Gavin Williamson

@EducationGovUK - New #SkillsBill to transform skills and training, levelling up opportunities across the country 

The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will be introduced in Parliament today (18 May), underpinning the government’s skills and training revolution.

The Skills Bill was mentioned during the Queen's Speech last week and today FE News has an exclusive article from Gavin Williamson outlining his vision to put skills at the top of an ambitious legislative agenda, to transform the education landscape in this country.

The Bill comes as new figures show that further and technical education provision is already estimated to boost the economy by £26 billion, generated from the training started by adults in further education in 2018/19 over their working lives.

The new analysis by the government "Measuring the net present value of further education in England", demonstrates  the importance of further and technical education to the country’s economic recovery, highlighting the need for greater parity between further and higher education.

This sets the stage for a new outlook for post-16 education where every young adult has a range of opportunities open to them, removing the illusion that a degree is the only path to a good career.

The reforms outlined in the Bill will help to create more routes into skilled employment in sectors the economy needs such as engineering, digital, clean energy and manufacturing, so more people can secure well-paid jobs in their local areas, levelling up the nation and supporting communities to thrive.

A range of policies are already in place to deliver the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, as set in a speech by the Prime Minister last year.

Today, a new fund has been launched to future proof post-16 provision with a £83 million Post-16 Capacity fund.

Providers are invited to bid for a share of the fund, which will support projects to create more space for areas where there is due to be a demographic increase in 16-19 year olds in the 2022/23 academic year.

This could include building more classroom space or technical teaching facilities, so providers can continue to offer places to every young person who needs one.

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Talent is everywhere in our country and the Skills and post-16 Education Bill marks a significant milestone in our journey to transform the skills, training and post-16 education landscape and level up opportunities across the country.

“This legislation will be vital so we can make sure everyone can gain the skills they need to get a great job locally and businesses have access to the qualified employees they need to thrive.“We’re also investing £83 million to create more classrooms and high-quality teaching facilities, to ensure that colleges can keep up with demand and offer a training place for all 16-19 year olds that want one.”

What is the sector reaction to the The Skills and post-16 Education Bill? 

Jane Hickie 20Dec 100x100The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) chief executive Jane Hickie said:

“The capacity fund will be welcome if it’s enabling parity for school leavers and other learners, for example living on the same housing estate, regardless of where they choose to access their opportunity.   

"There is a clear need for ensuring these opportunities are aligned with both classroom and work based provision. 

"Levelling up requires recognition that post-16 classroom opportunities are not easily accessible everywhere.”

tom bewick 100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) comments:

“The publication of the Skills Bill is the first major piece of legislation since 2009 when Ofqual was established. It gives the Secretary of State sweeping new powers to end FE college autonomy as we know it. The Bill also has the potential to place in statute a lifetime entitlement to education so that people can retrain for a lifetime of jobs, when a job for life no longer exists. Like any new law, Parliament and government will need to vote for the necessary resources to make the ambition contained in the draft legislation a reality. 

"Power without proper resources is futile. And too much centralisation of power without devolving resources to individuals, employers and local communities will not work either. A government study published this week found that vocational technical qualifications deliver value at all levels for learners. This means that the Lifetime Skills Guarantee will need to adapt over time and allow more courses to be undertaken, including for the 9 million individuals who already have a Level 3 qualification but are currently barred from taking part. We’d prefer to see a statutory right to retrain regardless of the prior attainment of individuals made unemployed or affected by the pandemic. 

“The Federation broadly supports the direction of travel of the government’s technical education reforms in England. However, we will examine carefully the clauses in the Bill that appear to change the focus of independently regulated qualifications, particularly those that give the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education new powers to accredit technical courses. In no circumstances must we return to a situation where public agencies are marking their own homework when it comes to ensuring public confidence in apprenticeships and qualifications. That’s why Ofqual was set up in the first place.”  

david hughes 100 x100Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), representing over 90% of England's colleges, David Hughes said:

“Today’s legislation is confirmation that colleges will be central to the country’s economic recovery. For too long the snobbery towards further education has meant it’s been neglected and the Skills and Post 16 Education Bill is a chance to put that right. I hope the government continues to step up and throws its full support behind the college sector as we approach the spending review later this year. The only way to bring ambitious and wide-reaching legislation to life is with fair and long-term funding from the Chancellor to back it up. 

"It’s good to see the announcement of the Capacity Fund, with growing numbers of 16 to 18-year-olds enrolling, colleges will be considering how their buildings and facilities can meet the needs of future larger student numbers. We are asking that funds are usable in summer 2022 and not just for one year. 

"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.”

deirdre hughes100x100Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE from DMH Associates comments:

"The new Skills Bill launch sets out government priorities, including a skills “revolution” in the form of flexible loans and a promise to strengthen jobs. Perhaps the time has come to realise you can't 'level up' by simply offering more FE or training courses (though greatly needed and much appreciated). This has to be accompanied by clear signposting to high-quality careers support for young people and adults to help them make successful and sustainable progress in learning and work. The wicked question that needs to be addressed: 'Where are the highly visible places and spaces for careers support in England?

