance linked to participation in full-time further education takes the form of grants, such as child benefit, child tax credits (now part of Universal Credit) and the 16-19 Bursary. Maintenance loans do not apply in the 16-18 phase.

By contrast, tuition loans operate in both adult further education as well as higher education, as the cost of provision is not always free to the student. And whilst a system of guaranteed high-value maintenance loans are available in the HE sector, only uncertain low-value maintenance grants are available in adult FE.

The reality is that the review of post-18 education - alongside the review of the UK apprenticeship levy - are forcing Westminster, Whitehall and the media to compare the funding of higher education with the funding of adult further education and adult apprenticeships, from adult basic skills to doctorates, and from Level 1 to Level 8.

Although such a comparison is countercultural to ministers, civil servants and stakeholders alike, having to think differently could result in a post-18 education and skills system which can meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The potential problem with a full-blown post-16 review is not so much that £27bn worth of public spending would be under scrutiny rather than £20bn for post-18, but that such an all-encompassing review could lead to conventional analysis and conventional conclusions.

In a conventional analysis, the order of a post-16 review of education and funding would be by age and the dominant mode of education.

The initial focus would be on the achievement of Level 3 by age 18 and immediate entry into fulltime residential higher education at Level 6, excluding full-time participation at Level 4-5.

After these are considered, attention would then turn to part-time first degrees (Level 6), full-time and part-time vocational sub-degrees (Level 4-5), and higher and degree apprenticeships (Level 4-6).

Finally and last, there would be a discussion about adults basic skills, adult Level 2 and Level 3, discrepancies between maintenance support in higher education and adult further education, and training, retraining and learning throughout life.

Being realistic, that which is considered first would dominate such a review, with more resources and time spent on it.

Other areas, in this case adult education and funding, would have less attention on them, and be relegated in importance.

Nothing said so far in support of a post-18 review of education and funding detracts from the case for a Review of 16-18 Education and Funding in England.

In almost every contribution to this pamphlet, there is implicit and sometimes explicit support for a 16-18 funding review, bolstered by the obvious point that 16-18 is critical to progression into higher education, adult further education and adult apprenticeships.

There are, however, a number of common themes across the six contributions:

Reinvigoration of Part-time Higher Education

A common theme in the contributions of Mary Curnock Cook (Time to disrupt the three-year residential degree) and John Widdowson (What about adults?) is the need to reinvigorate part-time higher education as a means of upskilling to Level 4-6 through a system of credit based funding, so adults can spread study across their lives.

Support for Adults Without Qualifications

Both John and Susan Pember (Put adult learners - and future learners - in the driving seat) emphasise the inclusion of adults without qualifications up to Level 3 within the work of the Independent Panel and ultimate decisions the government will make. They must not be forgotten.

Susan references the point that less than 1% of the £20bn post-18 education spending is allocated to community education and perhaps only 7% is available to adult learners who did not do well at school.

Provide More Opportunities for Young Adults to Upskill

Stewart Segal (More apprenticeships for young people and young adults) is concerned that the apprenticeship reforms in England are not delivering sufficient places for 19-24 year olds as well as 16-18 year olds, thus preventing young adults from upskilling.

Mark Corney (Fair funding for post-18 education and skills) also emphasises the case for more opportunities for young adults aged 18-24, especially given that 90% of all spending on this age group is directed to students in full-time higher education.

He argues that the government should help 19-24 year olds to upskill to a first full Level 3 by replacing uncertain low-value maintenance grants with guaranteed high-value full-time and part-time maintenance loans.

Retraining in the Face of Automation and an Ageing Population

Throughout the contributions, authors touch on the retraining challenge in the face of automation and longer working lives.

Both Mary Curnock Cook and John Widdowson identify part-time higher education as a critical part of a retraining strategy.

Susan Pember reminds us that adult basic skills - including digital skills - and vocational Level 2 qualifications will be needed by highly qualified, as well as unqualified, adults if employability is to be maintained, and Mark Corney adds that the government must ensure that Universal Credit supports rather than prevents retraining by low-paid benefit claimants.

As well as equal access to public funding for specific purposes across adult further education and higher education (for example, access to maintenance loans), there must also be equal access to the same level of public funding for each adult throughout their lives.

Susan Pember calls for an equal lifetime funding entitlement for all adults. To increase funding for retraining, Mark Corney asks whether adults should save for retraining through a system of auto-enrolment akin to workplace pensions (although he alerts the skills world that adult social care might get there first).

The Need for a Review of 16-18 Funding and Education

And finally, Mick Fletcher (Don’t worry about parity of esteem: esteem is enough) reminds policy makers that 18 year olds are in fact adults. The present 100% funding rate for 16-17 year olds in further education should apply to them.

But fittingly, he highlights the obvious - the need for a Review of 16-18 Funding and Education.

Michael Lemin, Policy and Research Manager for NCFE and Julia Wright, National Director at Campaign for Learning

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