From education to employment

Pilots for Increasing Participation to start in 2006

In an effort to accelerate England’s move from one of the lowest participation rates for 17 year olds in education in Europe to one of the highest, the Treasury has announced funding for new Activity and Learning Agreements.

These new agreements, which represent a personal contract between 16 and 17year olds who are not in education, not in the workforce or lacking in basic skills and their respective personal advisor, are set to be piloted in twelve areas starting in April 2006. The schemes are expected to cost some £140 million, and will provide financial support to the youths involved in return for their participation in education or vocational / basic skills training.

The Basic Skills Drive

This announcement comes in the wake of the LSC budget allocation announcement where the Government targets of encouraging basic skills levels and participation amongst students up the age of 18 were focused upon. This proved to be unpopular with a number of FE service providers as the money that will be pushed into Level 2 and basic skills training will from necessity take some funding away from adult education courses.

The Government, however, see this as an essential step to ensure Britain’s competitive status in the coming century especially in the face of increased competition from the developing world. Alongside the Foster Review (which is due to report later this year) on the FE sector, the Treasury has commissioned a report entitled the Leitch review to determine the skills that will be needed in the year 2020. This will allow the Governments in the intervening years to target education and development projects more efficiently with a long term goal in mind.

The Division of Funds

The schemes are due to be piloted in Greater Manchester, Greater Merseyside, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Central London, East London, Kent & Medway, The Black Country, Cornwall and Devon, Tyne & Wear, and Essex, Southend and Thurrock, and it is hoped that they will reach around 30,000 16 to 17 year olds during their operation. It joins the recently expanded Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in the campaign to increase and prolong participation in education amongst 16 ““ 18 year olds.

The funding will be divided between two areas. £60 million will be used to fund the Activity Agreement and Allowance pilot schemes in 8 of the areas detailed above. These schemes target 16 and 17 year olds who have dropped out of education and are also currently out of work. They will be provided with between £20 and £40 each week on the understanding that they either return to education or training (which can include work ““ based training).

The remaining £80 million is to be used in the funding of Learning Agreement pilots in 8 of the areas. They will be aimed at 16 and 17 year olds who are currently in work but are not receiving any accredited training. The purpose of the funding in this instance is twofold. Firstly, it will be used to support training for further qualifications and thus provide a better skilled workforce. Secondly, it will be used to assess the impact of such subsidies on employers who allow their employees time off for further training.

The Ministerial Team Back Pilots

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown welcomed the move, saying: “Because we are determined to move from one of the lowest rates of participation in education at age 17 in the developed world to one of the highest, we are announcing new approaches and new support for our most disadvantaged young people.” He stressed the importance of the schemes in helping young people to “get into work and learning and fulfill their potential.”

In a move that brings England closer to the Scottish model (where the education system is more cohesive and carries through from age 3 up to 18), Mr. Brown said: “One of the biggest changes this Government is making is to extend the years of education which used to be 11 years, between the ages of 5 and 16, to 15 years, from the ages of 3 to 18. Our objective is that every young person has the skills they need for the modern workplace.”

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, Margaret Hodge, agreed, saying: “These pilots will help us identify how we can best encourage those young people most at risk of disengagement to undertake the sort of activity that will help improve their confidence and their skills.” And the Minister for Children and Families concurred, pointing out the growing need for skills training and expansion when saying: “Learning and skills will be more vital to success for young people in the future so I am really pleased that we have the opportunity to test some options to re-engage more young people in learning. It is important that we encourage young people to increase their skill levels for their future work prospects, and quality of life.”

Jethro Marsh

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