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Tackling widening inequalities gap caused by Covid-19: Pearson launches expert Forum to investigate role of education, learning and skills

Today (11 May) @Pearson is launching a new Forum in the UK, bringing together experts from across education, employment and politics, to look at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on widening the inequalities gap.

 They are tasked with reviewing and defining the crucial role that access to education, learning and skills can play in reducing this gap by restarting the economy and promoting social mobility. The Forum will be chaired by Rt. Hon. Anne Milton, Minister of State for Education (2017-2019) and Minister for Women (2017-2018). 

There is a wealth of new evidence highlighting the uneven and unequal economic impact of Covid across sectors and demographic groups, with the Bank of England reporting in March that impacted sectors tend to have higher proportions of low paid workers, female workers, and there is a concentration by ethnicity as well’:  

  • Long-term (six months or more) youth unemployment has reached its highest point in five years (Institute for Employment Studies, April 2021) 
  • By January this year, according to a report by the TUC, the rate of unemployment among black, Asian and ethnic minority communities had risen from its overall average of 4.9% to 8.5% 
  • Excluding key workers, 80% in the bottom tenth of the earnings distribution are in sectors that have been forced to shut down or are unlikely to be able to do their job from home – compared with only a quarter of the highest-earning tenth. (Institute for Fiscal Studies, June 2020) 

Through a series of five evidence sessions, held between May and October this year, a range of expert witnesses will be invited to present to the Forum. A final report will be published in November 2021, bringing together the evidence collected on how widening inequalities in the COVID period have impacted access to learning and the labour market, and setting out a roadmap for addressing this. 

Cindy Rampersaud, Senior Vice President of BTEC & Apprenticeships, said: 

We know that the impact of Covid-19 has been devastating for many, with far reaching economic and social consequences. Evidence is increasingly pointing to a widening inequalities gap – deepening existing ones and creating new onesWe know that access to learning and skills is a powerful enabler for economic growth and social mobility. As we emerge into a post COVID world the role of education, learning, reskilling will be even more crucial in helping people to make progress in their lives and in restarting the economy. 

The evidence sessions will focus on four key areas, highlighting the impact of Covid-19 and recommendations on how the adverse impacts can be mitigated: 

  1. The impact of COVID on young peoples’ learning and employment  
  2. The impact of COVID on women’s learning and employment  
  3. The impact of COVID on the learning and employment of Black, Asian and minority ethnicities  
  4. The impact of COVID on local verses national disparities  

Rt. Hon. Anne Milton, Chair of the Forum, said: 

I am proud to be leading this important work, with the clear aim of driving change – to reduce widening inequalities by highlighting the extent of the problem, the benefit of getting it right, the cost of getting it wrong, and the actions we need to take. Our skills and learning sector must adjust to reflect the challenges of our current reality and be easily accessible for those who can benefit from it the most. 

Quotes from Forum members: 

Denise Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review said: 

“I am delighted to support this important work. The people who have been most impacted by the pandemic are likely to be those who were already disadvantaged, amongst them women in the workplace and young parents. The anecdotal evidence is abundant. However, the facts and practical solutions this project offers, will enable leaders in both the business and public sector to take corrective, and collective action now to address the inequality gap.” 

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said: 

“The pandemic has accentuated the inequalities in our society and education needs to step up to play a central part in a fairer, better world as lockdowns ease. This project will shine a light on how we can build back better and bring people together to think through what needs to be different in education and employment.” 

Kathy Slack OBE, Chief Executive, Enterprise M3 LEP, said: 

This work is about acting now. Being out of work is demoralising and debilitating for anyone. The prospect of long-term unemployment for young people is particularly devastating, delaying vital experience, setting back career progression, and earning power, for years. I am concerned too on the long-term impact on women and people from BAME groups. I am hoping for ideas that we within Local Enterprise Partnerships and other organisations can act on with business and employers to help offer work experience, employability skills and life chances essential to all but particularly young people who desperately want to take those first step towards successful careers.” 

The Forum’s members are 

  • Rt. Hon. Anne Milton, Chair, Minister of State for Education (2017-2019) and Minister for Women (2017-2018) 
  • Cindy Rampersaud, Senior Vice President of BTEC & Apprenticeships, Pearson Plc 
  • Kate Ambrosi, Assistant Director of Education, Baker Dearing Education Trust (Baker Dearing) 
  • Sir Nic Dakin, Director of Skills and Training, Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, Shadow Minister (Education) (2015-2016) 
  • Dr Darrell DeSouza, Principal and Chief Executive, Harrow College & Uxbridge College (HCUC) 
  • Jeff Greenidge, Director for Diversity, Education and Training Foundation (ETF) and Association of Colleges (AoC) 
  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC) 
  • Yvonne Kelly, Principal and CEO, ‎Barking & Dagenham College 
  • Janet Legrand QC (Hon), Chair, The Children’s Society, Senior Lay Member of Court at the University of Edinburgh  
  • Siân Owen, Director of Stakeholder and Portfolio Management, BTEC & Apprenticeships, Pearson Plc 
  • Siobhan Randell, Senior Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Manager, Multiverse 
  • Kathy Slack OBE, Chief Executive, Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership  
  • Denise Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review 
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