From education to employment

What Post-16 FE Can and Cannot do to Tackle the Adult Social Care Crisis

Julian Gravatt, Deputy Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC)

A Growing Sector with Acute Challenges

Adult social care is a large and growing sector in UK society but one with a number of acute challenges.

Low Pay and High Vacancy Rates

Although demand for care is forecast to keep rising, the way that services are organised and funded has resulted in low pay rates, 30% staff turnover and high vacancy levels. Recent research by the Local Government Association predicted workforce growth of 500,000 over the next 15 years in a sector that already has 100,000 vacancies in its 1.6 million roles.

Affected by Skills-Based Immigration

The Home Office identified the sector as one that will be seriously affected by the post- Brexit 2021 rules (Home Office Impact Assessment, 2020). This is because of high staff turnover and immigration restrictions for jobs at Level 2.

A Covid Hit Sector

Meanwhile, the multiple impacts of Covid, including backlogs and new safety requirements, make jobs more complicated. The government’s Health and Social Care Levy promises funding help in the long-term but there are plenty of problems to deal with in the short- term.

Challenges faced by Post-16 FE and Apprenticeships

The further education sector is full of problem solvers and has decades of experience preparing people of all ages for careers in care but current training activity is under-powered, under-funded and faces a number of obstacles.

Social Care = Low Skill?

Social care has some significant obstacles to overcome. Pay and conditions are at the heart of many HR difficulties but image and reputation also matter. Generations of teachers and policy makers have, rightly, told young people to aim high but this has had the unfortunate consequence of labelling jobs and sectors as ‘low-skilled’ because they require qualifications only at Level 2.

Care sits alongside construction trades and hospitality in this respect but has particular challenges in identifying and promoting its benefits. It shouldn’t need saying but it needs to combat prejudice. The fact is a Level 2 qualification does not equate to low skill.

Low Employer Demand for Apprenticeships

There are too few young people and adults in apprenticeship training given demand. Apprenticeships are supposed to be the main programme to supply domestic workforce skills but the number starting level 2 apprenticeships has fallen by three-quarters over the last 5 years to less than 25,000. Employers who made good use of shorter training routes in the past – for example NVQs funded by Train to Gain – do not seem willing or able to make sufficient use of the levy to meet future need.

The Government rebuilt the apprenticeship system a few years ago around employer choice and longer programmes while reducing its role to one of market organiser. In some sectors, employers have stepped up to develop advanced level apprenticeships and use these to widen and improve routes into work but this is not really happening in social care. It is a sector with inadequate public funding in some areas, private equity driven profit taking in others and inadequate organisation of employers. Employer control doesn’t solve all problems.

Funding and Regulation of Further Education

Funding and regulation of further education affects the amount of care training which can be supported through mainstream DfE post-16 budgets. A decade of spending cuts in adult skills halved the total amount of money available for skills outside apprenticeships and fixed the rates for courses at the level paid when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Colleges have to juggle plenty of demands on these fixed budgets, and face penalties if they use them for courses with insufficient demand to fill classes or low achievement rates that attract regulatory attention.

Meanwhile, there are positive feedback loops for supporting sectors identified as a priority in local plans. Government, rightly and understandably, wants a virtuous circle in which engaged employers working with a skilled workforce improves local and national productivity, but it is easy to see how necessary but low status sectors will get shoved aside in the process. And with the recent budget providing very little growth in public spending on adult skills over the next three years (between now and 2025), there is frankly nothing available for sectors requiring growth in student numbers.

Government should help FE to do more

The care sector in England has a host of big problems and is in clear need of a comprehensive workforce strategy. The further education sector already contributes to preparing young people and adults for careers in care but the DfE and DHSC must support the FE sector to do more.

Recommendation 1

Employer control won’t solve all problems alone. Funders, employers and trainers should co- operate on a strategy to address the challenge of growing and developing the care workforce.

Recommendation 2

All jobs require skills, just different ones. The social care workforce strategy needs to be underpinned by a solid understanding of all the benefits and costs of careers in care.

Recommendation 3

Warm words about adult education and training are appreciated, but without funding to back them, there will be no growth in care training before 2025. The social care workforce strategy may need to focus on the long-term.

Julian Gravatt, Assocation of Colleges

Reforming Adult Social Care – Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England

The Campaign for Learning’s report, Reforming Adult Social Care: Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England, is based on seventeen contributions from experts in both the adult social care sector and the post-16 education, skills and employability sectors. 

Three themes are common to most of the authors’ contributions – the scale of the adult social care sector in England, the complexity of policy making for the sector, and the need for greater integration of funding, pay, employment and skills. 

Part One: The Adult Social Care Sector

Part Two: Strategic Reforms to Adult Social Care

Part Three: Recruitment in the Context of a Skills-Based Immigration Policy

  • Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies: Improving Pay and Job Quality in Adult Social Care
  • Karolina Gerlich, The Care Workers’ Charity: Encouraging Young People and Adults to become Adult Care Workers
  • Chris Goulden, Youth Futures Foundation: A Career in Adult Social Care: The Views of Young People
  • Andrew Morton, ERSA: Targeting Active Labour Market Policies to Fill Adult Social Care Vacancies

Part Four: The Delivery and Design of Social Care Qualifications

Part Five: The Role of Post-16 Education and Skills Policies

  • Elena Wilson, The Edge Foundation: Valuing Level 3 BTECs for 16-18 Year Olds Studying Health and Social Care
  • Julian Gravatt, AoC: What Post-16 FE Can and Cannot do to tackle the Adult Social Care crisis
  • Jane Hickie, AELP: Reforming Apprenticeship Funding and Delivery for Adult Social Care
  • Gemma Gathercole, CWLEP: Adults Skills, Adult Social Care and Devo-Deals

Part Six: Adult Learning and Adult Social Care

  • Susan Pember, HOLEX: The Wider Benefits of Adult Learning for Adult Social Care
  • Simon Parkinson, WEA: Adult Learning for Adults in Social Care
  • Campaign for Learning: Proposals for reform in England 

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