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Key Universal Credit amendment secured in Lords debate on The Skills and post-16 Education Bill

Baroness Barran, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System

As the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill had it’s second day of debate in the report stage in the House of Lords, a key amendment on Universal Credit was passed.

AoC's David Hughes

Responding to the outcome, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, David Hughes said: 

“Cutting Universal Credit whilst blocking people’s ability to train and upskill their way into good jobs is just plain wrong at any time, but when employers are crying out for people with skills then it is even more baffling. We should be removing barriers to access, not adding to them, helping to make the labour market more effective.

“This is an important moment as the House of Lords rejects the government’s muddled approach and forces them to think again. We need an urgent review into the system to make sure that the welfare and skills systems are working in tandem.”

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] makes provision to implement policies set out in the Government’s ‘Skills for Jobs‘ white paper, published in January 2021.

Key aims include improving employers’ involvement in planning for local training provision and enabling flexible access to further education and training for adults irrespective of age. 

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill Report stage – line by line examination of the Bill – took place on 12 October. Amendments discussed covered clauses 1, 4 and 7 of the Bill.

A second day of report stage is scheduled for 21 October.


SKILLS AND POST-16 EDUCATION BILL: GOVERNMENT AMENDMENTS FOR REPORT

6th Oct 2021: Letter from Baroness Barran to Peers regarding the Government amendments for report:

My Lords,

I am looking forward to working with you in my new role as the Lords Minister in the Department for Education and in particular, supporting the Skills and Post16 Education Bill’s passage through the House.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Baroness Berridge during the earlier stages of the Bill.

This letter aims to provide you with details of the amendments that the Government is tabling ahead of Report Stage. Report stage is due to take place on the 12 and 18 October, following the recess.

There are six sets of amendments that the Government intends to bring forward:

  1. • Lifelong Loan Entitlement – amendments to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA);
  2. • Local skills improvement plans – a technical fix relating to devolution interactions with Wales, and a substantial amendment to introduce a requirement for consideration of net zero, adaptation to climate change, and other environmental goals on the face of the Bill;
  3. • List of post-16 education or training providers – a technical fix expressly to allow conditions for being on the list to contain discretionary elements;
  4. • Essay mills – introducing clauses to ban the provision of cheating services in England and Wales for students at sixth forms, post-16 and higher education providers in England;
  5. • Careers information and guidance – introducing minimum requirements for providers of technical education and apprenticeships to have access to schools on the face of the Bill; and
  6. • Designation of 16-19 academies with a religious character – allowing faith sixth-form college corporations to become academies with a religious designation.

Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) – amendments to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA) 

During Committee Stage, there was a robust and engaging debate on the LLE clauses in the Bill. In that debate, the Government set out its intention to bring forward further amendments at Report Stage, which would introduce powers to enable the setting of fee limits for modules under the LLE policy.

Over the summer, the Government has carefully considered the concerns that were raised. After concluding further policy work, we have decided that it would be best not to lay these amendments ahead of consulting on the LLE.

This is because the consultation will inform the policy details of the LLE, and we want to ensure that we get every aspect of it right. The Government intends to publish the LLE consultation in due course.

The Government will continue to develop the policy of fee limits for modules, engaging with stakeholders and Parliament and, following the LLE consultation, will bring forward new primary legislation.

Therefore, the Government will not bring forward an amendment relating to Section 11 of HERA as was tabled at Committee. The Section 11 amendment directly related to the introduction of modular fee limits, which we now believe should be provided for as an entire package in future primary legislation. We remain committed to introducing the LLE from 2025 and this change will have no impact on the timing of the introduction of the policy.

You will also recall that the Government laid amendments on the LLE at Committee Stage.

I can set out here that the Government intends to re-table the majority of these amendments, which whilst more technical in nature, are still an important part of laying the legislative foundation for the LLE.

These will be proposed changes to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA) and include:

  • • Amendments to section 83(1) and section 85(1) which further amend the definition of “higher education course” to make clear that there are two categories of such a course (full courses and modules). They also introduce a new defined term – “full course” which is an HE course which is not a module of another course;
  • • An amendment to section 9 which ensures certain existing information sharing or publication requirements apply less onerously in relation to modules than they might otherwise have done; and,
  • • Paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 2 which corrects an anomaly relating to when a provider has to have a high quality rating in order to charge the Teaching Excellence Framework tuition fee uplift.

I attach a copy of these proposed amendments as an annex to this letter below, with a description of its associated policy objectives and functional impact. These amendments were discussed in detail at Committee and withdrawn to allow your Lordships to consider further these amendments for Report.

I hope you will agree that these amendments are not contentious and will be happy to support these changes. Should you wish to discuss these amendments in detail further, please get in touch with the Bill team, who would be happy to arrange a further briefing.

There is one other amendment that was tabled at Committee, which the Government will not bring forward at Report stage. This relates to Section 65 of HERA. Section 65 related to the frequency of data publication in respect of modules.

Following further work with the Office for Students, we have determined that it would be better to engage further and test the balance of transparency for learners and burden on providers with stakeholders before making this change.

Local skills improvement plans

The Government is bringing forward two amendments in relation to local skills improvement plans. The first is technical in nature, and is intended to ensure that the legislation has the intended policy effect.

The Government, after discussion with the Welsh Government, has agreed that it must clarify how the duties set out in the Bill might affect Welsh providers.

The policy intent of this change is to ensure that providers will only be subject to the duties in respect of any post-16 technical education for provision that is funded by the Secretary of State, and so long as it meets the existing requirement of being material to a specified area in England.

This will ensure that we do not inadvertently impact the devolved powers of the Senedd. The second amendment will introduce a specific requirement to consider net zero, adaptation to climate change, and other environmental goals in developing local skills improvement plans on the face of the Bill.

This was an issue of significant discussion during Committee, and the Government has heard clearly the concerns raised by peers.

In developing local skills improvement plans, employer representative bodies will need to have regard to critical national priorities as set out in statutory guidance. Supporting a green industrial revolution and accelerating our path to net zero is clearly such a priority and local skills systems will need to support the increasing number of jobs relating to climate change and environmental goals.

This amendment will require the Secretary of State to be satisfied that skills, capabilities or expertise required in relation to jobs that directly or indirectly support the net zero target, adaptation to climate change, and other environmental goals have been considered by employer representative bodies in the process of developing a plan.

As we have already seen through the trailblazers, net zero, green technology and decarbonisation are common themes in terms of local priorities.

List of post-16 education or training providers

This is an amendment that is technical in nature, which affects clause 18 of the Bill on the list of post-16 education or training providers. The policy intent of this change is expressly to allow for the regulations setting out the conditions for being on the list to include an element of discretion when it comes to considering whether that condition has been met.

This ensures that a level of judgement could be applied by the Secretary of State or another suitable person or organisation (to be set out in the regulations) when considering if providers meet a condition – for example, in relation to deciding if a student support plan is of a reasonable quality. This will ensure that the policy can be applied in a sensible and proportionate way.

Essay mills

The issue of cheating services has been a long-standing issue that your Lordships have rightly raised during the passage of the Bill, and in particular from Lord Storey. We have listened, and the Government is bringing forward amendments relating to essay mills.

These provisions will make it a criminal offence in England and Wales, to provide, arrange or advertise cheating services, in commercial circumstances, to students who are either taking regulated qualifications at, sixth forms, and other post-16 education providers in England, or who are enrolled at HE providers in England.

It would make it clear that such services are illegal and thus act as a strong deterrent to providers of such essay writing services. The Government is continuing to discuss with the devolved administrations on how a UK-wide approach can be taken to these proposals.

Careers information and guidance

The Government is bringing forward amendments to the legislation that governs providers access to schools which will introduce a set of minimum requirements that is easy for schools and providers to follow and has very clear measures of compliance. This was an important issue raised by Lord Baker and other peers during Committee.

These amendments will ensure that every pupil has sufficient time with providers of approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships to allow them to build up a full picture of the options available, leading to well-informed choices about education and training options at key transition points.

Specifically, the Government proposes to amend the Education Act 1997, so that all pupils will have two mandatory encounters with providers of approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships. This will be one encounter in either year 8 or year 9 (before 28 February if in year 9) and again in either year 10 or year 11 (before 28 February if in year 11). A third encounter must be arranged for pupils in either year 12 or 13 but will be optional for the pupils to attend.

This strikes the right balance between widening access to providers to ensure that pupils have information about all of their options at key decision points in a school year, while managing the burden on schools. We want to retain some flexibility for schools to manage provider encounters across each key phase and not limit them to a narrow window every year that could lead to congestion.

We also want to safeguard the quality of provider encounters, by having legislation that will set parameters around their duration and content. If needed, secondary legislation can specify the number and types of providers that are to be included in each encounter.

Designation of 16-19 academies with a religious character

The Government is bringing forward amendments to provide the Secretary of State with an order making power to enable the designation of 16-19 academies with a religious character. This important issue was raised by Lord Touhig during Committee and met with broad agreement across the House.

