Dr Sue Pember

In light of the unprecedented set of conditions that could lead to 2.5 million young people and adults being unemployed in the autumn, Holex on behalf of adult community providers and their learners asks government to make decisions now  on a range of interventions that when implemented could ease this situation and give people hope and improve the economy.  This paper sets out a range of measures for the immediate and longer term. The first section covers practical changes that would instantly support adult education learners and place them in a better place to look for employment when the economy picks up. The second section details action that government should consider to ensure skills development and training is a central element of the recovery process.

Section 1:  Action to Support Adult Learning Today

DfE needs to implement the following practical delivery changes immediately:

  1. Increase funding to provide equipment and infrastructure to enable tutors to continue to develop and deliver online/ blended learning and enable learners to participate in interactive learning and new skills development.

The move to development of blended learning which will make provision more flexible/ accessible is here to stay. However, without extra resources to support learners who have no or poor access to technology and lack the confidence and skills to access online learning, many low level learners will not participate and make the levelling up agenda even more difficult.  

The present situation is likely to significantly reduce participation, especially for Entry level and Level 1 learners. For example, some providers are only getting about 40% of current learners at these levels carrying on with their learning. Without additional resource, some providers’ smaller centres will not be viable under the current social distancing measures.  Also, many ACE providers recruit and deliver through partners in community locations, (eg, schools and children's centres) who had already cancelled classes before the lockdown and are now focussed on their plans for children, and not able to accommodate the risk of courses for adults. Therefore, to continue to be able to target the low skilled adult learner, providers need further resource for equipment and renting accommodation.

  1. Give providers the flexibility to safely open with immediate effect.

With the proper measures and risk assessment in place many providers feel they could open for adults now, especially for low skilled adults who have lost their jobs and adults with moderate mental health issues suffering the anxiety of social isolation. Many providers have stayed open for vulnerable learners and key worker children and would now like to expand their provision. Taking into account their risk assessment, Principals and Heads of Service should be given the flexibility to decide on opening.

 

  1. Extend delivery flexibility and continue to ease the redundant performance rules in the 2020-21 academic year

 Lockdown easing - the ‘new normal’ will have an unknown impact on future delivery/ participation. The present system for the Adult Education Budget relies on provision fitting set criteria which may not work for the immediate delivery requirements. ESFA should allow greater flexibility and remove the rigid barriers to arranging new courses. The new offer should be determined around the needs of the newly unemployed and the furloughed workers who are looking to retrain.

Also, as social distancing may continue into next year which in turn will mean smaller class sizes and/or reduced face-face provision for those who feel safe enough to attend (attending alternate weeks with half the class at a time say), this means the existing quality assurance indicators which are based on participation and attendance and current assessment procedures are not appropriate and new ones that recognise the different learners groups, delivery mechanisms and staff issues for should be established

  1. Postpone any planned systems changes.

Government should not be risking destabilisation of funding to local authority areas while everyone is working through this crisis and its impact - the actual need for post-19 learning, skills and training will evolve, but most definitely will not go away and the infrastructure (including trained expert staff) has to be maintained. Government should delay any changes to subcontracting and quickly fill the vacuum in the Level 2 offer by reinstating some frameworks or fast track apprenticeship standards.

Section 2:  A Post 16 Skills Plan for Recovery

Government needs an ambitious skills plan to support  the recovery

  1. Develop a Post-16 Lifelong Learning strategy

Ministers at the Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government should work together to develop a joint lifelong learning strategy which includes a skills and employment plan for England and be ready to promote opportunities from this September, which recognises and covers the interwoven goals of an improved economy and enhanced wellbeing.

  1. Promote and provide a rejuvenated agenda for adult training and retraining

To support participation into adult training and retraining by the unemployed and those furloughed staff who think they are vulnerable, Government should return the adult education budget to 2010 levels and make available £3 billion for skills training and retraining.

DWP and DFE should put the interest of the individual first and support long term financial gain over a ‘quick any job will do fix” and prioritise the person to do a course that leads to improved financial prospects and job security. DWP should not return to the revolving door situation where they force people into low skilled low paid work who are then made redundant again as they do not have the skills to succeed. DWP should use this opportunity to break that cycle and ensure each person’s long term prospects are improved by going on a vocational course supported either by continuing to claim UC or a living cost grant.

The Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions should work together and co-ordinate the following:

  • bringing forward the £600m funding for the National Skills Fund into the 2020/21 financial year and increase funding levels by 2021/22, taking the AEB to £3b,
  • extend the entitlement to free basic skills and training for Level 2 and  Level 3 qualifications for all adults,
  • remove the requirement for cash-based co-funding for all AEB funded provision,  
  • increase the funding rates for all provision so that it is inline with the new delivery costs,   
  • recognise the benefits of adult learning and raise the flexible community learning budget by 30% to cover the cost of wellbeing programmes and those that improve health and confidence, which in turn will support learners into employment and reduce the burden on the NHS,
  • introduce a national entitlement to maintenance grants to adult learners eligible for Working Tax Credits on Level 3 and below courses so that they can afford to learn; remove the equivalent or lower qualification rule for regulated Level 4-6 courses to support the re-skilling of workers and permit them to apply for part-time maintenance loans,
  • facilitate the co-ordination of AEB and Jobcentre Plus provision in areas without elected mayors and enable areas within them to streamline and coordinate more fully, and
  • build on the new digital skills base and rethink the curriculum which leaners will require in the future so they can be reliant, adaptive and agile to change.

 

  1. Give hope and a future to 19-24 year olds

To prevent unemployment from rising too rapidly for 19-24 year olds, the Department for Education should:

  • fully fund the offer from Basic Skills to a Level 2 and Level 3 in colleges and providers,
  • offer wage subsidies of £3,000 to employers recruiting 19-24 year olds for Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships this September,
  • use the apprenticeship levy and prioritise 19 -24 year old group and level 2 standards,
  • permit participation on training and retraining courses in return for Universal Credit, with the cost of training met by the Department for Education.

Ensure progression routes by:

  • working with UCAS and higher education institutes to offer every 18,19 and 20 year old with the appropriate academic and vocational Level 3 qualifications a place in full-time higher education from September, and
  • extend eligibility for means-tested maintenance loans for 19-24 year olds seeking a first full Level 3 qualification in technical and STEM subjects through full-time study.
  1. A Guarantee for Every 16-17 year old

DfE should seek to prevent youth unemployment rising amongst 16-17 olds who have a duty to participate in education and training until their 18th birthday by:

  • reinforcing through the media that every young person has a guaranteed place in a school, college or an apprenticeship,
  • expanding state-funded full-time further education for all students including those who need extra support,
  • Introducing high quality one-year/ two-year programme led Level 2 and Level 3 work-based learning, 
  • reintroducing the means-tested Education Maintenance Allowance or equivalent to support participation in full-time options.

The Treasury should provide the extra resources necessary to expand the required number of full-time places and alternative forms of provision such as programme-led Level 2 and 3 work-based learning.

Dr. Susan Pember CBE, HOLEX

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