David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC)

Colleges and COP26 

Climate change has finally moved up the political agenda globally and public opinion seems to have shifted as people demand rapid change and urgent actions to protect the planet for future generations. There is a stronger realisation that climate change requires significant adaptation by all of us individually and by every organisation if our economic recovery post- pandemic is going to lead to a fairer and better society.

Colleges are both responding to the net zero challenge and driving the change that is needed. They are making an impressive effort to deliver the change needed for their local people, employers and communities, with many signed up to the FE Roadmap developed by the UK Climate Commission for FE and HE.

Like many of the brilliant things colleges do, they are doing things despite the system, not because of it. Together with our partners EAUC, Universities UK and GuildHE we are working in the lead up to COP26 to highlight the need for investment in skills and education to make the changes necessary for the pace and scale of change needed to support learning. But there is so much more FE colleges can do with the right funding and flexibility.

Upskilling and Reskilling

Colleges can assist by upskilling and reskilling young people and adults in sectors that urgently need to adapt. Construction, energy, agriculture and transport are sectors where the challenge of Net Zero is already pressing, and where upskilling is needed at all levels, at Level 4-5 certainly but Level 2 and Level 3 as well.

They are also well placed to persuade many adults who are either unemployed, on low incomes or in precarious employment to retrain for jobs that support the net zero economy. Most face barriers to studying and training which current reforms to Post-16 education and skills must address.

Local Partnerships

The danger, however, is that their demand for new skills often comes too late, when the jobs arrive and there is no time for training. We need innovative approaches and new ways of working to be developed for colleges to work with businesses to anticipate future skill and job and needs. That is not easy unless the government invests as well, and strong local as well as national partnerships are supported.

Embedding Education for Sustainable Development

In parallel to appropriate funding and the development of local partnerships, every course must include sustainability. Impressive initiatives like the Carbon Literacy Project are already providing much needed resources.

Supporting Teaching and Learning

Colleges have shown they are more than willing as they lead on the Net Zero agenda but they need significant resources to really deliver. This includes investing in CPD for staff, in innovative technology and equipment, in curriculum development and in engagement with employers to support their innovation.

Supporting the Voice of Students

We also know that students want their voice heard over climate change. A recent Zurich survey showed that 2.4million young people said climate challenge is the number one issue facing the world, with 17% suffering from “eco-anxiety”. Their voice must be central to the future of colleges, and so too must adults who require retraining and upskilling to progress into good jobs.

Supporting Students as Citizens

Colleges have a pivotal role as educators. We at AoC believe colleges support people to be active and responsible citizens by helping them learn the skills they need to thrive and to understand the world in which they live and work. It’s a grand vision, but education is more than narrow skills or knowledge. It has to provide confidence, agency and understanding to students of whatever age or stage. If that vision is right, then the green agenda requires colleges to think and plan carefully how and what they teach in this time of great change and enormous challenges.

Recommendation 1

We need to transform what we teach and train by supporting strategic partnerships between colleges and employers, and embedding “education for sustainable development” in all curriculum specifications. This must be backed by policy commitments and investment from the UK Government to achieve ambitious carbon reduction targets, with coherent and consistent messaging for industry on expectations for the future to give them confidence to invest too.

Recommendation 2

We must empower more people to access the skills they need to drive the net zero carbon economy by using the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to unlock education and training to everyone that needs it through a mixture of loans, grants and welfare support. Upskilling and reskilling is needed at Level 4-6 but also Level 3 and Level 2.

Recommendation 3

We must invest in colleges so they have the resources they need to deliver on skills that drive a net zero economy, including the estates and technology sufficient for training and the money to attract the right people who are supported with their own development.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC)

Racing to Net Zero - the role of post-16 education and skills

The UK needs comprehensive jobs and skills plan to successfully support and drive the transition to Net Zero.  

This is the conclusion of Campaign for Learning on publishing a new collection of expert views - Racing to Net Zero - the role of post-16 education and skills,

This pamphlet brings together experts on Net Zero and post-16 education, skills and employment policy. The sixteen contributors offer real insights about how post-16 education and skills policy can support the race to Net Zero here in the UK.

Contributors to Racing to Net Zero:

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance Greening the Economy, Greening the Environment
Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute A more ambitious Net Zero ‘Economic, Jobs and Skills’ Plan
Paul Nowak, TUC Workers, Skills and the Net Zero Economy
Duncan Brown, Emsi The Demand for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Ewart Keep, University of Oxford Labour Market Intelligence for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Jane Hickie, AELP Filling Green Jobs with Level 2+ Apprenticeships
Calum Carson, ERSA Filling Green Jobs through Employment Support Schemes
David Hughes, Association of Colleges FE Colleges, Upskilling, Reskilling and Net Zero
Susan Pember, HOLEX Adult and Community Education and Net Zero
Nick Hillman, HEPI Universities and Net Zero
Bill Watkin, Six Form Colleges Association 16-18 Education and Net Zero
John Widdowson, Former FE Principal 16-18 Level 3 T Levels and Net Zero
Rebecca Conway, Federation of Awarding Bodies Net Zero and the ‘Level 3 and Below’ Curriculum
Charlotte Bonner, Education and Training Foundation Education for Sustainable Development and the FE Workforce
Adrian Anderson, UVAC Green Jobs, Apprenticeships and Higher Technical Education
Victoria Hands and Stephen Peake, The Open University Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education

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