2022 Summer Term

The know zone

  • Opportunity for all?
    The long-awaited white paper has been published but will it finally help close the disadvantage gap in primary and will it level up? Tiffnie Harris takes a closer look. More
  • Just how safe is the BTEC now?
    After a softening of the government's language on defunding BTECs, the first list of affected qualifications is now out. Kevin Gilmartin provides an update. More
  • Flexible working
    Hayley Dunn believes schools can successfully recruit and retain business leaders by offering them an opportunity to work from home. More
  • Boost or bust?
    Will the government's new Skills and Post-16 Education Act measure up, deliver growth and boost the economy? Anne Murdoch investigates. More
  • Debunking myths
    Jacques Szemalikowski offers reassurance around changes to the pension scheme. More
  • Nuggets of joy
    ASCL members share their uplifting stories, moments of greatness and little nuggets of joy and laughter More
  • Keep smiling
    In search of some much-needed light relief, Gareth Burton dips into the pages of his journal which records the amusing moments from his two decades as a teacher. More
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Will the government's new Skills and Post-16 Education Act measure up, deliver growth and boost the economy? Anne Murdoch investigates.

Boost or bust?

The government’s drive to boost skills and productivity, now enshrined in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 (tinyurl.com/3w7vrdr2), highlights those technical skills sitting centre stage in the bid to boost the economy. What is not clear is the extent to which the measures set out in the Act will achieve the growth intended. The Act was marched through Parliament at the end of April, alongside a stream of uncertainty concerning post-16 qualifications, lifelong learning loan entitlement, universal credit flexibilities, access to careers advice on technical education and employers’ needs for longer-term workforce skills. 

While employers are at the centre of the local skills system, providers working alongside are monitored closely through accountability measures by the DfE, Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and Ofsted. Local skills and improvement plans (LSIPs), devised by employer representatives and providers, set out the future skills needs of an area, while providers are monitored on the extent to which their provision currently meets needs. Providers of general further education know there is not always a clear match between what skills a local area needs, what individual employers want and what career paths young people and adults choose to follow. 

Can the government’s strategy on skills at local level really lead to a better outcome for the economy? And are the systems for monitoring progress and putting in place interventions really going to change things? 

Government rhetoric is one thing but the reality for delivering growth, as set out in the Act, is another. Systems must be more flexible when we look at what is being required of skills leadership at a local level, compared to the reality that young people and adults make choices that suit them and not necessarily what works for local employers. 

Trailblazer LSIPs, set out following the Skills for Jobs white paper (tinyurl.com/zemf5b5v), demonstrate a momentum by employer bodies to lead economic development in their area along with local skills providers, but while some funding is provided for early adopters, there is still not enough to meet the needs of all areas. Funding in general for skills and post-16 education is, arguably, inadequate, and especially so for LSIPs that strive to provide for diverse groups and be inclusive. 

Ofsted’s five-year strategy, published in April, outlines its enhanced role in making judgements about how well providers of further education and skills meet local skills needs. A target to review all colleges in the next four years, reporting on their contribution to meeting local skills needs in the name of raising standards, means inspectors will decide the grading for ‘leadership, management and quality’ if the curriculum fails to meet the needs of learners, employers, the community or local or regional economies, each with their different agendas. 

Funding will be available through the loans system for adults who want to gain higher skills, but the lifetime of levels three, two and below qualifications – the life blood of many employment sectors and the springboard for higher skills – remains stubbornly unreliable as consultation after consultation looks for ways to limit the qualification offer. 

The student loan threshold proposed from 2025 under the new lifelong loan entitlement proposes a minimum threshold for student finance around GCSE grades, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates could deprive 1 in 4 learners a place in higher education and would have excluded almost 1 in 10 of entrants in the last ten years (see tinyurl.com/3zvhp2n4). The government already concluded that students with protected characteristics, such as from Black and ethnic minority groups and those with SEND, may be disproportionately impacted by the proposed changes. 

Apprenticeship numbers among young people have fallen during Covid; incentives for employers have appeared not to have helped to recruit more young people into jobs, and T levels have struggled to get placements from challenged small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggling to keep their businesses afloat. It is arguable whether the two systems of apprenticeships and T levels, now regulated by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), will work together for the benefit of the economy. 

All this adds up to a system that will be pulled in all directions. Only time will tell if the Act achieves its ambition, but flexibility in the loan system, greater attention to addressing concerns raised throughout the passage of the Bill and, above all, more and fairer funding for all learners and providers, will give more certainty to how this law plays out. 

Dr Anne Murdoch
OBE ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership