Skills minister unveils investment in colleges

Posted on 3 Apr 2013

Skills minister Matthew Hancock will today set out a £214m investment plan for 47 colleges across the UK, alongside plans for a more rigorous and responsive skills delivery system.

The government’s new skills strategy, Rigour and Responsiveness in Skills, includes stronger action to support the majority of good and outstanding colleges, and new powers to intervene where colleges are failing.

Ofsted currently judges two-thirds of colleges to be ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ however 4% are judged to be inadequate.

Mr Hancock said: “It is wholly unacceptable that nearly one and half million students are not receiving teaching that is rated as ‘Good’.

“Where colleges are failing students we will be knocking on their doors and take swift and effective action. It is a dereliction of duty to let failing colleges teach young people. We will not fail in our duty to act.

A new further education commissioner will be tasked with intervening as soon as a college falls in to the inadequate category or fails financially. They will report directly to ministers and can advise a number of potential interventions.

These range from directly administering the college and taking away its freedom of action to replacing the governing body and even dissolving the college.

Interventions will aim to deliver significant change for students and hope to restore quality to above the intervention performance thresholds within a year.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will announce plans for appointing an FE commissioner after the Easter period.

“Manufacturers have long called for a responsive skills system that puts the employer and the learner in the driving seat and today the Government has committed itself to achieving this,” said director of policy at EEF, Steve Radley.

“This new strategy is a step forward but we must not lose momentum and Government must move swiftly to implement it.”

The report also announced a further £77m of new capital funding which will be matched by £137m investment from colleges. The money will be targeted at those colleges in the greatest need of help and those that can support growth in the economy.

It will be allocated through the Skills Funding Agency enabling projects ranging from a construction training centre to an automotive technology hub.

Andrew Esson, managing director of Quick Hydraulics which employs 25 staff including four apprentices said that while anything that improves the quality of apprenticeships is good, the UK still needs to address the issue that more small businesses need to  recruit and train apprentices.

“My view is the way to make that easier would be to make it easy to identify who are the good training providers to work with and that those providers can take the small businesses by the hand and lead them through the process.”

Importantly said Mr Esson, frequently the vast majority of an apprentice’s learning is completed on-site. This is due to the skill requirements of a business often being specifically focused on a particular area, such as hydraulics, which is often not easily available through a training provider. The Government’s reaction to this issue has been to suggest manufacturers be more involved in the design of the training courses but Esson warns that this extra workload may discourage small companies from hiring apprentices at all.

“Any move towards giving the employer ownership for designing the course the training provider puts them through is actually going to make it less likely for companies to recruit and train apprentices in the future. It is probably more likely to support their current position that it is too complex and that they can’t be bothered with the hassle.”

The paper sets out 6 important areas where the Government plans to make changes:

1. Raising standards: high quality teaching and learning is at the core of a successful training system. There will be 3 broad approaches to raising standards. First, lecturers and teachers in colleges deserve recognition. So the professionalism of the FE sector will be raised by the new FE Guild and by the introduction of ‘Chartered Status’, which will become the internationally recognised mark of quality for learners and employers. Second, where performance is inadequate, there will be a faster, more robust intervention regime that protects learners while firmly tackling poor provision, by providing a clear administration process for failing colleges. Third, by giving individuals and employers better 8 information on the quality of provision and greater power to choose training, we will sharpen the incentives for colleges and providers to achieve higher standards – and we will reward those that do.

2. Reforming Apprenticeships: the Apprenticeship programme is already a success. The number of Apprenticeship starts has grown substantially since 2009/10, and the National Audit Office has found that the programme delivers good value for the taxpayer. However, quality is not consistent across the programme. Doug Richard’s report on Apprenticeships has set out a compelling vision for the future of the programme, one which we fully endorse. His central insight is that the heart of an Apprenticeship is the relationship between the individual and the employer. The standard for completing an Apprenticeship should be set by an employer, and an Apprentice’s competence tested at the end of training. Employers should have much greater flexibility in deciding what training individuals need to get to that standard. Richard recommends that the government should support employers in exercising these choices by giving them real purchasing power. Our consultation document ‘The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Next Steps from the Richard Review’4 , published on 14 March 2013, sets out how this will be taken forward.

3. Creating Traineeships: the transition into the workplace is important to young people. Evidence shows that a young person who spends more than 12 months out of work in their late teens and early 20s is significantly more likely to experience greater unemployment at a later age. Contact with employers while still in education is also important, and research also demonstrates that it can substantially cut the risk of being ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET)5 . The introduction of the Traineeship programme will provide a combination of a focused period of work preparation, a high quality work placement and training in English and maths. Employers will have a clear line of sight over the design and delivery of the programme, ensuring that it provides the right skills for the workplace.

4. Meaningful qualifications: to be effective, qualifications need to be relevant, rigorous and recognised. We have already implemented reforms that have removed perverse incentives for schools to push 14 to 16 year-olds to take vocational qualifications of little value. We are consulting on the qualifications taken between the ages of 16 and 19. For adults, the existing swathe of qualifications will be simplified. Following a short consultation we will be removing up to 2,500 qualifications with little or no uptake from the funding system, and more are likely to follow. In order to remain eligible for government funding those that remain will need to be rigorous and demonstrate strong employer input.

5. Funding improving responsiveness: the government’s funding choices are one of the strongest tools for incentivising quality improvements and ensuring responsiveness. This government will not pay for poor or irrelevant provision. In the current economic climate limited government funding must be focused on where it can add most value. New approaches such as loans for those aged 24 or over, and direct employer funding through the EOP, provide much sharper incentives for colleges and training providers to respond to what students want to study.

6. Better information and data: giving the individual or employer the power to make effective choices is not just about money. Good information and data are just as important. In a world of apps and mobile devices the government is unlikely to be the best provider of user interfaces for these data. Our priority should be to make data available to developers to create their own applications which ease access; and through better use of information to make the system more accountable.