#QueensSpeech2021 unveils new laws to help the UK #BuildBackBetter and stronger from the pandemic with the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to be introduced from the 18th May 2021
Landmark reforms will support the nation’s recovery from the pandemic, building on the progress made so far to level up the country and ensure equal opportunities for all.
New laws will create a post-16 and adult education and training system that is fit for the future, providing the skills that people need for well-paid jobs and opportunities to train throughout their lifetime.
The legislative measures include:
- enabling a new student finance system to transform the current student loans system, which will give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives
- employers will have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers, through a “Skills Accelerator” programme
- the Secretary of State for Education will be given more powers to intervene in colleges that fail to meet local needs, and to direct structural change where needed to ensure the provider improves.
These build on the extensive action already underway to revolutionise the skills and training offer across the country, including the introduction of new T Level courses and access to free, job-relevant “bootcamp” courses.
The Prime Minister outlined his vision for a radical change in skills provision in a speech last September.
He made clear that the 50 per cent of young people who do not go to university have been historically deprived of the chance to find their vocation and develop a fulfilling, well-paid career.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:
"These new laws are the rocket fuel that we need to level up this country and ensure equal opportunities for all. We know that having the right skills and training is the route to better, well-paid jobs.
"I’m revolutionising the system so we can move past the outdated notion that there is only one route up the career ladder, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to retrain or upskill at any point in their lives."
The government will introduce the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill on 18 May to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision. The Bill forms the legislative underpinning for the bold reforms set out in the Skills White Paper.
The challenges of the last year highlight the need to rethink and rebuild, bringing our skills and education system closer to the employer market and widening the opportunities that are available for all as we build back better from the pandemic.
A third of working-age undergraduates are not in highly skilled employment, and in 2019 employers were unable to fill a quarter of their vacancies due to a lack of employees with the right skills.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
"As we rebuild from the pandemic, we’ve put reforming post-16 education and skills at the heart of our plans to build back better, and as Education Secretary I have championed the often forgotten 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university.
"Through legislation, our vision is to transform the sector and expand opportunity right across the country, so that more people can get the skills they need to get good jobs."
Our universities and colleges must be far more accessible to adults and part-timers, allowing people to change careers, upskill regularly, and stay up to date with changing knowledge and technologies. These reforms will enable people to learn, train or retrain and access new or updated skills at any time in their lives from age 16.
The Lifelong Loan Entitlement will comprehensively reform the way student finance is structured. As set out by the Prime Minister last year, the loan will give all individuals access to the equivalent of 4 years of student loans for higher-level study. The loans can be used flexibly across their lifetime, full-time or part-time, for modules or full qualifications, for high-quality technical qualifications and academic education.
The restructured skills system will put local employers at the centre of skills provision, through a ‘Skills Accelerator programme.’ The programme will build stronger partnerships between employers and their local Further Education colleges, or other local training providers, ensuring that provision meets local needs in sectors including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.
The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will provide these reforms with the statutory footing that they need, to introduce new opportunities for everyone aged over 16, up and down the country.
New policies and funding programmes are already in place to ensure adults have greater access to local, free, job-relevant courses. Intensive ‘bootcamps’ offer training in areas such as coding and ’green’ retrofitting in construction, as well as longer, qualification-based courses in areas including engineering, accountancy and construction. Bootcamps have already trained 3,000 people, with 14,000 more signed up to attend courses this year.
T Levels were introduced last year. Equivalent to three A-levels, they have been co-created with over 250 employers so students can get the right skills and experience, and businesses have the workforce that they need for the future.
Almost 400 free courses are also now available to adults without a full qualification at Level 3, ranging from engineering to healthcare to conservation and backed by £95 million in government funding.
Work is also ongoing with businesses of all sizes to support them to offer more, high-quality apprenticeship opportunities. To help with this, the government is offering cash incentives for employers of £3,000 for each new apprentice they take on until the end of September.
Boris Johnson is promising a skills "revolution" for England, with loans for adults wanting to retrain and more powers to deal with failing colleges
The government says its main focus is on helping the country recover from the pandemic, after the economy shrank by 9.9% last year, and spreading opportunity more evenly across the UK.
The speech, written by ministers but delivered by the monarch, will promise to bring in a "lifetime skills guarantee". Part of this will be allowing all adults to get a "flexible loan" for higher-level education and training at university or college, "useable at any point in their lives".
This will be used to provide the equivalent of up to four years' study and can be used for full-time or part-time courses. Businesses and trainers will be encouraged to target "local needs in sectors including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing".
Responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement of new skills and training legislation in England:
Responding to the legislative measures set out for post-16 and adult education, Chief Executive of AoC, the representative body for over 90% of England's colleges, David Hughes said:
“After a decade of neglect and cuts, today is an important step on the journey to ending the snobbery around technical and vocational education. The Prime Minister and Secretary of State have shown their commitment to colleges, we now need this to be met with ambitious and wide-reaching legislation in Parliament, and fair and sustainable funding from the Chancellor.
"This is the first Queen’s Speech since the pandemic began so I am delighted that further education is right at the heart of it because colleges are rooted in their communities and will be central in supporting people and places to recover. This new Bill recognises how vital colleges are to economic recovery and the government’s levelling up agenda. Colleges showed their worth in the pandemic and they know how to deliver on this and stand ready, with the funding, to step up and show that once again.
"Everybody agrees that people should have access to training and reskilling throughout their lives - the shifting of the economy, post-pandemic, is highlighting yet again, just why it is so important for people to be able to access training to move into new jobs and new sectors. While the Lifetime Skills Guarantee has the potential to open up these opportunities, it will only work if people can afford to live whilst studying, through a mixture of loans, grants and welfare support. Without this, many simply won’t be able to afford it.
"We look forward to working with the government to help deliver the skills and lifelong learning to build a stronger economy, redress long standing regional inequalities and make the transition to a net zero carbon economy.”
