Innovation Code criticised for not going far enough

A new flexible provision to deliver programmes tackling localised skills needs has been introduced in the FE sector.

The Innovation Code, which formed part of the commitments featured within New Challenges, New Chances, is now live.

Although the Code has been widely well received, sector membership bodies have told FE Week that they hoped it would go further.

As set out by the Skills Funding Agency, it features six learning aims, which can be used to develop and deliver provision, in conjunction with local business and employers, which addresses current or future skills needs.

It comes following recommendations in Baroness Sharp’s report, issued in November, on colleges in their communities, A Dynamic Nucleus.

Association of Colleges’ (AoC) director of policy, Joy Mercer, said: “While the innovation code was one of the recommendations of Baroness Sharp’s report A Dynamic Nucleus, AoC and members of the commission had a wider vision.

“It was hoped the project would allow colleges to meet a whole range of needs in the community, for example working with people who face mental health problems, or rough sleepers who may be otherwise excluded.”

But, Mrs Mercer added: “However, this is a move in the right direction. This new system gives the flexibility to meet employment and skills needs in the community by developing a qualification after, rather than before, the learning begins.

“So, in this climate, it will be beneficial for students and colleges who are doing their best to meet the needs of their economy in the locality.

“We see this as the first step toward colleges being able to respond to the needs of the communities within which they already play a crucial role.”

Providers seeking to use the Code must be on the Agency’s Register of Training Organisations and the provision needs to be delivered within their existing allocation; there is no additional funding for using the Code.
However, there is no formal application process, nor do providers need to seek permission to use the Code.

According to the Agency, the Code can be applied for up to 12 months and providers will need to work with an Ofqual-recognised awarding organisation, so the provision can be migrated onto the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

The 157 Group, although supportive of the Code, has questioned the funding mechanism.

A spokesperson said: “157 Group is fully supportive of any freedoms and flexibilities implemented to enable innovation to flourish within the sector. “However, it is unfortunate that funding can only be given under the Code for qualifications that can be linked to the QCF.”

David Hughes, chief executive of National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), said the Code will show how useful it can be to jobseekers.

He said: “We know there are colleges and providers already wanting to use this new flexibility.

“I was with a college recently who wanted to provide essential learning that local people needed to help them get jobs locally.

“We know that without the Code these people wouldn’t have been able to access the learning they needed to get those jobs.”