2021 Autumn Term 1


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    As Geoff Barton welcomes leaders back to the arena - that is schools and colleges - he applauds them for stepping up over the last 18 months to deal with the Covid crisis. More
  • A rare privilege
    Inspired by leaders' determination to do their absolute best for children during the pandemic, Pepe Di'Iasio has chosen 'Ambitious Leadership' as the theme for his presidential year at ASCL. More
  • Our new blueprint has every child at its heart
    To close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers would take us an eye-watering 500 years, says Julie McCulloch. Here, she highlights ASCL's new blueprint, which strives to address this injustice and provide every child with a great education. More
  • Big picture: Little detail
    Government plans for transforming the FE sector are too vague as they stand and fail to address some of the most critical issues over spending, governance and accountability, says ASCL Senior Advisor on College Leadership, Anne Murdoch. More
  • Inspections are back
    With Ofsted inspections resuming after 18 months, and after two summers of no performance data and several major Ofsted reports, what will inspections look like? Here, ASCL Curriculum and Inspection Specialist Tom Middlehurst shares his insights. More
  • Everyone on board: Diversity matters
    Good governance requires diversity; it's one of the bedrocks of good decision-making says National Governance Association (NGA) Chief Executive Emma Knights. More
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Government plans for transforming the FE sector are too vague as they stand and fail to address some of the most critical issues over spending, governance and accountability, says ASCL Senior Advisor on College Leadership, Anne Murdoch.

Big picture: Little detail

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (bit.ly/3yq5SHL), now making its way through Parliament, sets out the future for sixth form and FE colleges. It focuses on putting employers at the heart of the skills system, growing higher level technical qualifications at Levels 4 and 5, FE initial teacher training (ITT), and funding and accountability reforms linked to local skills improvement plans (LSIPs). There are four main parts to the bill:

Part 1: Skills and education for work

It covers local skills improvement plans (LSIPs), technical qualifications and lifelong learning. Details of pilots for LSIPs and trailblazers have already been announced. The bill makes it mandatory for colleges to comply with these plans and they are also required to have annual strategic meetings with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Further Education Commissioner (FEC) to set out those plans.

Loan opportunities for higher technical qualifications, in line with four-year, full-time degrees, have already been announced following the white paper on Skills for Jobs: Lifelong learning for opportunity and growth (bit.ly/3fu5lx6).

Part 2: Initial teacher training in FE and quality assessments

This gives the Secretary of State for Education powers to regulate ITT for FE, though there was more detail on this in the white paper than in the bill itself. Some of the details about quality assessment have already been announced, including the broader role of the Office for Students.

Part 3: Protection of learners

This covers intervention in colleges by the Secretary of State for Education, including rights and obligations to transfer property rights and liabilities. The government has reportedly spent £750 million over six years (bit.ly/3fv0v2Q) on such interventions and the proposed measure would possibly bring a saving. Details are yet to come, but we know the FEC will have powers to intervene in colleges that are not meeting local needs, although, as mentioned above, the ESFA and FEC are part of the annual strategic plan meetings with colleges so there is the opportunity for the regulators to raise concerns with college leaders and governors at that stage. It is also clear – although not stipulated – that not every college will be able to respond to every part of the LSIP and nor should they be expected to do so.

This is the most critical section in terms of its impact on organisations and their futures, as it has implications for funding and accountability of institutions unless safeguards are put in place.

Part 4: Designation of institutions in FE

This part clarifies what constitutes the FE sector.

What is missing?

Much of parts 1 and 2 of the bill have already been announced and in some cases, such as skills improvement plans and lifelong learning loans, dates for implementation have already been set out and pilots are being sought for collaboration between colleges and employers, as if the bill has already been given royal assent.

However, as yet there is no clear explanation of what the government will and will not do with its new intervention powers regarding governors and governance. Neither is there detailed information about longer-term spending on FE, in the absence of a multi-year funding settlement or about redressing the long-term cuts to adult funding.

Some of these issues are highlighted in a government consultation but as it runs until October, it leaves leaders in the dark as they go into a new academic year (bit.ly/3jR3X96).

A range of concerns were also raised during the bill’s first and second readings in the House of Lords in May and June, including:

  • the limited courses available under the lifetime skills guarantee
  • the lack of entitlement to loans for many with Level 3 and below qualifications
  • the role of lifelong learning in the skills landscape
  • the need for more inclusive careers advice to enable people to gain skills
  • the role of other stakeholders, as well as employers, in LSIPs
  • the confusion between provider and funding body accountability
  • lack of involvement of mayoral authorities in LSIPs
  • no mention of maintenance support or benefit reform that would help adults at Level 2 who need support to progress in education
  • no reference to retraining for those who need a second Level 3 in a different subject
  • a conflict between the powers that the bill has given to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to both develop and approve programmes


The white paper and the bill will bring significant changes to colleges in the longer term, but it remains to be seen whether the government will grasp any of the outstanding issues outlined here, so that the sector can respond positively to the proposals.

Above all, without an increase in funding rates for all provision and not just for T levels and high-value courses, an opportunity to address skills shortages and ‘Build Back Better’ may be lost.

If the skills needs of the nation are to be realised, all post-16 education and skills provision needs a substantial and sustainable funding boost now and into the future. Without it, the government’s bill is undoubtedly compromised.

Dr Anne Murdoch OBE
ASCL Senior Advisor, College Leadership