Amanda Melton CBE, Member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future and Principal and Chief Executive of Nelson and Colne College Group, said:
“Colleges empower local people, businesses and communities with the skills and support they need to thrive, but for too long in England they have been neglected. The commitment from the UK Government to transform the post-16 skills and training system through a new Bill is an important recognition of this. A radical overhaul is needed and must be matched with funding and flexibility for colleges.
“Increasing opportunities in further and technical education is vital as businesses across the nation rebuild and transform post-pandemic and as the future of work progresses. Too many people currently face barriers to further study and training, particularly those on low incomes and in precarious employment. The potential of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee can expand the transformative opportunity of studying and training at a college to more people. This will only happen if the package of finance and welfare support are sufficient so that anyone from any background, no matter where they start, can live well whilst studying.
“To truly revolutionise skills and training opportunities, an interconnected and collaborative education and skills system across college, schools, independent training providers and universities must be developed. As we collectively seek to build a stronger economy, address inequalities and decarbonise the economy, I know colleges stand ready to deliver the skills and change needed.”
Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, Chief Executive, WorldSkills UK said:
“In creating a skills system which is fit for the future, we now need to ensure that the ambitions to drive up the quality of post-16 education and training to meet employer needs are made a reality.
“Our work on international skills benchmarking shows the UK needs to catch up on other major global economies in valuing high quality skills to help drive economic competitiveness and productivity.
“We will continue to work with our partners across the UK and internationally to raise standards for young people and employers to not only help attract more inward investment to boost job creation and economic recovery but also support the Government’s levelling up agenda, ensuring equal opportunities for all throughout their lifetime.”
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:
“Business shares the Government’s ambition to turbocharge the UK’s recovery post-pandemic and reset the economy. The Queen’s Speech provides the building blocks for a decade of transformation and inclusive economic growth.
“It’s right that the golden thread in this legislative agenda is levelling-up the country. We haven’t got a moment to lose.
“The strong focus on skills will support high quality, local jobs. The emphasis on rail, bus and digital will better connect local economies. And a fresh approach to innovation will unlock big, bold ideas and new sources of growth around the country.
“But business will feel there were some missed opportunities. Firms were looking for greater impetus on enabling legislation to speed up the race to zero, and action on business rates to stimulate investment and revive our high streets.
“The UK’s international competitiveness relies on playing to the economic strengths of our regions and nations. It’s time to turn these measures into swift and bold action.”
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:
"The Skills Bill is welcome and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee will offer more adults the opportunity to improve their skills. But it needs to be a much wider guarantee that supports retraining and learning at a range of levels. And to lead to a real step change it must be coupled with development of flexible ways to learn that fit with work and home life and better support with living costs while learning.
"All eyes are now on the Spending Review to back this vision with funding and show how central government will work together with local government."
Claire Warnes, head of education, skills and productivity at KPMG UK, said:
“Following the publication of the Government’s White Paper in January, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is really welcome news, as it promises the legislation needed to deliver more local adult learning and training opportunities across England.
“Right now, it’s never been more important to reskill and upskill adults who have been displaced from work due to the pandemic – often caused by employees being furloughed for a long period or because they don’t have the support to adapt their skills for new roles – as the skills gap has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
“Civic leaders, businesses and local education providers now need to think creatively and coordinate how they can move forward to deliver essential place-based skills solutions and not one size fits all, as well as how to provide agility in learning. Whether it’s colleges working with companies to link training with jobs through the Skills Accelerator, universities providing more flexible programmes, or employers reskilling their furloughed employees – there’s plenty of opportunities for levelling up communities to create productive, skilled and fulfilled workforces.”
Isa Mutlib - CEO of BAME Apprenticeship Alliance, said:
"We welcome Her Majesty The Queen's Speech in which the Levelling Up agenda is mentioned and lifelong learning a focus for Government. This is imperative for a post-covid recovery. It is now upon The Government to ensure that a clear plan is in place that takes lessons from previous reforms and brings about the change needed for the future of this country."
"The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is welcomed. Immediate focus needs to be on the significant drop in apprenticeships, particularly in the 16-18 age groups where numbers had dropped pre-covid."
"Lastly, Her Majesty's mention of addressing the racial and ethnicity disparities is important and needs to be a core focus within early talent. Whilst Government have reported increases in BAME representation of apprenticeships, data shows clear disparities between the intersections of BAME communities."
"We look forward to working with Ministers and The Department for Education on this soon."
Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist, Social Market Foundation, said:
“For too long, governments have neglected the provision of adult education, skills and training. In the face of the biggest economic crisis since WWII, it is a welcome step to see this Government proposing legislation to ensure every adult can get the skills they need to get on and thrive in work.
“Boosting skills and training can help Britain address its productivity and wage growth slump. Much depends on the detail of the Bill, but it has the potential to make a real difference by improving flexibility and affordability for learners, and securing more stable, long-term funding for colleges.”
Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, comments:
“We’re delighted to see the Queen’s Speech focus on skills - it’s the right priority in a post-Brexit, post-pandemic UK. And a greater level of employer engagement will help ensure we develop the skills that businesses actually need - creating more opportunities for those seeking employment and building a stronger, more resilient economy.
“The Government must waste no time in implementing these reforms. And the PM will have to personally drive this process at pace to ensure support for lifelong learning is achieved in this Parliament, not after the next election.
“If training and vocational education finally get the attention and focus they deserve, there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance the management and leadership skills base of our towns and cities as we work to build back better.”
Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting at The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, said:
“Over the past three years, our Mind the Skills Gap research has consistently showed that UK workers are failing to prioritise professional learning and development. There’s an apathy towards learning new skills, and more worryingly, a lack of motivation to learn digital skills. The digital skills divide is widening year-on-year, and the acute disruption brought on by COVID-19 put this issue into sharp focus.
“Digital and higher-level skills will drive real-wage growth, underpin future growth across the UK’s economy, and are vital to ensure our global competitiveness and productivity. Focusing on lower level skills alone won’t achieve the levelling up and skills improvements the government hopes to deliver.
“To be successful in both the post-Brexit and COVID-19 world, we can’t solely focus on changing policies, we must develop a culture of learning and innovation and embrace change – or risk being left behind.”
Mark Farrar, Chief Executive, AAT, said:
“The world of work has changed dramatically over the past year, and many people have used this time to develop their skills to adapt to new ways of working or pursue a different career path. Today’s announcements in the Queen’s Speech will help even more people across the UK access the training they want or need to reskill, whatever stage of their life or career, and give them access to wider opportunities to thrive in a rapidly changing business environment.
“AAT welcomes today’s announcement and is pleased to see the government’s ongoing commitment to lifelong learning, which will be vital to the UK’s economic recovery following the pandemic. The Lifetime Skills Guarantee has the potential to create new opportunities and we look forward to next week’s announcements for the detail on how people will be supported, including loans.
“Whilst there are many positives to be taken from the new measures, we would also want to see more support for the UK’s small and medium-sized enterprises to ensure that available training matches the needs of local economies, including reform of the apprenticeship levy. Doing so would help to tackle regional skills gaps and improve job prospects, whilst also meeting the needs of the economy as we navigate the coming months.”
Mark Creighton, CEO of Avado said:
“We are glad to see that adult learning is being prioritised by the government as we enter a critical period for our economy, and acknowledgement in the Queen’s Speech is reassurance that these commitments are central to plans for the future and England’s levelling up agenda. However, a skills revolution is not a new concept, and it is no longer enough to meet the massive challenges our country faces. We recently conducted research on this issue and discovered that the pandemic has inexorably widened the skills gap into a capability chasm.
"The lack of investment in meeting the skills gap now means we have a lack of capabilities in both individuals and businesses, negatively impacting growth: our research found that a training strategy pre-2020 was strongly correlated with business growth during the pandemic (71%), whilst those who had no strategy or one that was not fit for purpose pre-2020 were far more likely to see decline (61%). Many businesses had tried to recruit to fill this gap, an expensive and ultimately short-term fix which risks leaving some parts of the workforce further behind as they never learn the necessary capabilities to secure their position as times change.
"It’s clear we need to do more, and fast, in order to truly give all adults an equal opportunity to retrain or upskill. The government investing in training is one side of the coin, but to truly level up our economy and diversify our workforce, businesses need to invest in their people. The narrative has also changed from ‘free, fully-funded’ to ‘loans’. This raises some concern that those most in need may not be able to access it, or may be charged interest for doing so. Avado, alongside the whole sector, will be keeping a close eye on detail as it emerges."
Alan Hiddleston, Director of Corporate Learning at D2L, said:
“The reskilling challenge in and of itself is nothing new. However, the pandemic has added a new sense of urgency and the rapid pace of change in business calls for continuous skills development. Unfortunately, the learning opportunities required to meet these constantly changing demands are simply not keeping pace and this has been acknowledged at a governmental level.
“The skills gap needs to be addressed on two fronts. There needs to be greater collaboration between both education and enterprise. This is because businesses will require their staff to retrain throughout their career, and HigherEd institutions or colleges will need to update their courses to ensure students are better prepared to enter the job market. Modularity, or an omnichannel approach toward education and training, will be essential.
“Working with industry, educational institutions can ensure desirable skills are embedded within their curriculum and delivered across all courses. Similarly, organisations can offer insight into how to design programmes that cater to lifelong learners. Afterall, businesses will require far more flexible short courses, that enable current employees, many of whom will be mature learners, to easily re-enter the education system and attain new skills periodically.
“The past year has proven that lifelong learning is vital, and workers need to be better equipped with the skills for tomorrow. Looking ahead, our economy will require real change – a change of attitudes and indeed, culture. The way in which we value, deliver and measure learning will also need to shift, with increased collaboration between education institutions and corporate learning.”
James Reed, chairman of REED Recruitment, says:
“For too long, society has been caught up in the outdated notion that the only route to employment is via university. The Prime Minister’s plans to revolutionise the career ladder and broaden skills training to all age groups is music to the ears for those of us who’ve been campaigning on the issue for years.
“The pandemic has brought the issues that existed with our skills training into sharper focus, with older workers being greatly impacted by COVID-19-related job losses. This matters because, despite the advances of the last decade, redundancy remains an age-related problem: one-third of unemployed people over 50 have been out of work for a least a year, with many opting to take retirement far earlier than they planned or need to.
“Today’s announcement is the first step towards a post-pandemic jobs revolution, where the UK labour market becomes energist, not ageist, amid a rise of highly skilled, experienced and reinvigorated older workers.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Boris Johnson is performing his usual trick of re-announcing and repackaging previous announcements, in the hope no one will notice the general lack of new money. Commitments to the National Tutoring Programme, as part of the Government’s recovery plan announced in February, total just £200 million which will be spread very thinly across schools. The £302m boost to the Pupil Premium, announced at the same time, is well short of the £750m recommended by the Sutton Trust and the NEU and makes a mockery of the Government’s efforts today to talk tough on child poverty. It can scarcely be described as ‘levelling up’.
“The Government must invest properly in education to enable children and young people to recover. The Government has only set aside £250 per pupil, which compares poorly with other nations such as the Netherlands and the United States who are investing £2,500 and £1,600 per pupil respectively. (1)
“In addition, schools have had to shoulder most of the costs of managing coronavirus, whether it be additional supply costs, or cleaning and lost income, and are now struggling financially. On top of which, the Government have imposed a stealth cut on schools by moving the census date, taking £150m out of school budgets at a stroke. None of this inspires confidence that schools will have the necessary resources to support pupils to recover and build strong learning. The Government must prioritise education in the forthcoming Spending Review so that schools can increase the number of properly-qualified teachers on staff and bring down our historically high class-sizes.
