As the Association of Learning Providers holds its spring conference, the Government is urged to rethink Foundation Learning Tier.

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Britain’s vocational learning providers are calling on the Government to rethink completely its proposed Foundation Learning Tier if it is to succeed in reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training – the so-called NEET group.
 
According to the Association of Learning Providers (ALP), failure to properly address the issue will also make it difficult for the Government to achieve its target of 400,000 apprentices when just over 250,000 are currently training.
 
Last year, the proportion of young people in the NEET group began to increase again and the UK has one of the highest drop-out rates for 16 and 17 year olds in Europe. The Government admits that we need to see a “significant reduction in NEET” to meet the PSA target of a reduction of 2% by 2010.
 
The new Foundation Learning Tier (FLT) forms part of the 14-19 curriculum reforms which ministers published for consultation in March. It should offer attractive vocational and work-based learning routes to young people disaffected by the classroom, including a comprehensive strategy of the support available for young people and adults not yet capable or ready to engage in a full apprenticeship.
 
ALP believes that it does not. Vocational learning providers are concerned that government policy is instead hamstrung by a view that says reducing the size of the NEET group requires government-supported programmes based on qualifications first/qualifications only.
 
Providers delivering the successful Entry to Employment programme over the last three years have clearly demonstrated that the most positive outcome for a large proportion of the pre-level 2 qualification group of youngsters is getting them successfully ready to gain employment, with or without formal qualifications, on which their future skills development can then be based.
 
Speaking before the start today of the Association of Learning Providers annual conference in Nottingham, ALP’s chief executive Graham Hoyle said: “What is now urgently required is a comprehensive, skills-focused strategy, encouraging young people on to a range of government supported pathways that will flexibly balance the need for qualifications, skills and, critically, sustainable employment.”
 
As evidence in support of this alternative approach, ALP points out that only recently has it been properly understood that young people in supposedly low-skilled jobs have been converted in huge numbers into apprentices on the back of effective sales campaigns routinely practiced by training providers, who find these youngsters and persuade their employers of the benefits of converting them on to a full framework apprenticeship programme. This route probably accounts for over half of the 250,000 apprentices currently in training.
 
ALP believes that redesigning the Foundation Learning Tier does not need to be a lengthy or difficult project. However, simply putting young people on a qualification-orientated pathway in the proposed new framework as the only means of securing funding will not only be the wrong approach, but will ensure that many will stay outside of government funded options and have no destination other than to become a further addition to the NEET group.

Imposed costs must be cut to make Train to Gain a real success

Independent learning providers and colleges at the ALP conference recommended further changes to another government flagship training programme, Train to Gain, in order to make it more viable for providers and attractive to employers.
 
Pointing out that many providers, including colleges, are delivering the programme for employers at a loss, ALP stressed that it wasn’t asking simply for more funding, but for some unnecessary costs to be stripped out of the programme’s design.
 

Employment and skills agendas move closer together

Training bosses have welcomed recent policy changes announced by DIUS and DWP ministers that are linking government employment and skills programmes closer together.
 
ALP has long argued that securing sustainable employment for the long-term unemployed and people on incapacity benefit requires pre-, and often post, employment training for Jobcentre Plus clients. Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council have now been tasked to enable more clients who have moved into jobs off New Deal programmes to acquire skills at work through the Train to Gain programme.
 
Graham Hoyle comments: “This is an encouraging development but over the longer term, ALP wants to see the Government adopt our proposals for a single professional employment and skills procurement agency serving the interests of several government departments – and possibly European and even lottery funds.”
 

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