From education to employment

Skills Bill becomes Law

Alex Burghart, Minister for Skills

New laws have been passed today through the Skills and Post-16 Education Act that will help transform the skills and training landscape and level up opportunities across the country. As the Skills and Post-16 Education Act received royal assent.

Skills to support the growing green economy will be prioritised to create a workforce for jobs now and in the future, and schools will be required to make sure all children get to meet people that provide technical education routes such as apprenticeships, T Levels or traineeships – opening their eyes to a wide range of careers.

The legislation will help economic recovery and growth by making it easier for people to train to get the skills they need to secure well-paid jobs in industries with skills gaps, such as health and social care, engineering, digital, clean energy and manufacturing. It will also give more people the opportunity to get jobs in their local areas, by requiring employers and colleges to work together to identify the skills needed within communities.

The Act underpins the government’s transformation of post-16 education and skills as set out in the Skills for Jobs White Paper and will help level up and drive growth across the whole country.

Minister for Skills Alex Burghart said:

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act will transform the skills, training and post-16 education landscape and level up opportunities across the country.

“This legislation will make sure everyone can gain the skills they need to progress into a rewarding job, and businesses have access to a pipeline of talented, qualified employees for their workforces – boosting productivity.”

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), which leads with implementing the government’s employer-led technical education reforms, said: 

“Following passage of this landmark legislation, we can look forward to creating a unified skills system which is simpler to understand and employers and learners can really trust. IfATE has empowered employers to drive up the quality of apprenticeships and roll out exciting new T Levels. The time is now right to extend the employer-led reforms across technical education.”

Key measures introduced by the Act include:

  • Supporting the creation of a unified skills system that builds from quality gains achieved with apprenticeships and T Levels by ensuring all technical qualifications match up to employers’ high standards;
  • embedding employers in the heart of the skills system by placing a legal requirement on colleges and other providers to work with employers to develop skills plans, so that the training on offer meets the needs of local areas, and people no longer have to leave their hometowns to find great jobs;
  • making sure all pupils meet providers of technical education so that they understand the wide range of career routes and training available to them, such as apprenticeships, T Levels or traineeships, not just the traditional academic options;
  • prioritising green skills so the training on offer across the country meets the needs of the growing green economy and helps gets more people into jobs;
  • supporting the transformation of the current student loans system so from 2025 learners an access a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives;
  • introducing new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve; and
  • making it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise essay mill services for financial gain to students taking a post-16 qualification at institutions in England including colleges, universities and sixth forms.

Employers in eight trailblazer areas across the country have already been working with local training providers to create skills plans that align to what local communities need. These plans are now being rolled out across the country, opening up more opportunities for people gain the skills they and businesses need to succeed.

The new measures build on the work already under way to boost skills and get more people into better jobs, including working with employers to create more apprenticeship opportunities, establishing a network of Institutes of Technology and rolling out new T Levels.

Kristofer McGhee, general counsel of IfATE, said:

“We have been delighted to work at pace to get this legislation on the statute book. Our new functions will enable IfATE to use our employer-led occupational standards as the basis for approving high-quality technical qualifications at all levels. Our new functions will also give IfATE a central role in overseeing the technical education landscape. We look forward to getting on with delivering our functions, working with our partners and stakeholders, and playing our part in improving the technical education system.”

Also see: Essay mills are now illegal – Skills Minister calls on internet service providers to crack down on advertising

Read the letter in full here.

Sector Reaction to Skills and Post-16 Education Act (Skills Bill) receiving royal assent

Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute said:  

“The Skills Bill contains some good measures, like the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, and others such as Local Skills Improvement Plans which are more of a mixed bag. Now it is in place, we need to focus on delivery. That requires more public funding to reduce the £750m real terms shortfall compared to 2010, policy reform to better support retraining and apprenticeships, and a laser-like focus on joining up support. It is these that will help to determine if these reforms stand the test of time. The passing of this Bill is not an end, it is a beginning.”

Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP

Jane Hickie, AELP Chief Executive, said:

 “Although the Skills and Post-16 Education Act receiving royal assent is welcome news, there were some key opportunities that were missed during the Bill’s passage through parliament. I am delighted that due to the lobbying of AELP and others, that more young people will have increased access to quality careers information, advice, and guidance in schools. 