“It is good that the Government are at last focusing on post-16 education, after more than a decade of neglect and a lack of joined-up thinking. However, unless there is sufficient funding in place the realisation of the Government's ambition of high-quality training and a comprehensive offer to young people will simply not happen.
“A focus on lifetime skills is important and necessary but for this to become a reality funding and support needs to be put in place. Colleges and the post-16 sector have been severely underfunded, leading to a £1.1bn gap in real-terms funding for 16-19 education between 2010 and 2020 which the Government has done very little to address. This has left the sector struggling not only to make ends meet, but to provide the sort of training and qualifications the country desperately needs.
“Introducing a student finance system for Further Education which moves closer to that for Higher Education is the wrong step. Returning to the student maintenance system abolished in 2011 would be a much better way of supporting participation and the acquisition of skills and qualifications.
“Efforts to cut arts funding in higher education by 50%, as revealed last week, suggest that the Government’s ‘strategic priorities’ around skills will be at the expense of another valuable part of the economy. It is a further indication of the Government’s narrow concerns when it comes to running education.
“Covid has been an extraordinary year for young people and staff across all our schools and colleges. The Government must commit to a realistic period of education recovery, where the profession is supported and valued to respond to gaps in learning and to the huge financial pressures on many families. The education workforce has displayed innovation and deep commitment. Retaining education staff and ensuring a much better work life balance for all staff must move much higher up the agenda. Investing in, and valuing staff is the right thing to do, but also connects directly to good outcomes for young people through retaining skills in the workforce.”
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:
On further education:
‘The government talks about the need for outstanding colleges, but these measures will do nothing to repair the harm caused by a decade of neglect and cuts. If ministers really want to ensure our colleges can deliver the skills needed to recover from the pandemic, level-up and build a green economy, its priority must be sustained investment in the sector and fair pay for college staff – not extending a disastrous student loan system to colleges.’
On student loans:
‘Following a year in which the fees-based funding model has wreaked havoc in universities, the government is doubling down on this failed system. These proposals will push more and more people into debt to pay for their education. We need a different approach to post-16 education funding which provides long-term security, and puts the interests of students and staff first. Education is a public good. It must be free and publicly funded to provide lifelong access for all.’
On freedom of speech:
‘There are serious threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom from campus, but they come from the government and university managers, not staff and students. Widespread precarious employment strips academics of the ability to speak and research freely, and curtails chances for career development. Free speech and academic freedom are threatened more widely on campus by government interference in the form of the Prevent duty, and attempts to impose the IHRA definition and examples of antisemitism on universities.
‘If the government wants to strengthen freedom of speech and academic freedom, it shouldn’t be policing what can and cannot be said on campus, and encourage university managers to move staff onto secure, permanent contracts.’
The education, learning and skills sector has a major role to play in the economic recovery from covid-19, and in addressing the widening inequalities gap
Cindy Rampsersaud, Senior Vice President for BTEC and Apprenticeships, at Pearson commented:
"Access to learning and skills is a powerful enabler for economic growth and social mobility, and Pearson welcomes the government's focus on post-16 and adult education and training.
"The education, learning and skills sector not only has a major role to play in the economic recovery from covid-19, but also in addressing the widening inequalities gap since the onset of the pandemic.
"There will be a continued need to maintain flexibility and a broad range of options to support access to learning and reskilling."
‘Rocket fuel’ for skills will prove a damp squib without a major rethink of the Apprenticeship Levy
Ben Willmott, head of public policy for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, comments:
On skills: “We welcome the ambition to put employers at the heart of the skills system and ensure local skills provision meets local business needs. However, without a fundamental rethink of the Apprenticeship Levy, plans to boost employer engagement with local education and training providers are likely to be fatally undermined.
“A more flexible training levy would enable employers to invest in other forms of accredited training and development, and would maximise opportunities for employers to work with their local further education colleges and universities.
“Instead, employers are currently losing £1bn a year on levy funds they can’t spend because the scheme is too inflexible. This money should be going towards other forms of adult skills investment and training and could supplement the new flexible loans for adult learners.”
The CIPD shared analysis this week which showed that employers have lost £2bn over the last two years as they struggle to spend their Apprenticeship Levy.
On the Employment Bill: “Today’s announcements were a missed opportunity to confirm the Government’s commitment to measures in the Employment Bill. Improving labour market enforcement, flexible working and enhancing leave for carers are key issues for working people and the ambition to build back better.
“The labour market enforcement system in particular is broken and requires urgent attention to boost state-based enforcement and address the weaknesses in the employment tribunal system. This is already close to breaking as demand rises from people seeking redress over breaches to employment rights, with many employees waiting more than year for tribunal cases to be heard.
INVESTMENT NEEDED IF POST-16 PLANS ARE TO BE MORE THAN EMPTY PROMISES
Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:
“The post-16 education sector has endured a decade of cuts and underfunding and the commitment to vocational education and skills and support for lifelong learning is long overdue.
“It is critical that young people and adults have access to high quality training, education and advice, particularly given the severe economy challenges arising from the pandemic.
“It is a pity the same Government programme for further education comes just a few months after ministers’ decision to axe funding for the Unionlearn scheme which supported thousands of workers to access training and basic skills.
“The Government now needs to put its money where its mouth is and provide the investment needed to ensure education and training is accessible to all.
“Ministers also need to ensure that, wherever people are employed, their basic rights at work are protected. Absent from today’s legislative programme are any measures to end the growing abuse of employment rights and unscrupulous practices by employers, including the unacceptable use of dismissal and re-engagement practices.
