From education to employment

A Letter to the New Education Secretary, James Cleverly

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges

AoC Chief Executive David Hughes has written to the new Education Secretary James Cleverly to outline what the new ministerial team should focus on to deliver for colleges.

Dear Secretary of State,

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Education. As I said when we spoke, I am confident that it is the best job in the cabinet, and I wish you well in it. This letter provides a bit more detail on the priorities for colleges as I see them over the summer and looking forwards.

Your appointment comes at an exciting time for colleges because of the very strong focus on technical education, skills and colleges in recent years. We are very keen to support your work because we believe colleges are vital to the government’s ambitions for the country.

At the heart of the challenge for colleges is how to ensure they are financially secure in order that they can deliver on the government’s ambitious agenda for skills. Being financially secure has become a whole lot harder with the increases in energy costs, inflation and the pressures on staff pay.

My letter is therefore focused on a few areas that could support colleges to deliver on your priorities. On each we have been working with officials and will continue to do so, but I would also welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you and your ministerial team.

1. Staff pay – Colleges are struggling to retain and attract top talent because of the widening gap between college pay and what skilled teachers could earn in industry or schools. This will hamper the rollout of T Levels and Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) as well as delivery across 16 to 18, adult, apprenticeships and ultimately result in more skills gaps and employers struggling to recruit. Amongst the solutions we are discussing with officials are more flexibilities on the additional 40 hours of learning and on the Adult Education Budget and increased funding for skills shortage subjects.

2. ONS reclassification – We believe that there are some potential benefits and wins from a reclassification, should it happen, but also risks. Our members are worried about extra rules and bureaucracy which would hamper their flexibility to meet needs and deliver on priorities. At the same time, we would urge you to press for VAT exemptions for colleges which could bring a benefit which directly impacts on learning and learners.

3. Capital project funding – This summer will see a large number of colleges commencing capital projects, with funding support from your department. In the time between bids (last year) and project start, construction costs have rocketed, and all of those increases need to be met by college reserves and borrowing, with the DfE grant being fixed. A simple inflation adjustment to grants would be straightforward and incredibly helpful.

4. Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) – We are at a crucial time for the roll-out of LSIPs, so it’s important that work continues, taking on board the lessons learned in the pilots and reflecting the recent National Audit Office (NAO) report which questioned the reliance on employers driving the skills agenda. I believe now is a good opportunity for the department to set new expectations of the partnership approach they want to see, between employers and colleges, identifying skills priorities and working together to help deliver on them.

5. T Levels – we remain as strong supporters of T Levels and have worked hard to help make them a success. It is exciting that the first cohort of students will receive their results next month and we are working with officials on plans to promote their successes. There are many challenges in this area, but there is one urgent action which I believe would help enormously – a 10% uplift on funding rates for T Levels. This would reinforce the government’s confidence and support, reflect the cost pressures on delivery and incentivise colleges to grow their T Level provision. The funding should be available from the likely underspend on the 16 to 19 overall budget which I am sure is becoming clearer to your officials.

I very much look forward to working with you and hope that we can meet soon.

Yours sincerely, David Hughes, AoC Chief Executive

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