New Challenges, New Chances, not so New Year

New Challenges, New Chances, not so New Year

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) may have had their marketing budgets frozen, but this has not stopped them announcing a new strapline for further education. But what does it really mean?

Last year the BIS strapline for FE was New Horizons, and they have gone one better this year, with a strapline which uses the word ‘new’ twice! This year BIS will be using “New Challenges, New Chances” as the FE strapline, which was first announced alongside an ‘investment statement’ and a reform plan to create a ‘world class skills system’.

So the New Year brings with it lots of new stuff for FE right? Some bad (challenges) and some good (chances) right? Wrong.

In fact there will be very little change at all in 2012 from BIS. Following a bunch of poorly thought out policy changes introduced in 2011 (such as fee eligbility) the decision has clearly been taken to treat 2012 as a transitional year.

The funding formula, national funding rate and minimum contract levels will remain unchanged, although there are well trailed technical changes to who is eligible to full funding on first full level 2 and 3 courses.

So now the Minister and department officials have announced the policies, it will be a greatly diminished Skills Funding Agency that has to keep their collective foot firming planted to the floor on the implementation peddal”

Fantasic I hear you cry! Some stability at last, the officials actually listened when you complained that policies in FE never stay the same for more than 10 minutes.

But wait, take a closer look and you find this ‘stability’ is an unplanned delay to arguably the biggest set of changes to the machinations of further education for a decade.

Consider just two big changes to funding in 2013 for a moment:

1. Based on current BIS plans 2013 will see the introducation of whole new ‘simplified’ and ‘streamlined’ national funding formula (the third attempt in 10 years). It may be streamlined but no-one will consider it simple. Expect plenty of twists and turns.
2. FE loans at level 3 and above kick-in, with learners able to apply from March 2013. This is an area of policy which few know much about and for too many reasons to list here will quickly be compared to a car crash.

So now the Minister and department officials have announced the policies, it will be a greatly diminished Skills Funding Agency that has to keep their collective foot firming planted to the floor on the implementation peddal. Further delay beyond 2013 is not an option, is it?

And it seems the Skills Funding Agency will still be around to try and keep us all both on time and on track, but their boss may not be. After the legislative slap-down removing independance for the role of the Chief Executive, he’s probably already dreaming of an easy life in the South of France.

Perhaps the BIS strapline should drop reference to ‘new’, as those of us that have been in and around the sector longer than a couple of ministers will have seen it all before. Much better that BIS documents start with: ‘strap yourself in, and join-us on the 2013 rollercoaster’