“Supporting people to gain the skills they need to find work and progress their careers must go hand in hand with ensuring they are treated decently and fairly in the workplace.”
Brenda McLeish, chief executive of Learning Curve, said:
“It is hugely encouraging that the Government are following up on their White Paper with plans to legislate on further education and skills, but it is important that they learn from the missed opportunities of previous governments. People deserve much better access to skills and job opportunities where they live, which doesn’t require spending three years at university. But to deliver on this will require the right partnerships at a local, regional and national level. Independent Training Providers have been vital in driving innovation in the skills sector and providing the opportunities and flexibility that learners are looking for. We need a Bill that helps unlocks the massive potential of the independent sector to work in partnership with employers, colleges and local leaders colleges to deliver the Government’s ambitious agenda for levelling up.”
Dr Sam Parrett OBE, CEO and Group Principal, London & South East Education Group said:
"2020/21 has been an extraordinary year for many reasons – not least with FE and skills getting top billing in today’s Queen’s Speech.
"Rarely has there been a time when so much focus has been put on education and training for older teenagers and adults. However, this is clearly reflecting the huge role our sector is being primed to play in the post-Covid recovery.
"Coming hot on the heels of the Government’s ‘Skills for Jobs’ White Paper, I’m hopeful that FE may now get the recognition it deserves for the tireless work it has done (and indeed continues to do) to drive social mobility and change people’s lives
"With the pandemic having a catastrophic effect on the livelihoods of so many people, Boris Johnson is absolutely right with his intention to ‘put rocket fuel’ into his ‘levelling-up agenda’.
"Education and giving people access to the skills training they need to secure employment is key to a thriving economy.
"It may have taken a pandemic to get here, but the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is to be celebrated. It will enable thousands of adults, of all ages and backgrounds, to access a range of courses and improve their career prospects. Employers will in turn be able to better fill their skills gaps and grow their businesses.
"The Skills Accelerator programme should also be warmly welcomed, building on the crucial partnerships already being formed between colleges and employers. Again, this is not necessarily a new concept to the majority of the FE sector, but the recognition of its importance is significant.
"Today, the life-changing impact of adult education is being put in the spotlight. It is most certainly the sector’s time to shine, but efforts must be focused on the long term - far beyond today’s headlines."
The Government is waking up to the vital importance of skilling and reskilling people throughout their working lives
Comment from Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO of City & Guilds Group:
“The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, announced today in the Queen’s Speech, is another welcome sign that the Government is waking up to the vital importance of skilling and reskilling people throughout their working lives.
"We’ve long highlighted the need for better support for lifelong learning that helps people stay employable. Pre-covid, the impact of the 4th industrial revolution was significantly reducing the skills shelf life in many industries and as we’ve all seen, the impact of covid in decimating whole industries whilst creating huge extra need for others is something none of us could have predicted.
"A recent World Economic Forum survey found that employers plan to transition as many as 46% of workers displaced from their current jobs into emerging opportunities whilst also highlighting that by 2025, 44% of the skills that employees will need to perform their roles effectively will change.
"Our own Building Bridges towards future jobs research found that people wanted to switch careers but lacked the knowledge of other industries or an understanding of how their skills could be used in other roles.
"In principle the Lifelong Loan Entitlement is a welcome move but as the detail starts to emerge, we would urge Government to allow any adult with any level of existing qualifications to access funds to retrain. It’s also essential that people can use this money to access short, flexible, digitally enabled learning to allow them to get quickly back into employment, progress in work or change careers, as well as longer courses and more formal qualifications.
"Opening up education and skills training for everyone, at whatever age or stage in their career, is what we need now to help speed up our recovery and really and create the skilled workforce that employers need.”
David Gallagher, Chief Executive of Awarding Body, NCFE, said:
“We welcome the announcement in the Queen’s Speech today that the Government will be introducing the ‘Skills Bill’ later this month. It indicates the Government’s serious commitment to level the playing field in education, particularly demonstrating the value of Further Education and how it will contribute to the country’s recovery and prosperity.
“The pledge to give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training goes some way towards redressing the imbalance between Higher Education and Further Education, whilst helping to ensure that adult learners no longer miss out. That being said, more must be done to ensure learners from all backgrounds have the chance to participate, examining the barriers to accessing training for those learners who are reliant on benefits.
“We are also pleased to see that employers will be given a statutory role in planning training programmes with education providers. At NCFE, we have long been advocates of promoting greater employer involvement in the education system and work closely with industry specialists to ensure our vocational qualifications are relevant for the future needs of their workforce.
“With these initial commitments now in place, we want to see a ‘Skills Bill’ that looks to overhaul outdated attitudes towards Further Education and places the value on skills-based learning that there always should have been. This bill should be seen as an early step towards transformative and far-reaching changes that have a permanent impact.”
Responding to the announcement in the Queen’s speech of a Post 16 Education and Skills Bill, Carole Willis, chief executive of the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) said:
“We welcome the continued focus on investing in further education (FE) and the strengthening of local relationships with employers.
“This is of key importance in supporting students to acquire the skills and competencies needed by employers, to fill skills gaps and boost the post-Covid-19 economy.”
Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of FAB, said:
“We welcome the centre-piece of today Queen’s speech, putting skills and lifelong learning at the heart of pandemic recovery.
“If we can tackle some of the bureaucratic inertia associated with the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, the country can forge a new statutory right to lifelong learning. Support for adult education in future could be as comprehensive as access to the NHS, but only if we get the passage of the legislation right. Now is the time to build back better from the bottom up. I’m delighted to see skills playing such a key part.”
Jane Harley, Policy & Partnership Director at Oxford University Press, said:
“The government’s commitment to a long-term education recovery plan in the Queen’s Speech, including investing £400 million to support access to remote education and investment in teachers’ professional development, is welcome, although we look forward to hearing more detail.
