From education to employment

FE sector reacts to Spending Review

Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a £11.5bn cuts package today that was brought on by slower than expected economic growth and deficit reduction. However, there was some good news for the Further Education sector with an extension of traineeships to 19 to 24 year olds.

Below are the initial reactions of key figures in the FE sector on the measures announced for 2015-2016.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, which represents 27 of England’s largest FE colleges, said: “We understand money is tight and continue to emphasise that colleges are highly efficient and offer exceptional value for money. We believe that Further Education colleges are the best-placed institutions to implement new initiatives such as traineeships; to deliver high-quality vocational training; and to make sure learners and employers understand their own financial responsibilities.

“The required savings from FE will impact on many more people’s ability to undertake learning and to improve their skills. However, this highlights the moral responsibility that employers have to fund skills development and also brings into sharp focus the need to make sure that more young people can access vocational education at 14 (via further education colleges), to ensure that more people are on the right vocational track sooner.”

Peter Roberts, chair of the 157 Group and chief executive of Leeds City College, said: “We welcome the extension of traineeships to those aged 19 to 24 and are keen to engage with the proposed consultation on transferring apprenticeship funding directly to employers, but believe that the focus must be on establishing meaningful strategic partnerships between colleges and employers that benefit learners, rather than on a battle for funding.”

Commenting on plans to create a Single Local Growth Fund, he also said: “We will work constructively with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to make sure that funding continues to be directed towards vital skills and economic recovery, but we believe this work is in its early stages in many parts of the country and so we are heartened to see that the Single Local Growth Fund is of a smaller magnitude than had been proposed. We look forward to more details, in tomorrow’s publication, of how the fund is intended to work.”

Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “By committing the Government to taking money out of students’ pockets through cuts to Nick Clegg’s National Scholarship Programme, George Osborne has turned his back on those for those who are not able to rely on financial support from their families.

“The Chancellor has shown a casual disregard for the realities of students’ lives, at a time when more than half worrying not being able to meet basic expenses like food, rent and heating and facing an £8,500 shortfall between the rising cost of living and available financial support.

“Student support is not a prize for getting into university, it is a vital lifeline for students that can be the difference between getting a degree or dropping out. The fact that unscrupulous loan sharks are preying upon students shows how serious the financial problems of many have become, and today’s announcements stand to make that worse, not better.”

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), said: “It is good that the government has listened and is extending traineeships to 19 to 24-year-olds, but we are worried about further cuts to provision for this age group, as highlighted in the spending review equalities assessment. Given the very high rate of unemployment for young people in this age group, education and training should be given top priority as an investment in the future. IfL thinks that extending loans would not be sensible, given the uncertainty about whether the 24+ advanced learning loans can work.

“Our members working in Esol provision need proper resourcing and support to deliver the chancellor’s in-welfare reform for claimants needing English language training, which we hope will not be at the expense of learning opportunities for other adults. We trust that consultations will be accessible to teaching and training professionals, and will take place to a measured timescale of many weeks over the summer.

“IfL welcomes the chancellor’s commitment to investment in the nation’s infrastructure and his recognition that ‘we need intellectual infrastructure and capital too’, but deeply regrets that this does not extend to investments in the intellectual capital in further education. The economy sorely needs investment in expert teaching and training to generate more skilled young people and adults for growth and competitiveness, and with more than a million young people not in employment, education or training, a 6 per cent cut to the BIS budget – including a reduction of £260m in further education – does not make sense.”

Chris Jones, chief executive of awarding body City & Guilds, said: “Whilst we welcome additional funding for apprenticeships and the commitment towards increasing the number of studio schools and University Technical Colleges, it is disappointing that further education, once again, seems to have been targeted in the Government’s attempts to balance the books.”

“If we are serious about enabling more people to have access to high quality vocational qualifications, the Government needs to look again at the funding being made available. Often the further education budget helps those individuals who have been let down by the school system by offering them another chance to learn, develop their potential and gain the skills they need for the workplace. It is vital that this option continues to be available and is extended to even more people.”

“Further cuts also have the potential threaten economic recovery. At a time when employers are telling the Government that they need a highly skilled workforce to invest and thrive in the UK, cutting the further education budget will make it more difficult to recruit people with the skills they need.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “While it is clear that Ministers have fought hard to protect education budgets in the latest funding review, the Chancellor’s announcement of a £260 million cut to the further education and skills budget is disappointing news.