“I am, however, still concerned that the costs and requirements of joining the list of providers will place an unfair burden on many of our members- particularly smaller providers- who may deliver training for niche sectors, or in more rural areas. In addition, we would like to see FE providers of all types included in the development of Local Skills Improvement Plans. We will, of course, continue to work with decision-makers on these two vital issues.”

David Hughes, AoC

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) said:

“Royal Assent for the Skills Bill being marks a significant moment in the development of skills policy and planning. We worked hard to encourage DfE that changes in policy were necessary so we welcomed the Bill because it acknowledged and reinforced vital role that further and technical education has in helping people get skills for good jobs now and in the future. We’ve been encouraged by the level of engagement MPs and Peers have had with the Bill as its progressed through Parliament, and it was great to work with them to shift the Government’s thinking on some of the key issues and to get some concessions in the legislation.

“When it was published, we said that the Bill didn’t go far enough to meet the needs of learners, employers and communities, and we think that’s still the case. We would have liked to have seen the Lifetime Skills Guarantee on the face of the Bill, the role of colleges as co-constructors of LSIPs formalised, and a commitment to look at the rules around Universal Credit conditionality to ensure more people are able to access the training they need to secure long-term, meaningful employment. And of course, none of these laudable ambitions will be possible if colleges are not funded properly to play the role envisaged for them by the Government.

“But despite its shortcomings, it’s clear that colleges are in a better position now than they have been in many years. Throughout the many debates on the Bill in Parliament over the past year, the vital role colleges play in boosting productivity, strengthening communities, and supporting individuals has been front and centre. Colleges are key to delivering on a number of Government agendas, including in green and digital skills, and on levelling-up, and I know that college leaders across the country are now ready to play their part to help ensure that the reforms are a success.“

Tom Bewick is the chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies and the presenter of the Skills World Live Radio Show

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:

“The new Skills Act marks an important moment in the country’s history regarding vocational and technical education. We now have the beginnings of a lifelong learning system in England that will give future generations, for the first time, access to public support for skills training and reskilling regardless of what age or stage they are at in their careers. That in itself is something to celebrate as it means that the ‘right to learn’ genie is firmly out of the bottle. It will be something, I’m sure, future governments will want to build on. 

“The biggest challenge of the new act will be in its implementation. Already, we’re seeing pledges made throughout the Parliamentary debates being reneged upon. For example, the Federation was assured on numerous occasions by officials that there were no plans to use new powers provided by the act to charge Awarding Organisations to have their qualifications approved. Yet, before the ink is even dry on the new legislation, we see that ministers have already instructed the Institute to develop a fees and charging regime as part of its recent update of strategic guidance to the quango. We believe that this will divert millions of pounds away from course innovation and supporting learners at the front line, as they will be forced to pay towards the overhead costs of potentially unnecessary and additional bureaucracy.”

Comment from Mark Cameron OBE, Chief Executive, The 5% Club

“Today’s Royal Ascent of the Skills Bill is another welcome milestone in the continued improvement and restoration of balance in the broader education system. The creation of a unified skills system with employers embedded at its heart is key if we are to ensure a coherent and effective response to obvious national skills shortages, which needs to be addressed if we are to remain competitive on the global stage in the post-pandemic, post-Brexit era. We also welcome the additions to the provision of career guidance, which will again ensure young people gain a more balanced perspective on the routes to work. Clearly, the move from legislation to action will not be without its difficulties – as others have commented – and it is especially important that the resultant changes are properly resourced and given time to work; that way employers have a fighting chance of keeping pace with the change and delivering the right and desired national outcome”.

Discussing the legislation change, Chris Daly, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Marketing said:

“The running of so-called “essay mills” or paid-for essay writing services are completely unethical, and profit by undermining the hard work of the vast majority of students. We therefore support the government’s decision to ban these services, and will work alongside other educational and professional bodies to continue maintaining the academic integrity of our marketing courses. 

The Chartered Institute of Marketing is an international organisation with study centres across the world, and we proudly advocate professional best practice in the marketing industry. As a result, we’ve always had a zero tolerance stance on plagiarism and have rigorous procedures in place to ensure students’ is indeed their own. 

Plagiarism and the use of essay mills are both unscrupulous forms of intellectual theft, and I’m encouraged that the government has finally recognised that.”

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