“Oxford University Press recently undertook a review of the global picture for education a year after learning moved online, capturing insights from experts around the world. Not only did 98% believe digital learning will be central to future teaching practices, most fear that socio-economic barriers severely impact the effectiveness of digital learning and that disadvantaged learners have fallen behind as a result. The majority also raised concerns about wellbeing.
“We cannot allow children to become the long-term victims of lockdown measures. With digital learning here to stay, we need to act speedily to address the digital divide and help learners become digitally fluent. This means ongoing funding for technology and support improving connectivity, as well as more training for teachers. And, fundamentally, the government must actively collaborate with teachers and students and use recent experiences to inform future policy and develop education systems that work for pupils everywhere.”
Plans to introduce a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
The government plans to introduce a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, including a flexible loan to adults for higher-level education or training at any point in their lives. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will be introduced on 18 May.
Alistair Jarvis Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:
“UUK has long called for a more flexible approach to student finance to better support part-time, flexible learning and mature students. This bill is a step in the right direction and welcome recognition that adults should have access to education throughout their lives.
“As the nation looks to recover and rebuild from the impact of Covid-19, we need fresh thinking, policy change and government support to help people of all ages and backgrounds to reskill and retrain. Many universities are ready to scale up their alternatives to the traditional three-year degree, giving more people the chance to study accredited modules flexibly, including ‘bitesize’ courses that can be accumulated. This will allow more people to develop skills at university which will benefit the UK’s recovery and boost local economies.
“We know that this is what the public want too, with a recent poll highlighting that 82% of prospective students in England who are either unemployed, at risk of unemployment, or looking to learn new skills would be keen to study individual modules of a university degree.”
Vitaly Klopot, CCO, Arden University (of Global University Systems), specialists in online and blended Learning, comments:
“It’s a relief to see older learners’ potential finally in the spotlight of policy discussions. More mature learners have turned to online higher education in their droves during the pandemic – in fact, we saw an almost 50% annual increase in applications amongst over 30s - and there’s huge potential to help individuals to upskill or re-train, if these groups can access the funding and flexible learning required.
"Moreover, the government must recognise that the financial and livelihood commitments of mature students differs from younger undergraduates’ and only with the appropriate support can we create a suitably skilled and diverse workforce for jobs of today and in the future to sustainably turbo-charge the economy.”
New Skills Bill presents opportunity for tackling the green skills gap
Tim Pile, Chair, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP):
“Today in the Queen’s Speech the Government has outlined its priorities to build back stronger, greener and fairer from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our partnership of local authority, business and further and higher education leaders stands ready to deliver a national recovery that will create jobs, support businesses and drive inclusive economic growth forwards.
"At GBSLEP, we’re already working at pace with our partners to create opportunities to ‘level up’ the region as a whole. Our newly formed Skills and Apprenticeship Hub is already helping to deliver skills training to people of all ages in line with the Government’s ambition of the ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’. We have made significant investments in areas of the economy that we see has high growth such as Health Technologies and Life Sciences, with a £14m investment in the Precision Health Technologies Accelerator on the pioneering Birmingham Health Innovation Campus.
"It’s fantastic to hear about plans to extend 5G across the country. Here at GBSLEP we have been leading the way, with our £1 million support of the first 5G accelerator in the UK. Embracing innovation and technology will aid our green recovery and help deliver the Government’s Ten Point Plan and Plan for Growth.
"Creating better places for our communities and businesses is imperative and it underpins our work and our projects. We recognise the importance of today’s announcement on bringing forward planning reform to increase sustainable housing and await further details on how we can integrate our wider place making initiatives to further improve our towns and cities for all of our residents.”
Nicola Shaw, UK Executive Director at National Grid, said:
“Building the workforce that will deliver on ambitious climate plans is no small task. It requires policymakers to throw their weight and resource behind the green jobs agenda and move from intent to concrete action.
“The Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill rightly focusses on the need to diversify training which will be crucial when it comes to getting the right people and skills in place to fill the hundreds of thousands of green jobs that will help the country reach its climate goals.
“The Bill could mark a significant step towards tackling the green skills deficit. We will need to see the detail of the legislation but a key part of this should be recognising the positive role of modular training – a crucial element in a potential suite of solutions which not only can support the just transition but also re-focus skillsets towards net zero roles.
“As the economy and the environment changes, we need to ensure that people are able to continue developing in their roles and adapting their skills. By being able to take time out of work to complete training and development alongside their current jobs, we can start to plug gaps in areas where skills can be transferred. It’s a route that can work for people from different backgrounds and experiences.
“Success will rely on financial backing and clarity on this will be needed. Revamping the Apprenticeship Levy could be an option, allowing greater flexibility for employers to direct unspent money raised via the levy towards this form of training.”
The government needs to make a particular effort to push more people towards tech careers
Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft:
“Over the past year, Coronavirus has shaken the economy from causing redundancies to disrupting careers across many sectors. For many, investment in skills support will be key to addressing both the disruption in the UK labour market, as well as the growing digital skills gap. Research from CBI revealed that businesses, government and individuals need to increase spending on adult education by £130bn by 2030 if they are to narrow the skills gap.
"Last year, the government launched a Kickstart Scheme to help organisations employ young people and take on apprentices. This has been key to helping address the skills gap faced in the UK and help young people take advantage of the opportunities in the tech sector.
"With digital transformation encroaching on all industries, the announcement today promising a skills "revolution" for England, with loans for adults wanting to retrain and more powers to deal with failing colleges, is very much welcomed. This is a vital step in growing the skills of tomorrow as well as supporting the UK economy to build back up after a year of turmoil.”
Becs Roycroft, senior director at global emerging talent and reskill specialist, mthree, commented:
“It is extremely encouraging to hear that the government will be prioritising skills in today’s Queen’s Speech, with digital being one of the key sectors people will be encouraged to consider retraining in.
