Government to reform post-16 education to better align with employers’ needs

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The Government has set out its plans to reform post-16 education and training in England to ensure that employers have the skills they need for the economy to grow.

New powers could be introduced to allow ministers to intervene when colleges fail to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.

Ministers are proposing to overhaul the accountability system so that funding is better targeted at supporting high-quality education and training provision which is relevant to the labour market.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the reforms will ensure all technical education and training is “based on what employers want and need”.

But organisations representing school and college leaders have called on ministers to increase the overall funding provided to the further education (FE) sector to help boost the provision on offer.

The proposals aim to put an end to the misconception that a degree is the only route to success and a good job, the DfE said.

The Skills for Jobs White Paper will include plans to launch a nationwide recruitment campaign to get more talented individuals to teach in FE.

The Government is also proposing to change the law so people can access flexible student finance from 2025 so they can retrain throughout their lives.

In December, the Government announced that tens of thousands of adults without an A-level or equivalent qualification would be able to benefit from nearly 400 fully-funded courses from April.

It was the first major development in Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee (LSG) scheme, which was launched in September.

Mr Johnson said: “Our Lifetime Skills Guarantee means that everyone will be given the chance to get the skills they need, right from the very start of their career.

“In the years ahead, the reforms we have announced today will deliver high quality technical education across the country – and help people retrain and secure better paid jobs.”

Mr Williamson said: “Our reforms to post-16 education will focus on the skills people and business need for our economy to grow.

“As we recover from the pandemic, our Lifetime Skills Guarantee will ensure everyone has the confidence and opportunity to gain the skills they need to progress at any stage of their lives.

“These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, whilst providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job, no matter where they live, and in the sectors that are critical to our future economic success.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We continue to be concerned about the severe underfunding of the post-16 sector, which plays such a vital role in delivering the technical and vocational education that the government says it is so keen to boost, as well as academic routes which are also of the utmost importance.”

In November, an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report concluded that FE colleges and sixth forms have seen the largest falls in funding of any education sector since 2010–11.

“We hope that the government will now commit to the immediate and urgent increase in funding that this sector has needed for so long,” he added.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “These are concrete plans which can deliver the Government’s levelling up commitments.

“Colleges have been calling for this, after years of being overlooked and underutilised, but Government has to not only recognise the vital college role, it also needs to increase funding.

“Colleges have shown during the pandemic that they are the vehicle to transforming lives, and supporting communities and employers, and we need the spending review this year to invest more in them.

“Today’s white paper will stimulate demand from people and employers and unshackle colleges from unhelpful policy and bureaucracy, ready for the Treasury to show that it recognises that spending on skills is an investment with a strong return.”

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