The effect of this would be to allow sixth form colleges converting to 16-19 academies and new 16-19 academies to be designated with a religious character.

This will enable existing sixth form college corporations with a faith character to convert to become academies while still retaining the freedoms and protections they require due to their religious character.

Conclusion

The Government is tabling these amendments now in order to give you sufficient time to scrutinise these proposals ahead of the first day of Report.

I have included a set of supplementary policy notes as an annex to this letter, to support you in understanding these proposed measures and to address wider issues that were raised during Committee.

I hope you find this letter informative, and I am very happy to meet colleagues to discuss the Bill ahead of Report stage. 

Yours sincerely,

BARONESS BARRAN, PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE


The Skills and post-16 Education Bill and £83 million Post-16 Capacity fund launched today

18th May 2021: New #SkillsBill to transform skills and training, levelling up opportunities across the country 

The Skills and post-16 Education Bill will be introduced in Parliament today (18 May), underpinning the government’s skills and training revolution.

The Skills Bill was mentioned during the Queen’s Speech last week and today FE News has an exclusive article from Gavin Williamson outlining his vision to put skills at the top of an ambitious legislative agenda, to transform the education landscape in this country.

The Bill comes as new figures show that further and technical education provision is already estimated to boost the economy by £26 billion, generated from the training started by adults in further education in 2018/19 over their working lives.

The new analysis by the government “Measuring the net present value of further education in England“, demonstrates  the importance of further and technical education to the country’s economic recovery, highlighting the need for greater parity between further and higher education.

This sets the stage for a new outlook for post-16 education where every young adult has a range of opportunities open to them, removing the illusion that a degree is the only path to a good career.

The reforms outlined in the Bill will help to create more routes into skilled employment in sectors the economy needs such as engineering, digital, clean energy and manufacturing, so more people can secure well-paid jobs in their local areas, levelling up the nation and supporting communities to thrive.

A range of policies are already in place to deliver the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, as set in a speech by the Prime Minister last year.

Today, a new fund has been launched to future proof post-16 provision with a £83 million Post-16 Capacity fund.

Providers are invited to bid for a share of the fund, which will support projects to create more space for areas where there is due to be a demographic increase in 16-19 year olds in the 2022/23 academic year.

This could include building more classroom space or technical teaching facilities, so providers can continue to offer places to every young person who needs one.

Gavin Williamson 100x100

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Talent is everywhere in our country and the Skills and post-16 Education Bill marks a significant milestone in our journey to transform the skills, training and post-16 education landscape and level up opportunities across the country.

“This legislation will be vital so we can make sure everyone can gain the skills they need to get a great job locally and businesses have access to the qualified employees they need to thrive.“We’re also investing £83 million to create more classrooms and high-quality teaching facilities, to ensure that colleges can keep up with demand and offer a training place for all 16-19 year olds that want one.”

The key measures introduced in today’s Bill are:

  1. Embedding employers in the heart of the skills system, by making it a legal requirement that employers and colleges collaborate to develop skills plans so that the training on offer meets the need of local areas, and so people no longer have to leave their home-towns to find great jobs.
  2. Supporting the transformation of the current student loans system which will give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives.
  3. Introducing new powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, and to direct structural change where needed to ensure colleges improve. 

By the age of 25 only 4% achieve a higher technical qualification compared to 33% who get a degree or above 

Many of the skills that employers are demanding require intermediate or Higher Technical Qualifications – but only four per cent of young people achieve a qualification at higher technical level by the age of 25 compared to the 33 per cent who get a degree or above.

Evidence also shows these qualifications can lead to jobs with higher wages than degrees. 

The measures in today’s Bill will bring greater parity between further and higher education, and help to deliver the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, ensuring everyone is given the chance to gain the skills they need, when they need them, as set out earlier this year in the Skills for Jobs White Paper.

  • The Skills for Jobs White Paper forms a key part of the government’s Plan for Jobs which is protecting, supporting and creating jobs across the country and will help everyone to benefit from the opportunities available to them. 
  • A recent survey by the Social Market Foundation suggested that more people would prefer their children to learn a trade than go to university, further demonstrating the value the public see in the excellent opportunities vocational and technical qualifications can lead to. 
  • The 16-19 Capacity fund is part of a wider programme of significant, long-term investment in the buildings and facilities the country needs to delivery world class skills training – including the £1.5bn FE Capital Transformation Fund, T Level capital fund and Institutes of Technology.
  • The investment will support the government’s reforms to post-16 education, helping to transform further and technical education and deliver the skilled workforce employers and the economy need.
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