"I welcome the intention to drive up opportunities and reduce ethnic disparities, particularly pay gaps. More specialist trained careers advisers and coaches will be essential across England, as part of a triage system that puts local people's needs first. If government commits to invest in practitioners and their skills in the complementary worlds of careers guidance and public employment services (PES), then we are in with a chance to make the lifetime skills guarantee and personalised guidance work for all."

Alice Barnard100x100Alice Barnard, CEO, Edge Foundation comments: 

“For too long, our Further Education sector has been plagued by short-termism and funding cuts. However, against the backdrop of a changing economy, Brexit, and now the urgency of the corona crisis, it is clear more than ever before that we need our Further Education (FE) sector to be at the forefront of social and economic recovery.

"The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill offers a step in the right direction. We need to support leaners of all ages to develop the transferable and technical skills to thrive, train and re-skill in our changing world of work. To be sustainable, we must ensure that people from all backgrounds are able to access support and training, and collaboration must remain at the heart of the system. 

"Government rhetoric now needs to be met with pace and urgent funding if we are to rise to this challenge.”

Stephen Evans LW 100x100Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work said:

“The Skills Bill contains the welcome implementation of the Lifetime Loan Entitlement and Lifetime Skills Guarantee, giving adults in England an entitlement to funding for a first level 3 qualification. But this guarantee needs to be broader and more flexible. It should include learning at level 2 and shorter learning options such as modules.

"The Bill also legislates to give the Secretary of State powers to intervene where colleges are judged not to have met employers’ skills needs as set out in new Local Skills Improvement Plans. But it’s not clear how these plans work with existing plans, such as those developed by Skills Advisory Panels. And this risks being too narrow and centrally driven – we need to be thinking about employment and skills systems as a whole and a key role for local government.

"Overall, it’s good to see the Government looking to make progress on skills but this bill can only be a piece of the jigsaw. The Government will need to back its words with investment in the Spending Review, develop more flexible learning options to fit around people’s lives, and take greater action to create a culture of learning.”

Jennifer Coupland 100x100Jennifer Coupland, chief executive at the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education said:

“There is no longer just one road to career success, we want everyone to be able to switch on the sat nav at any stage in life and choose a new destination.

“Putting employers at the very heart of decision making to help meet local skills needs will help to pave the road ahead.

"The Institute is looking forward to playing an even bigger role with employers to build a unified skills system that delivers on this ambitious roadmap for change.”

David Gallagher 100x100

David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE said:

“Today’s Skills Bill shows the Government’s serious commitment to levelling the playing field in education; demonstrating the value of lifelong learning through Further Education and how this will contribute to the country’s recovery and prosperity. The opportunity for every adult to take up a flexible loan for higher-level training is a positive step, but we must look beyond the creation of opportunities.

"We need to examine the barriers to accessing these opportunities for learners of all backgrounds; ensuring they have the means to participate and also the motivation that will compel them to act. Unfortunately, for many further debt is simply not a viable option. For others, they are so disconnected from the world of education that they don’t necessarily recognise the significant return on investment of their time or money.

“We must also look beyond purely academic and technical skills and focus on the core meta skills individuals need to be included in the labour market and society. Skills and characteristics, such as adaptability, problem solving and critical thinking are needed more now than ever. By developing mental fitness, confidence and resilience, we can support people to become the best version of themselves -  positive about their future and ready to seize the opportunities that come their way. Opportunity, means and motivation – today’s bill absolutely supports the creation of opportunities but all three elements need to be in place in order to maximise human potential and create sustainable, far-reaching and impactful change across society.”

Stephanie Mason RSM 100x100Stephanie Mason, RSM’s head of further education, said:

"The Skills and Post 16 Education Bill recognises the positive contribution and importance further education (FE) has on the economy which is welcome news for the sector. However, the levels and accessibility to funding will be a concern for FE providers and with known challenges around levels of funding.

"As anticipated, the new legislation introduces further intervention powers for the Secretary of State in respect of colleges where they fail to adequately meet local need. The Secretary of State will also be given the power to effectively direct a governing body to agree to transfer undertakings to another entity as a merger.

"Whilst it is hoped, and anticipated, that these powers will not be used, the interaction of these powers with the trustee responsibilities of the Governing Body will need to be carefully considered. The impact on the tried and tested approach of planning a merger, carrying out due diligence, agreement, approval and implementation will need to be revisited.

"In addition, investment will be needed to allow providers to research, develop, create, plan and design new curriculum offerings and products. Without such, the ability to be agile and responsive may be limited. FE providers will need to balance, prioritise and use funding wisely to ensure they can meet local need. An approach could be to change the current funding methodologies to include incentives for providers with a greater emphasis on destination and outcome focused funding."

