What ALP wants to do with £11 billion isn”t really different from what ministers want to do with it.
The funding should drive forward a demand-led skills strategy where the money follows the needs of the employer and the learner. We support the concept of learning accounts and believe the whole idea of training credits is worthy of a second look, to put consumers in the driving seat. The general approach set out in recent skills and FE white papers is the right one. The issue for ALP is that my members have been frustrated at the pace of reform and we hope that Lord Leitch in his forthcoming report will inject some further impetus into the process.
Additionally, much more attention and resource needs to be invested in persuading both employers and individuals of the value to them of skill focused developments. The aspiration at the Millennium for a credible “flag waver” for skills, driving the topic up society’s agenda, has yet to be realised. A small part of £11 billion to switch society, not just the profession, on to the skills agenda would deliver massive returns. We need a champion instantly recognised by everyone.
Whatever the structural framework and whoever controls the money is of less importance than the requirement for a single funding stream for post-16 education and training. Under competitive and transparent tendering, this means that a quality provider of any type, statutory or independent, should be able to bid for a contract to deliver learning.
As the Commons education select committee said in a report recently, this should be done as much as possible under direct contracting arrangements rather than providers being coerced into franchising or partnership agreements. ALP supports voluntary arrangements where different partners bring their particular strengths to the table, but we believe that compulsion is not an efficient use of taxpayers” money.
£11 billion is a considerable investment in the mission to improve Britain’s skills. Yet, as we have seen recently with the unmet demand for Apprenticeships and the anxieties expressed about adult learning, there are competing priorities. Moving to a demand-led system therefore poses significant challenges. So in ALP’s submissions to the Government and the LSC, we have tried to be constructive in proposing solutions to them while retaining the desire to see a bolder approach.
We believe that the Government should remain steadfast in its determination to introduce “choice and contestability” into the sector. A key factor in the success of the Employer Training Pilots was the ability of employers to choose which type of provider they wanted to use. And if all types of providers are confident that they have upped their game in being “employer-facing”, then there is no case for further protectionism in the funding arrangements. One can”t have it both ways.
We wait to see whether Leitch will herald a bonfire of quangos which will grab all the headlines. But what really matters is that we reach consensus on who pays for training and that the publicly funded element is really meeting the demands of the employer and learner.
Graham Hoyle, Chief Executive, Association of Learning Providers.
Tomorrow: Lawrence Miles, Chief Officer with the Independent Organisation For Licenced Verifiers and Assessors (IVA), continues the debate exclusively to FE News
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