Adrian Anderson, UVAC

#Post16RevolutionaryReforms - To misquote Tony Blair the post-16 white paper should have three priorities; skills, skills and skills. To deliver on the productivity and levelling up agenda, the focus of the post-16 white paper must be on the current and future skills needs of the UK economy.

An obvious observation perhaps, but one often ignored. Indeed, the post-16 white paper must focus on what Chancellor Sunak has called ‘high productivity’ jobs.

We would expect to see less emphasis on Level 2 vocational programmes if the Government are focused on developing a high skill, high productivity economy.

Level 6 as well as Level 4 and 5

This means that the white paper needs to be about far more than just further education or skills provision at Levels 4 and 5. Arguably the most prominent skills shortage in the UK is registered nursing, a Level 6 degree programme.

Here we need substantially more Level 6 provision. Indeed, in August 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care announced funding to support NHS Trusts use their Apprenticeship Levy to train 8,000 Nurses over the next four years.

For other key public sector roles, police constable or social worker, a degree is required. Look at both the public and private sectors, and management skills are the most pronounced skills gaps. Elsewhere, the green economy will call for a range of new occupational skills at technical and professional levels. Similar observations could be made in respect of the engineering and digital sectors.

Humanity Level 6 Degrees

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan MP has of course, said that young people have been taken advantage of and sold courses with no real demand in the labour market. Higher Education should take this criticism on the chin, but it should be seen as an attack on ‘traditional academic programmes’. Many humanities programmes, such as history degrees, are highly valued in the employment market.

While an unfashionable point, critical thinking skills are of substantial value in the jobs market, just talk to employers who recruit history graduates. Humanities degrees, in this sense, are a key part of the skills agenda as well as making a vital contribution to the liberal society in which we live.

Upskilling and Reskilling at Levels 4-7

At higher levels, Minister Donelan has emphasised the importance of upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce, the use of part-time and flexible provision and called on universities to deliver more degree apprenticeships.

Two key points can be drawn from such comments:

  1. the first is the importance of developing the skills of the existing adult workforce. Too often skills are seen as just an issue for young people.
  2. The second is the importance of degree apprenticeships, a Level 6 and 7 programme, to the skills agenda and the Government’s desire to expand provision.

From Level 3 T Levels to Level 4-5 Higher Technical Qualifications

The development of a new technical route involving T levels and Higher Technical Qualifications is to be welcomed, but as UVAC has argued on many occasions in the past, must be based on the skills needs of the UK economy.

In this regard the initial focus of Higher Technical Qualifications, announced recently by DfE on the digital sector makes sense. Level 4 and 5 provision is, however, just one part of the solution to the skills gaps and shortages evident in the UK economy, we would expect to see some, but not massive growth here with a focus on quality not numbers.

Level 2 by age 16

At lower levels, while some Level 2 apprenticeships are of considerable value and ‘craft’ and ‘trade’ occupations should be valued, fewer and fewer occupations will define occupational competence at Level 2. Level 2 job roles which have, until recent years dominated Apprenticeship provision, have been most adversely affected by the economic consequences of Covid 19 and are frequently the roles most at risk from automation, think business administration, customer service and retail.

Of course, ensuring individuals can function at Level 2 is critical and the number of people without Level 2 skills is a national scandal. But surely the role of schools and Ofsted should be to guarantee that every young person, after 11 years of compulsory education, gains a full Level 2 qualification? Delivering Level 2 provision to those without a Level 2 should not be a mainstream post-16 policy objective, it should be seen as an activity needed to rectify historic and current poor school performance. And the long-term remedy for poor school performance, is to improve school performance.

Other Lessons

Elsewhere, we should learn from the experiences of delivering during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a greater and more effective use (and growth) of online and distance learning, part-time, blended and work-based programmes.

More innovative delivery partnerships, focused on particular localities and regions involving HE, FE, LEPs and metro mayors.

Three Reforms for the White Paper

  1. First, the white paper should ensure that skills provision and funding are prioritised to deliver high-quality public sector services, the government’s industrial strategy and the broader skills needs of the UK economy. This will mean an increasing focus on high level skills and high productivity roles and far less focus on Level 2 job roles.
  2. Second, the white paper should focus on the upskilling and reskilling of the adult workforce to meet the needs of the economy and our public services.
  3. And third, the white paper should set out a strategy for innovative learning based on on-line delivery, blended and work-based programmes studied part-time as the key way of meeting employer and adult learner needs.

Adrian Anderson, UVAC

'Revolutionary Forces'

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

Issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity have brought into even sharper focus, education and skills. NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), published the first in the series of ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion papers on 6 July 2020.

In this Revolutionary Forces series different perspectives and proposed reforms for the post-16 education and training system have been brought together in one pamphlet, from expert stakeholders, think-tanks and educational professionals.

Building on the recommendations outlined in the first paper for flexible reforms that support economic and social renewal, this new paper, "Reforms for a Revolutionary Post-16 White Paper", takes a deeper look at which areas need to be addressed.

The authors are:

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