Claire Warnes, head of education, skills and productivity at KPMG UK, said:

“COVID-19 has deepened an already debilitating skills gap even further, with many adults displaced from their jobs and in need of support to reskill and upskill for new employment.

“It’s good to see the Government legislating to help remedy this gap and deliver more adult learning and training opportunities across England, but to respond to the immediate challenges arising from the pandemic, we need local civic leaders, businesses and education providers to swing into action quickly and start delivering long-term solutions in their areas.

“There is so much untapped talent out there and newly skilled and productive workforces will help level up communities and support our economy to recover.”

Matt Adam, chief executive, We Are Digital, said:

“We are delighted to see the government demonstrate its commitment to upskilling the UK with the launch of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. We firmly believe that upskilling is critical to the UK’s recovery as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“It’s important to recognise that the UK is not as yet delivering upon the basics. Nine million people are unable to access the internet by themselves, while nearly 12 million lack the digital skills they need for everyday life.  The workplace’s points of entry are becoming increasingly digitised, and finding a job offline has proven impossible for many over the course of the pandemic. Digital literacy must be addressed and delivered nationwide, regardless of age or situation.  

“It’s critical to emphasise there are already upskilling initiatives widely available to address these digital skills shortages, and for free. Those made unemployed and jobless by COVID-19 need not take out a deferred loan to equip themselves with the skills they need to move forward in life. Many housing associations offer free vital digital inclusion training as part of ongoing community investment programmes, ensuring everyone has the right access, skill and motivation to go online.  

“As a provider of a government-backed Digital Bootcamp scheme, our digital skills employability courses for young, excluded groups have gone on to create new job opportunities for participants. As more and more companies and sectors require digital capability, including higher-level skills in areas such as digital marketing, we believe the opportunities out there for those seeking work will only increase.  

“As such, it is highly positive to see the government’s continued commitment in investing in the future. We applaud the government’s commitment to addressing key skills shortages as the route to future economic growth.” 

Russ Shaw CBE, Founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, said:

"The tech industry is hungry for diverse young talent. We're suffering from a skills crisis in our community, with 10% of all UK job vacancies now in the tech and digital sectors. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill proposed by the government is addressing two major issues of national importance; creating diverse routes for young people to break into digital jobs, and harnessing the talent we desperately need in the tech sector. The under-35s account for almost 80% of jobs lost in the past year - this is a ticking time bomb which needs an action plan. Fast-growth tech verticals such as clean tech, healthtech and AI are poised to generate a wealth of prosperous careers for young people across the UK that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

"It is refreshing to see legislative change being enacted to boost the digital skills of our nation. The tech and digital ecosystems have proven to be the most instrumental sector to overcome the pandemic and the industry will underpin the economy of the next generation. The commitment to embed employers at the heart of the skills system, by making it a legal requirement that employers and colleges collaborate to develop skills is a worthy proposition. Enshrining this in law shows solid commitment from the government, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The success of this Bill will depend on the government ensuring those businesses who do not make the effort to collaborate with further education providers are truly held accountable."

The key measures introduced in today’s Bill are:

  1. Embedding employers in the heart of the skills system, by making it a legal requirement that employers and colleges collaborate to develop skills plans so that the training on offer meets the need of local areas, and so people no longer have to leave their home-towns to find great jobs.
  2. Supporting the transformation of 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.
  3. Introducing new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and to direct structural change where needed to ensure colleges improve. 

By the age of 25 only 4% achieve a higher technical qualification compared to 33% who get a degree or above 

Many of the skills that employers are demanding require intermediate or Higher Technical Qualifications – but only four per cent of young people achieve a qualification at higher technical level by the age of 25 compared to the 33 per cent who get a degree or above.

Evidence also shows these qualifications can lead to jobs with higher wages than degrees. 

The measures in today’s Bill will bring greater parity between further and higher education, and help to deliver the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, ensuring everyone is given the chance to gain the skills they need, when they need them, as set out earlier this year in the Skills for Jobs White Paper.

  • The Skills for Jobs White Paper forms a key part of the government’s Plan for Jobs which is protecting, supporting and creating jobs across the country and will help everyone to benefit from the opportunities available to them. 
  • A recent survey by the Social Market Foundation suggested that more people would prefer their children to learn a trade than go to university, further demonstrating the value the public see in the excellent opportunities vocational and technical qualifications can lead to. 
  • The 16-19 Capacity fund is part of a wider programme of significant, long-term investment in the buildings and facilities the country needs to delivery world class skills training - including the £1.5bn FE Capital Transformation Fund, T Level capital fund and Institutes of Technology.
  • The investment will support the government’s reforms to post-16 education, helping to transform further and technical education and deliver the skilled workforce employers and the economy need.

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