“Technology is one of the most robust and fast-growing industries, and provides fantastic career opportunities not only to young people just starting out, but also those who are looking to change careers later in life thanks to higher than average starting salaries and the potential for quick progression.
“Technology recruitment has remained buoyant even throughout the pandemic, and our own research recently revealed that 92% of businesses were planning to recruit entry level and graduate tech talent this year.
“The new higher education loan for all adults will mean that people who have previously not been able to consider a career in tech due to the prohibitive cost of attaining the required skills and qualifications – particularly for people who already have a degree in a non-related subject – will now be able to do so.
“In addition to opening new doors for people, the new skills initiative should prove invaluable in combatting the looming digital skills shortage. Businesses in every sector are already struggling to hire skilled tech talent, and this is only set to worsen as our reliance on technology increases.
“While it remains to be seen how the government will roll out the lifetime skills guarantee, we believe that actively promoting the brilliant opportunities provided by careers in technology, and ensuring that people are able to make informed decisions about the best qualifications to pursue in order to take advantage of those opportunities, will be integral to its success.”
Plans for a “skills revolution” post Covid
Professor Helen Higson, GBSLEP Chair of Employment and Skills Board:
“We welcome the government’s promise of a skills revolution. Here at GBSLEP we recognise the need to have the right skills and training for a route into satisfying jobs, and progress through rewarding careers, through our Skills and Apprenticeship Hub.
"Our business-led approach enables us to be specific and targeted in the way we assess what job roles an organisation needs, the associated skills training needed and the complementary offer local providers can supply.
"All of GBSLEP’s skills work is underpinned by our strategic vision and the objective to create thousands of level 3+ qualifications for the existing workforce, as well as for those that are entering the workplace for the first time or returning in the current climate.
"Our ambition of providing higher level skills training will help create a pipeline of talent for the businesses we work with in key areas of growth such as low carbon, creative industries, life sciences, business, professional and financial services and advanced food and drink manufacturing.
"Together with our partners in local government, business and education we stand ready to deliver the Government’s 'Lifetime skills guarantee’. It will enable individuals to access higher level skills at any point in their careers to meet the needs of employers, facilitate business recovery and increase future productivity.”
Nick Ford, Chief Tech Evangelist at Mendix, said:
“It is really positive to see the government promise a skills revolution as we enter the post-pandemic world. COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of many organisations in the UK, making digital skills a highly-valued commodity for businesses— and UK workers understand this.
"According to Mendix research, close to three-quarters of UK workers surveyed say that they are interested in learning more digital skills (72%), with 60% wanting to put those skills to use by supporting their organisation’s digitalisation. Almost three in five (59%) UK workers think that an expanded digital skillset would enable them to be more successful in their current role.
"On top of this, over a quarter see learning new digital skills as necessary to keeping their jobs (26%). This eagerness to learn is seen as important across all age groups, with 90% of respondents stating, “you are never too old to learn new digital skills. It is clear that there is a real appetite amongst the UK workforce to develop skills, particularly when it comes to technology.
"I welcome and support any measures introduced that look to harness this large pool of untapped potential among UK employees that want to contribute to the digitalisation of their organisations.”
Government risks “levelling down on jobs” after abandoning Employment Bill for low-paid workers
Tony Wilson, IES Director, said:
“Despite billing this as a Queen’s speech to ‘support jobs and improve regulation’, the government has today abandoned its planned Employment Bill and so any hope of delivering on its promises to reform workplace protections.
"No Employment Bill means no overhaul of our enforcement bodies, no right to request a predictable contract, no extension of redundancy protections to pregnant women, and no reforms to protect working carers. It seems very unlikely that government will find space or have competence to include any of these measures in other bills announced today.
"Our research has shown clearly that good enforcement and regulation is better for firms, workers and society. Far from ‘levelling up’, this Queen’s speech risks levelling down on jobs.”
Helen Barnard, Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:
“We are deeply concerned that providing security for low-paid workers was not a priority in today’s Queen’s Speech. The Government has repeatedly committed to levelling up our country, but with one in eight workers trapped in poverty and many of them hardest hit by the pandemic, many will be in disbelief there was no bill to protect them announced today.
“Having a good job means you can sleep that bit easier knowing that you have enough shifts, and an adequate income, and that your working pattern and conditions meets the needs of you and your family. The Government should explain its silence on these issues and reassure workers that they have listened and will take action.
“We welcome the commitment made to bring forward the Renters’ Reform Bill, but similar promises have been made before so now it is the duty of ministers to deliver.”
The pandemic has shone a light on poverty, and the injustices facing millions of people across the UK. Some of us had the means to keep ourselves safe and secure, yet many of us didn’t – the public health crisis and its economic consequences pose a very real risk of exacerbating the uneven foundations of our society.
As we entered the pandemic there were at least 2.4 million workers in insecure working arrangements – such as temporary or zero-hour contracts. Not only does this mean these workers are more likely to experience in-work poverty this insecurity can also be linked to the poor productivity of the UK economy.
The Government committed in the 2019 Queen’s Speech to introduce this bill to protect, enhance and enforce the rights of workers, and strike a better balance between flexibility and security for workers. Ministers must prioritise this bill if workers and businesses are to truly flourish and to make sure the recovery creates secure jobs that offer a reliable route out of poverty.
Levelling up must improve the living standards of people trapped in poverty - The levelling up agenda can only be successful if it reduces the unacceptable levels of poverty in our society.
To date the term levelling up has not been particularly well-defined. To be truly transformative, levelling up must focus on boosting prospects and incomes of people by improving employment rates and lower quartile earnings in the places that need them most. Investment in adult skills would be welcome, but it needs to include commitments to improving basic skills and widening access to adult education.
Commenting on announcements in the Queen's Speech, Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said:
"This is good news for social mobility – we should devote as much government support to the half of young people who don’t go to university as those that do. Life prospects shouldn’t just be determined by what happens at age 18 – we need to help people to develop their skills throughout their lives."
