From education to employment

The big issues and threats to FE in 2016

Now 2015 is over and we’ve all recovered from the festivities, what are the big issues and threats to FE in 2016? Take a look at my top seven:

Cuts to career education, advice, information and guidance (CEAIG)

In at number one for me is the ongoing fallout from the Government’s cuts to CEAIG, which has ended any meaningful face-to-face careers’ guidance for young people. Yes, there’s still a phone service and the National Careers Service now have a brief (and a budget) to operate with a younger age group. Plus there is a plethora of online information options. But it doesn’t make up for the loss of personal contact. It’s reasonable to assume that young people simply haven’t had the information they need to make an informed choice about courses, qualifications, careers or how to prepare for their future. So this is likely to impact on further education in a big way.

Lack of clarity about the Apprenticeship Levy

Every large employer will be taxed at 0.5 per cent of their pay bill to encourage the delivery of apprenticeships. The plan appears to be that the money will go into a pool and will then be redistributed to organisations that take on apprentices to help with their placement costs. But frankly, it’s just not very clear precisely what this means or how it will operate in practice. What is clear though is that the Government has been slow and vague about getting the HMRC details to apprenticeship deliverers, including colleges, Learning Providers and large businesses. This lack of clarity and feet-dragging is a concern.

FE funding cuts

As we all know, the Government has slashed funding for FE colleges, but at the same time they’re expecting much more from them. The view from the Government is that the colleges will have the opportunity to recoup the cuts by drawing down funding when delivering apprenticeships. Unfortunately there is a mismatch in timing: colleges are not geared to do this to the level required to get the apprenticeship funds – or simply do not currently offer apprenticeships. This will lead to difficult challenges for many FE colleges.

Further Education Area Reviews

The Government is currently conducting Area Reviews, looking to see if FE colleges in England can combine functions to increase efficiency and save money. Sounds like a good idea on paper. But this kind of merging of public services hasn’t always been a resounding success: GP group practices formed under the NHS reforms of 2014, albeit more comprehensive than the proposed FE reforms, have worked well for some areas, but less so for others. My concern is how much benefit this will bring to FE colleges. Colleges are getting upset, and rightly territorial, as it could mean the closure of smaller colleges and the loss of autonomy across the board.

Devolution or Disaster?

Regional devolution in cities such as Manchester will have an impact on Further Education. Colleges are funded locally, not centrally, so they will come under the new regimes and control will be devolved along with everything else. In Manchester they’ve already signalled that there is to be a recommissioning exercise for adult education, and while this will benefit some organisations and colleges, others will undoubtedly suffer.

Prevent Duty in FE colleges

From last year, the Government placed a duty on certain bodies, including schools and FE colleges to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. All people working with children in education need to be trained under this legislation. Apart from the slightly distasteful snooping that is now required of FE teachers, there’s the added worry that teachers might be held accountable in some way if anything goes wrong. In my view, this year we’ll see the first college or teacher ‘outed’ for not snooping hard enough.

Changes to the DWP work programmes

Current contracts will expire in 2017, but the changes and impact will be filtering through during 2016. These will impact on programmes and funding for the long-term unemployed, including funding for disabled workers. Another cut to beleaguered FE colleges.

Sharon Walpole is chief executive of Walpole Media Group, which owns and other student-centric companies

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