Association of Employment and Learning Providers @AELPUK-
Ministers should be bold about introducing a demand-led system in the Further Education white paper
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has confirmed its priority wishlist in advance of the Spending Review outcome and the FE white paper, urging ministers to be bold in coming forward with reforms to benefit employers and learners. The FE system should be fully demand-led, with funding following the learner.
On apprenticeships, however, AELP argues that only some fine-tuning is required after a lengthy period of reform. The latest briefing paper from the Association points to the levy reforms causing a shift away from level 2 (intermediate) and 3 (advanced) provision with a focus on apprenticeship opportunities in SMEs towards higher level provision with greater emphasis on opportunities offered by larger employers. AELP believes a rebalancing is required.
The briefing paper reminds ministers that the government needs to recognise the whole range of providers in the system, including the value of independent training providers (ITPs), and play on their individual strengths rather than trying to manufacture a system through institutional bias. It offers clear evidence from Ofsted and the government itself that it is a complete fallacy for some to claim that ITPs deliver poorer quality than other institutions while acting as the principal salesforce for government funded skills training.
AELP has five main recommendations in its latest briefing:
- Putting apprenticeships funding on a long-term sustainable footing (including fair and proper funding for standards) – letting levy payers freely use funding while having a standalone budget for SMEs
- Funding level 2 provision more appropriately and encouraging young people to embark on life-changing vocational education pathways
- Greater investment in the adult education budget (AEB)
- Moving toward a more responsive provider market, which is effective in supporting employer need
- Continuing to move the FE system to being demand-led, with funding following the learner.
In respect of the final recommendation, AELP reiterates its longstanding belief that providing they have the safeguard of choosing from accredited courses and approved providers, adult learners should be given skills accounts to make choices themselves. It is greatly encouraging that in the run-up to the white paper’s publication, other opinion-formers feel that now is the time for them to be re-introduced.
AELP managing director Jane Hickie said,
“These priorities would be much the same if the pandemic hadn’t taken place, but Covid’s impact on jobs and young people have underlined the need to act now.
“The lockdown has starkly illustrated that learning can be delivered well in a classroom, a workplace, online, blended, full-time or part-time according to the needs and circumstances of the individual. No one can claim that a particular way is the best way anymore. Running away from the principle of the individual exercising choice over their preferred mode of learning is an outdated option.
“Success in reforming FE is intrinsically connected to the role that ITPs are allowed to play in any reform plans. In AELP’s view, the greater the role, the greater the chances of success, but the overriding principle should be that the size of that role is determined by the choices made by employers and individual learners and not by policymakers.”