From education to employment

Six Themes Set to Revolutionise Further Education Sector

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has published a twenty four page prospectus setting out proposals for a dynamic programme of change in the FE sector.

Mark Haysom, Chief Executive of the LSC, believes that the prospectus, organised around the key themes of Skills for Employers, Quality, Funding, Data, Business and Reputation, will lead to a strong network of colleges working in collaboration to improve outcomes for both learners and employers. He clarified that the current proposals, resulting from work predominantly carried out with FE college principals, are relevant to the whole of the post-16 sector.

New Quality Mark Designed to Build Employer Relations

It is becoming increasingly evident that employers do not see FE as the answer to their burgeoning training and skill needs. In the 2004 National Employer Skills Survey, conducted by the LSC, only 15% of employers made use of FE to develop under-skilled workforces”.

Emphasis is being placed on creating valued bonds, whereby companies and colleges become natural partners in realising the potential rewards of a diverse workforce. The prospectus speaks of flexible training programmes delivered either at the workplace or from within world-class buildings. It mentions the positive effect that Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) have already had in raising the profile and reputation of colleges, and then champions Skills Academies as the next step forward in making the FE sector truly responsive to business needs.

Responding to employers needs for a guaranteed high-standard service the LSC proposes the introduction of an award system decided upon by an independent panel. The panel, to be chaired by an employer, will award Quality Marks according to a National Standard developed and owned by employers and colleges alike. It will allow learners and employers to make more informed choices, confident about the level of provision and training they will receive.

A Demand-led Approach with Flexible Funding

Plans to support the National Employer Training Programme (NETP) heralds the most ambitious, and perhaps controversial, of the strategies put forward. It effectively initiates a “business on demand” service whereby employers purchase the training they need through a broker, who directs resources to whichever provider can best meet the employers” requirements.

Commissioned funding, as opposed to Core funding (a relatively stable figure based on the previous year’s allocation), will allow the LSC to reward colleges with a flexible sum decided upon by the quality of provision on offer and the profile of the institution in the business community. “It will be a basic principle that colleges and other providers have to earn their business by being selected by employers as the preferred supplier, rather than being guaranteed funding in advance”.

Simplified System Low on Bureaucracy

It is estimated that the financial impact of LSC recommendations could see the recycling of over a £100 million into front-line activities by 2007-2008.

The LSC cites the Chichester College Study as a good example of how simplifying data collection as well as access to it can lead to substantial savings in both time and money. Working alongside agencies such as the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the study calls for the complete harmonisation of data requests together with a shared information base and a consistent set of data definitions for the whole sector.

In keeping with the revolutionary tone of the document is the concept of Unique Learner Identifier. A bit like an NHS number, it serves to identify an electronic record for each individual. All FE stakeholders will have access to this information, which intends to reduce the complexity of paperwork and make for a more efficient service to students.

A Vision to Follow

The LSC has hosted a series roadshows up and down the country using feedback as well as discussions from joint work with other agencies and organisations such as the DfES. It is now focused on initialising its agenda for change starting with promoting “best practice” and amplifying “the excellent reputation colleges have locally on to a national stage”.

Whilst he accepts the significance of the impending reviews by Sir Andrew Foster and Lord Sandy Leitch, Mr Mark Haysom firmly believes they are moving in the right direction; “the Government will need to take account of the agenda for change together with recommendations from the Foster and Leitch reviews in setting an overall strategy for the sector.”

Phillip Byrne

An Agenda for Change? Or Change the Agenda? Tell us in the FE Blog

Related Articles