From education to employment

Funding, Apprenticeship Reforms, And The Changing Role Of ESFA: Tom Talks To Eileen Milner for #SkillsWorld

Tom talks to Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education Skills Funding Agency

This week for Skills World, Tom Bewick is joined by Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education Skills Funding Agency, to discuss Funding, Apprenticeship Reforms, and the changing role of ESFA.

Should ESFA just focus on funding?

What we are doing now is consolidating the position that the agency has occupied for the past couple of years.

Funding is in our title, and funding is incredibly important to the agency, ESFA distribute about 1 pound in 10 that the taxpayer spends. That is a huge undertaking, so fundamentally funding is a core activity for us.

Before the announcements of changes that happened in September, about us taking on all of the policy responsibility for skills and technical education including T levels and apprenticeships, it is important to realise that we have been deploying oversight, working with providers, across schools, across further education, across independent training providers for a significant period of time.

We’ve been at the heart of driving apprenticeship reform. In terms of T levels, we’ve already been working with colleagues who’ve now joined us fully, around developing what the placement process might look like.

It might look as if this is mission drift, but I would say it’s better described as consolidating things which are the best done together, into one place, into an organisation whose whole DNA is about getting things done. Which I think is probably what we’d all want to see happen in the spaces that we’re responsible for.

So, it’s a very exciting time for the ESFA, it’s a very challenging time, but I am ever more convinced that we are the right shape for the task in hand.


With The Drop In Apprenticeship Starts, And Employers Not Fully Utilising Their Levy Funds, Do You Still Think These Are Just Short-term Teething Problems?

I think there is a clear commitment to see the reforms through, I wouldn’t want anybody to think that there isn’t.

Everybody who I’ve met during my time, having come back to education from health, what I’ve been impressed by is the focus, and sense of purpose that is around skills and technical education, that this is not a nice to have, it is an essential for the country. So, I’ve been enormously impressed by that.

The challenge that exists in this space is to work with the learner, work with employer and for us to work with the other bodies around this, to make sure that it feels straight forward to run an apprenticeship program.

Having come from a Levy paying employer, it did take me some time to get my head round:

  • What did it mean that I was paying this bill?
  • What were the opportunities that came with it?
  • How did that require that we thought differently about our workforce?

So, I think one of the biggest challenges is that of giving time and giving support, particularly for employers to think about the opportunity that exists. To really think about the workforce you need today, but probably more importantly, the workforce you need tomorrow.

To make sure enough time is set aside to actually at very senior levels be talking about those issues, then to use the Levy monies to actually drive the development in that workforce in entirely positive ways, so you are getting the return on investment that you would expect any other area that you put your money into.

I think this is going to take time, it’s going to take determination, but we can already see some employers who’ve grasped this challenge and are really just beacons of good practice. They will not say it’s easy, but they’ll say that with determination it is worth it.

We’ve got to get everybody having a sense of that, so I’m encouraged by what we are seeing already, and I think it will build overtime, a bit like a snowball that gathers momentum as it goes.

Do You Feel We Have A Coherent Institutional Architecture, With Clear Lines Of Accountability, Roles And Remit? Or Could You See That Changing?

At one level it looks awfully complex. But I think the complexity comes from the fact that we have a number of new bodies which are learning their way through this, and we’ve got organisations who have to work with them, who are also learning their way through it.

As we start to demonstrate what the value is of each component part, I think that complexity will settle down, and just become part of the norm.

We may find some reshaping, it would be arrogant to say that absolutely with certainty we can say that none of this might have to recalibrate a little bit. Actually, what we’ve got to be humble enough to say is that as we go, we learn, that is only right to do.

Through everything that we do for the first time, we learn something about the behaviour of the new system that we’ve created.

In that new system I think we will see people saying, well actually if we do this again, we might do it slightly differently, but learning to work together.

I’m very taken with a notion from earlier in my career, when I worked in Australia, that was the mantra there in terms of reform:

Always keep the wiring behind the counter.

So that from the perspective of the person who had to interact with something, or was the customer of it, even if there is complexity, there’s always complexity, they shouldn’t always be so apparent.

What we are doing at the moment, is just trying to get our wiring a bit tidier.

Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education Skills Funding Agency, talking to Tom Bewick for this week’s episode of Skills World.

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Despite best endeavours to ensure accuracy, text based on transcription may contain errors which could alter the intended meaning of any portion of the reported content. Speakers have not had the opportunity for any corrections.

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