From education to employment

Well-Funded Colleges to Serve Every Community

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges

There is a lot to like in the Levelling Up White Paper and yet ultimately it disappoints by falling short of the strategy and solutions required. Few could disagree that at the heart of levelling up must be an ambition of ‘realising the potential of every place and every person across the UK’.

The White Paper is strong on analysis of how spatial inequalities hamper economic growth, health, wealth and education outcomes. Additionally, it sets out a glut of worthy, important ambitions as part of a long term vision of a better UK, with vibrant places people can live and work in, and in which poverty is reduced and opportunities increased.

The Mission of Colleges

For colleges, this all helpfully describes their wider mission as anchor institutions, as leading players in the social and economic progress of the local area on top of their unerring focus the development, achievement and progress of their students.

It’s a vision that marries neatly with that from the Commission on the College of the Future:

‘The college of the future will empower people throughout their lives with the skills they need to get on in life, support better productivity and innovation of businesses, and strengthen every community’s sense of place.’

Funding Shortfalls

So far so good then, but the white paper disappointingly falls a long way short on strategy, funding, and joining-up across government. On funding, there is no new investment and neither are there lots of new policies and initiatives. Both of those are unsurprising given how recently the spending review was announced.

The funding, though, is problematic, with a drop in adults participating in learning from 2.3m in 2010/11 to 1.5m in 2019/20, placing the ‘Skills Mission’ of an extra 200,000 places into stark context.

No Joining Up at National Level

The funding problem is well-trodden territory. Perhaps less well-rehearsed is the lack of a coherent strategy, as the White Paper itself concedes in its description that ‘Skills policy in England has been marked, in the past, by a plethora of short-lived interventions and a centralised approach…’

This absence of strategy manifests itself in two important and problematic ways – at national level across government departments and for every single college trying to make sense for their students and employers of the ‘plethora’ of interventions and programmes.

Nationally, the Levelling Up White Paper missed opportunities for joining up across government siloes. It was disappointing to see no connection between the laudable physical capital pledges on housing, transport and towns and the ambitions on both net zero and skills. Surely there is a simple win to be made here, with local skills offers aligned with the jobs being created to build the houses, railways and town centre developments?

Sadly, that join-up seems to be lacking. There are other areas where the lack of a skills strategy will result in missed opportunities – enabling people on universal credit to develop their skills alongside work or when unemployed; ensuring R&D investment supports SMEs by engaging colleges in key sectors; and, offering adult learning opportunities to improve mental well-being and health.

Challenging to Join Up at College Level

For colleges, they are presented with a glittering array of ‘products’ to choose from in meeting student and employer needs – traineeships, bootcamps, study programmes, A Levels, GCSEs, T Levels, VTQs, access to HE, adult learning loans, lifetime skills guarantee, multiply, higher technical qualifications, sector-based work academies, apprenticeships – many of which are funded, measured and accounted for separately.

Joining that all up in every individual college in order to meet need and demands is a complex business. It’s unrealistic to expect all of this to be put into a single budget, but it certainly should be tried in order to step up to the pledge made in last year’s Skills for Jobs white paper to ‘ensure that they [colleges] have more autonomy to use funding how they see fit in order to meet the needs of learners and the skills needs of local employers.’

Our Offer to Help Levelling Up

Colleges offer so much to the levelling up agenda, for people of course, but also for places, the economy and society. AoC is confident that in every community, colleges will be engaging across all of the levelling up ‘missions’, my worry is that in Whitehall the thinking pigeon-holes colleges into just the skills mission. That would be a real missed opportunity.

Recommendation 1

At the Spring Statement in March, the Treasury and DfE should increase the ambition of the Skills Mission from 200,000 adult learning places to the full 800,000 to replace those lost in the 2010s, with a financial boost of at least £750m, with a review of the funding rate (which has not changed since 2010).

Recommendation 2

The Office of the Prime Minister should lead the development of a cross-government post-16 education and skills strategy setting out the megatrends affecting people and employers, which all require focused and concerted action nationally, as a framework for local responses, including the local skills improvement plans.

Recommendation 3

DfE should simplify the post-18 environment for colleges by bringing together the separate programmes into one fund with flexibility across ‘products to meet local need, giving colleges “…. the autonomy to use funding how they see fit in order to meet the needs of learners and the skills needs of local employers’.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges

Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere

Campaign for Learning’s paper Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere, is a collection of 18 articles and recommendations by leading stakeholders and thinkers across the post-16 education and skills sector.  

The paper covers six key considerations for the Levelling Up agenda – national and place based strategies, young people, lifelong training, lifelong learning and post-16 providers. 

As the articles show, from the perspective of post-16 education and skills policy, levelling up is about people as well as places – the policy canvas is vast, the perspectives diverse and the insights important.

Together, our authors demonstrate the need for strong, nationally based as well as place based strategies if everyone, everywhere aged 16 and over are to level up through education and skills’ 

Part 1: Levelling Up and National and Place

  • Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice, University of Manchester -  Levelling Up and the Department for Education  
  • Sam Freedman, Research Fellow, Institute for Government  – Levelling Up and Post-16 Education and Skills  
  • Fiona Aldridge, Head of Skills Insight, West Midlands Combined Authority  – Levelling Up the West Midlands by 2030  
  • Mark Hilton, Policy Director, London First  – Levelling Up London by 2030  

Part 2: Levelling Up and Young People

  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary, ASCL - Levelling Up and Education: Lots of Stuff but Little Substance  
  • Sam Tuckett, Senior Researcher, Education Policy Institute  – Levelling Up 16-19 Education   
  • Becci Newton, Director of Public Policy and Research, IES  – Levelling Up Participation by 16-18 Year Olds  
  • Kathleen Henehan, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Resolution Foundation  – Levelling Up 18-24 Year Olds in England   

Part 3: Levelling Up and Lifelong Training

  • Olly Newton, Executive Director, The Edge Foundation - Placing Vocational Education at the Heart of Levelling Up   
  • Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC  – Higher Technical Education, Higher & Degree Apprenticeships and Levelling Up  
  • Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford  – The Role of Employer Training in Levelling Up  

Part 4: Levelling Up and Lifelong Learning

  • Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, L&W  – Levelling Up in England through Lifelong Learning   
  • Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX  – Levelling Up as a Nation of Lifelong Learning  
  • Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA  – The Future of Adult Learning is in the Hands of Local Leaders  

Part 5: Levelling Up and Post-16 Providers

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges  – Well-Funded Colleges to Serve Every Community   
  • Nick Hillman, Director, HEPI   – A ‘Higher Education Institute’ in Every Community   
  • Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK  – Levelling Up and Widening Participation into Higher Education   
  • Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP  – Levelling Up is as much about People as Places   

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