Levelling up won’t mean anything without decent public services
Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said:
“Councils know their local areas best and stand ready to help lead efforts to ensure the new legislative agenda set out in today’s Queen’s Speech – including around planning, jobs, health and care reform, environment, climate change and building safety - is transformational and delivers meaningful, positive change for people and communities.
“We are pleased that proposals on social care reform will be brought forward but we urgently need a clear timeline. It is vital that this is also urgently converted into concrete funding proposals to provide sustainable support to people of all ages across the country who draw on social care to live the life they want to lead. We are keen to work with Government and other stakeholders on a cross party basis to achieve this. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road.
“The LGA and councils look forward to working closely with the Government to help deliver on its commitment to level up powers and invest in local areas across all parts of the country. With the right funding and freedoms, councils will play a leading role in the country’s recovery from the pandemic, driving improvements in public health, boosting local economic growth, reviving town and city centres, building more homes, improving our roads and equipping people with the skills they need to succeed so no one is left behind.”
Erica Roscoe, senior research fellow at IPPR North said:
“For years now, regions like the North have been waiting for the government to bring forward their promised white paper on devolution in England. We were told to expect it at the last State Opening of Parliament, but it was never delivered, and now it seems to have been abandoned altogether.
“Promises to ‘level up’ the country are welcome, but after years of rhetoric and piecemeal announcements of unambitious, centralised, competitive pots of funding, people in regions like the North are more than ready to see real action.
“At the heart of any attempt to level up must be a meaningful commitment to delivering a good life for all, through devolution of power and resources so that places can take control of their futures, for themselves. As we saw from last week’s elections, people value the difference that their local leaders can make, and devolution can have a positive impact on communities. Every moment that the government stalls on devolution, it is actively levelling down.”
Responding to the Queen’s Speech, Policy Chair of the City of London Corporation, Catherine McGuinness, said:
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to help create greater shared prosperity across the country. Ensuring equal opportunities for all has long been our mission as we believe it will only strengthen the UK’s position as a world-leading business hub.
“As a key part of the UK’s economy, London will continue to play a vital role in spreading prosperity across the country and driving forward our economic recovery, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore important that a levelling up agenda ensures investment is made right across the UK, including London.”
“We welcome the Government’s plans to deliver eight freeports to boost investment, trade and jobs across the UK.
"The Thames Estuary Freeport is one such example and will be a springboard for regenerating one of the country’s most deprived areas through delivering much needed employment and economic activity.”
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:
“Hope and prosperity won’t come to forgotten communities without proper investment in public services. Years of scant resources have made it much harder for local councils to provide support to vulnerable families.
“The government must mend the damage from a decade of cuts. Otherwise, its levelling-up agenda will mean nothing to those in need. That means scrapping the pay freeze too.”
“Ministers have said much about how life and work would be better after Brexit. But promises without action won’t improve standards at work.
“There was no comfort today for anyone on zero-hours contracts or who needs protection from unscrupulous employers and the increasing use of heartless fire and rehire tactics.”
"Tackling the skills deficit demands a well-funded further education system. Colleges make a huge difference to the lives of many from disadvantaged backgrounds but have been neglected for years."
Tackling the real problems
“Restricting the right to protest, changing the timing of general elections and making it harder for people to vote is all about tackling problems that don’t exist.
“As it emerges from the pandemic, the UK deserves better. The absence of an employment bill, a damaging pay freeze, social care inaction and zero long-term investment in public services shows the real priorities are being side stepped.”
A new Queen's Speech to build back better from the pandemic
The State Opening of Parliament today (11 May) follows the delivery of 44 bills in the last Parliamentary session, including the legal framework to help us strike new trade deals around the world and powers to regain control over our borders.
A number of bills will be carried over to complete their passage in the next session. This includes the Environment Bill, which will set legally binding environmental targets, and cement the UK’s leadership on climate change, as we host the international COP26 Summit in Glasgow later this year.
Laws to protect the public, support our police and deliver Manifesto commitments to cut crime will also return, with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill set to overhaul sentencing to keep serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer.
The bill will also double the maximum sentence for assaulting people in the emergency services, who have worked night and day to keep us safe during the pandemic, and build confidence in the criminal justice system by speeding up justice, modernising courts and reforming bail to better protect vulnerable victims and witnesses.
To tackle knife crime and youth violence, the bill will give the police new powers to stop and search those convicted of knife and offensive weapons offences. Police, local authorities and other agencies will also have a new, legal duty to work together to address the root causes of serious violence and intervene earlier to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.
These changes follow the delivery of the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act, which ends the prospect of early release for anyone convicted of a serious terror offence, and the Domestic Abuse Act, which will transform our response and provide greater protections from all forms of abuse.
Together these serve as examples of the Government’s commitment to deliver on the promises made to the British people before the pandemic.
The Government’s agenda will continue to reflect that ambition to not only fight COVID-19 and recover from its impacts, but to build back better.
Following the unprecedented, global impact of coronavirus the Government’s new legislative programme will be focussed on supporting the nation’s recovery, backing the NHS, levelling up and spreading opportunity.
It will support jobs, businesses and our economy, while delivering the Government’s commitments to create safer streets and neighbourhoods and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, for a cleaner, greener UK.
The new measures will build on the progress so far, in spite of the pandemic, following a period which also saw the UK become an independent nation outside the EU.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
"The impact of the pandemic on people’s lives has been unique in our history.
"My Government is still focussed on beating this disease, saving lives and livelihoods and rolling out vaccines, but I am also determined that we look forward and get on with fulfilling the promises we have made to the British people.
"Not only will we address the legacies of the pandemic, we will go further to unite and level up the country, fight crime and create opportunities up and down the country for businesses and families to build brighter futures."