“This equates to a cut of 10% to further education colleges; while this may not be as dire as some anticipated, it will result in a reduction of one third of the adult skills budget since 2010.

“We are pleased that funding for apprenticeships has been retained, traineeships extended to 18 to 24-year-olds and some elements of adult learning protected. However there are likely to be some significant consequences for colleges and their ability to support businesses and students in a time of economic recovery.

“Some of the finer detail is not yet clear; we need to better understand how the transfer of capital funding to the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) would work, for instance. We welcome the opportunity for colleges to work in partnerships with LEPs on local skills needs but there needs to be further clarity on college capital funding after 2015. Over the last four years the capital investment received by colleges has been well used, allowing them to be more responsive to the needs of students, businesses and communities while helping to sustain local growth. It would be ironic if a move to a single infrastructure budget constrained current good practice.

“We will also be seeking to understand how proposals requiring benefit claimants with poor spoken English to improve their language skills will be funded – 80% of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students currently study at a college.

“Colleges will be keen to contribute to the consultation on the major reform of apprenticeship funding to be held over the summer in order to ensure that any increase in the number of employers able to access funding does not reduce efficiency, and that we do not subsidise training that businesses had planned to fund themselves; in these straitened times, there seems to be little justification for Government to pay deadweight costs for training to profitable companies.

“We would expect further information from the Department for Education (DfE) on how the review will impact funding for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds, the majority of whom study in college, and welcome yesterday’s statement on school efficiency. AoC looks forward to working with DFE to tackle the problem of uneconomic sixth forms and to spread good practice on staff management and efficiency as developed by colleges.”

David Hughes, chief executive of National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), said: “Ahead of today’s Spending Review we made a number of proposals which illustrated how increased investment in adult learning was a way of aiding deficit reduction. Research clearly shows how learning for adults boosts skills levels, improves employability, ensures better health and improves children’s performance at school.

“The six per cent cut to the BIS budget may be lower than some expected, however, of major concern is the £400m cut in funding for HE and FE in 2015-16, within which is a reduction of £260m in FE, ‘from spending on adult skills’. It’s vital for the Government to confirm exactly where this cut will fall so we can anticipate both the short and longer-term impacts on the broader social and economic value of adult learning.

“NIACE now understands that the £210m Community Learning budget and funding for the National Careers Service are to be protected in cash terms. Both these investments were crucial to our pre-Spending Review proposals.

“The £2bn per year for the single pot for the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships is far lower than the initial Lord Heseltine proposals. This clearly doesn’t reflect the level of ambition that LEPs were anticipating and may lead some employers to question the Government’s commitment to devolved skills funding.

“We await more detail on a number of other issues, not least the ‘mandated’ requirement for ESOL classes for benefit claimants with ‘poorly spoken English’. Any steps that help people get into work are welcome. However questions remain over who will provide these courses at the appropriate Entry Level required and we caution that this should not be at the expense of opportunities for other adult learners.

“We welcome the investments in Apprenticeships including that 19+ Apprenticeships will be maintained in real terms, the extension of Traineeships to 19 – 24 year olds, the investment in science and the £50m National Scholarship Programme to support postgraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The announcement of health & social care integration will be crucial as we adapt to an ageing population. Adult learning can play a significant role here to enable more people to live healthier and productive lives for longer, reducing demand on high-cost statutory services.

“Some of today’s measures show a recognition by Government of the importance of investing in education across all ages, a point reinforced in the recent CBI survey which stated that, ‘there is no more important issue facing this country than education’. NIACE will continue to press the case for all ages to learn throughout their lives. This is essential for Britain’s social and economic well-being.”

Stewart Segal, chief executive designate of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: “Continuing cuts in budgets will inevitably put pressure on funding and eligibility.  However the commitment to the Apprenticeship programme and Traineeships means that the limited budgets will be focussed on where the investment can have most impact.  Any changes to the Apprenticeship programme need to build on this success so that we do not disrupt the investment that employers and providers are already making to drive quality delivery.

“Similarly the focus on providing support for the unemployed is just as important and we need to ensure that providers have the flexibility to integrate the different programmes available.”

On help for the unemployed, he said: “Clearly we will need to see more details of the changes as they emerge but in the short term we know the focus has to be on making sure the new Traineeship programme is launched effectively and the continuing review of Apprenticeships builds on the momentum we have seen in the last couple of years.”

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