2022 Spring Term 2

The know zone

  • Sounding out phonics
    Tiffnie Harris delves into the highly-debated issue on the use of phonics in teaching early reading. More
  • Is the Bacc back?
    As the government carries out an inquiry into the post-16 education landscape, Kevin Gilmartin examines whether there really is an appetite for a 16-19 baccalaureate. More
  • Resource management
    Hayley Dunn takes a closer look at the DfE's new tools for resource management and procurement More
  • Lifelong ambition
    Anne Murdoch explores what the Skills Bill means for colleges, employers and learners. More
  • Post-16 Bacc
    Should the government introduce a post-16 baccalaureate that allows students to take a variety of subjects, including both academic and vocational options? Here, ASCL members have their say... More
  • Going the distance
    Headteacher Russell Clarke says ASCL Council provides an excellent platform for sharing ideas and influencing policy. Here, he shares his passion for Council, carving and fell running. More
  • Never forget?
    If the human brain is wired for learning, it also appears programmed to forget. We all know how the acquisition of knowledge can enrich a life but forgetfulness can have value too, says Chris Pyle. More
Bookmark and Share

Anne Murdoch explores what the Skills Bill means for colleges, employers and learners.

Lifelong ambition

The Skills Bill now making its way through Parliament introduces four key changes:

  1. Employers will be, if they are not already, at the centre of the post-16 skills system through local skills improvement plans, enabling them and training providers to collaborate to ensure that local provision matches needs.
  2. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement, giving individuals the equivalent of up to four years’ worth of student loans for Level 4–6 qualifications, can be used across their lifetime at colleges and universities.
  3. Accountability will be strengthened by extending the existing powers of the Secretary of State for Education to intervene where colleges fail to meet local needs, to order structural change to drive improvement and by amending the regulation for education and training providers to ensure quality.
  4. The Office for Students will have the power to set minimum requirements for quality in higher education based on criteria including attrition and student progression rates and will use these indicators to make decisions on registration and compliance. A consultation was launched in mid-January and concludes this month (March 2022). 

These changes will have an impact on other issues, including making it easier for people claiming Universal Credit to access funding for study in HE. 

Employer bodies 

The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to designate employer representative bodies to develop and lead local skills improvement plans and the minister will look to these plans when making decisions on, for example, funding or intervention measures in local areas. 

Skills training providers will have a duty to cooperate with employer representative bodies and other providers in developing the skills plans and to take them into account in designing their post-16 technical education and training courses. 

Once every three years, college governing bodies will need to assess how well the education or training provided by their institution meets the strategic and policy aims of the local area, for both learners and employers. Their strategic plans will need to reflect changes required to provision and the overall organisational structure to help their college meet those local needs more effectively. 

Governing bodies of English-funded general further education colleges will have to consider other areas of their curriculum, such as vocational or higher education, and links between their provision and that offered by other providers. They will also need to consider whether changes in local organisational arrangements, such as stronger collaborative arrangements with other providers, would better support local needs. 

Discussions have already started between some colleges and their Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), and FE commissioner contacts and colleges will be expected to publish the outcome of their reviews on their websites. In many ways, this work is likely to replace that of the very costly and now outdated area reviews. 

Ofsted gradings 

For colleges, the Bill will mean setting a strategy and planning the curriculum that helps to fulfil their local skills plan, a requirement that will ultimately affect Ofsted gradings. The approach, being employer-led, means that employer-owned training provision and independent training providers must comply with the same quality requirements as colleges. 

The Bill creates potential hurdles for some education and skills providers, but it offers opportunities for others to develop a new strategic and organisational direction, as well as innovating in policy, delivery of skills and progression to higher levels of skills training. Once it becomes law, it will also mean colleges will be able to demonstrate how they identify and meet the skills needs of their communities, potentially raising both their profile and reputation as technical and vocational education providers and ensuring people who have access to the lifelong loan can find the training they need with their local college. 

What colleges now need is the funding to enable them to innovate to bring about the changes required. 

The funding rates for 16–19 outlined in December 2021 were slightly up, but adult funding rates have remained stubbornly low and are much lower than ten years ago. 

Until funding covers the cost of all provision, many colleges will struggle to change in ways necessary to achieve the Bill’s ambitions for post-16 learners.

Dr Anne Murdoch OBE
ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership