The Levelling Up White Paper was both long awaited and long, clocking in at 332 pages. It includes a list of the largest cities in the world since 7000BC, the sort of essay padding any student would be proud of.
On the other hand, the White Paper is a statement of intent and puts some flesh on the bones of what levelling up means, defining it as local pride, local control and greater equality of opportunity.
In the words of Secretary of State Michael Gove, you should be able to stay local and go far.
Why does lifelong learning matter in this? There’s a direct link. Greater access to learning and skills helps people access more and better jobs and employers to be more productive. Learning should also be a golden thread running through lots of other policy areas.
Research by Learning and Work Institute (L&W) has shown how learning can support health and well-being as well as civic engagement, and therefore the white paper’s aims to narrow gaps in life expectancy and to increase local pride and control.
Put simply, if you want to ‘level up’ you need lifelong learning.
An Historic Challenge
Levelling up might be a new(ish) phrase, but it’s not a new challenge. The 1934 Special Areas Act directed extra investment at high unemployment areas. L&W research shows that many of the same areas still need ‘levelling up’ now.
And this mustn’t just be about geographic areas. What about different groups of people, such as disabled people and lone parents? We need to make sure that who you are and where you’re from doesn’t limit what you can achieve.
Mission 6: Skills and Training
L&W is pleased that increasing adult learning is one of the targets – missions – in the paper. The Government wants 200,000 more adults to improve their skills each year in England by 2030, of whom 80,000 should be in the bottom third of local authorities for Level 3 attainment.
But this is a pretty unambitious goal: Learning and Work Institute research shows it would reverse just one quarter of the falls in adult attainment seen since 2010.
No New Investment
This is linked to the lack of new investment in the White Paper. That shouldn’t surprise anyone since it’s only a few months since the Spending Review. It’s welcome that adult skills budgets are increasing after a decade of cuts. But it is impossible to level up on the cheap and we will still be spending £750 million less in real terms on adult skills in 2025 compared with 2010. We need a higher ambition for public investment in lifelong learning.
Following in the Footsteps
The fact we’re just after a Spending Review and a Skills White Paper also explains why there’s little in the way of new lifelong learning policy in the White Paper. This means we have the same positives and flaws as we did before.
The positives include the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (Level 4-6) and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which includes free training for a first full Level 3 for certain qualifications, and from April 2022 free training for unemployed and low paid adults seeking retraining at Level
3. The challenge is to promote these in areas where qualifications are currently lowest.
But there’s not enough focus on improving access to essential skills – where take-up has fallen 63% in a decade – or how lifelong learning and other public services can better join up. Both of these are essential to make levelling up a reality and we need greater support for people’s living costs while learning too.
Chance for change
One of the most potentially positive aspects of the White Paper is the framework it provides for devolution, setting out the policy areas different geographies could pitch for. That includes the prospect of the Adult Education Budget being devolved in more areas, and various metro mayors pitching for greater devolution too, such as of 16-18 funding.
L&W hopes this is a step away from the piecemeal approach we’ve often had to date, with local areas having to bid for multiple, short-term, small pots of money. It offers the opportunity for places to demonstrate how they’d do things differently.
However, the Government should go further toward the Canadian model where funds are devolved to local government in a single budget tied to outcome agreements that show what will be achieved and how, with robust evaluation plans.
You shouldn’t have to go far to get on. Delivering that will be a long haul so the White Paper must just be the start.
We should aim for more ambitious devolution of employment and skills programmes underpinned by an evidence-based approach and commitment to improved outcomes for people, building on the Canadian model of Local Labour Market Agreements.
We need to build a pathway of skills progression that includes greater opportunities to improve essential skills and target efforts to increase take-up among groups and areas with the lowest engagement today.
We should make lifelong learning the golden thread running through efforts to level up, including strategies for local economic growth and to tackle health inequalities.
Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute
Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere
Campaign for Learning’s paper Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere, is a collection of 18 articles and recommendations by leading stakeholders and thinkers across the post-16 education and skills sector.
The paper covers six key considerations for the Levelling Up agenda – national and place based strategies, young people, lifelong training, lifelong learning and post-16 providers.
As the articles show, from the perspective of post-16 education and skills policy, levelling up is about people as well as places – the policy canvas is vast, the perspectives diverse and the insights important.
Together, our authors demonstrate the need for strong, nationally based as well as place based strategies if everyone, everywhere aged 16 and over are to level up through education and skills’
Part 1: Levelling Up and National and Place
- Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice, University of Manchester - Levelling Up and the Department for Education
- Sam Freedman, Research Fellow, Institute for Government – Levelling Up and Post-16 Education and Skills
- Fiona Aldridge, Head of Skills Insight, West Midlands Combined Authority – Levelling Up the West Midlands by 2030
- Mark Hilton, Policy Director, London First – Levelling Up London by 2030
Part 2: Levelling Up and Young People
- Geoff Barton, General Secretary, ASCL - Levelling Up and Education: Lots of Stuff but Little Substance
- Sam Tuckett, Senior Researcher, Education Policy Institute – Levelling Up 16-19 Education
- Becci Newton, Director of Public Policy and Research, IES – Levelling Up Participation by 16-18 Year Olds
- Kathleen Henehan, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Resolution Foundation – Levelling Up 18-24 Year Olds in England
Part 3: Levelling Up and Lifelong Training
- Olly Newton, Executive Director, The Edge Foundation - Placing Vocational Education at the Heart of Levelling Up
- Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC – Higher Technical Education, Higher & Degree Apprenticeships and Levelling Up
- Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford – The Role of Employer Training in Levelling Up
Part 4: Levelling Up and Lifelong Learning
- Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, L&W – Levelling Up in England through Lifelong Learning
- Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX – Levelling Up as a Nation of Lifelong Learning
- Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA – The Future of Adult Learning is in the Hands of Local Leaders
Part 5: Levelling Up and Post-16 Providers
- David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges – Well-Funded Colleges to Serve Every Community
- Nick Hillman, Director, HEPI – A ‘Higher Education Institute’ in Every Community
- Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK – Levelling Up and Widening Participation into Higher Education
- Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP – Levelling Up is as much about People as Places