Ofsted slams FE for failing to address the unemployment problem

Matching students with a course that will lead to employment is “not a high enough priority” for FE providers, according to a report published by Ofsted today.

Their Skills for Employment report found that too many courses focused on the achievement of qualifications and did not extend to training that led to job specific skills. Ofsted also found that many providers were not offering jobseekers challenging enough courses that were likely to increase their chances of sustained employment.

Only 19 per cent of students were successful in getting a job according to the report, after interviews with 10,270 jobseekers spanning 31 different further education providers.

Job outcome data was collected between January and May 2012 and “included people who had only just left the programme shortly before the data were collected and were still looking for work”. However, the report does conceed that “The providers generally reported that the data represented a smaller proportion than the actual jobs achieved because it was difficult to gain accurate information on progression to employment.”

Ofsted was also critical of the first round of Skills Funding Agency allocations made to all prime providers to support learners into work. The report stated: “The funding allocation system of 2.5% of a provider’s adult skills budget for capacity building resulted in considerable discrepancies in the amount of money available, ranging from less than £17,000 to £450,000 in some cases. The amount of funding allocated was not a reliable indicator of the level of commitment to the initiative in the providers visited.”

Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s national director of learning and skills, said: “We found too many courses simply lead on to more courses and do not address the urgency of getting unemployed adults into work.

“These issues along with others are being discussed at the first annual Learning and Skills Lecture. Further Education is becoming more and more important in promoting economic prosperity and enabling social mobility by supporting young people and unemployed adults to make the transition into work, improving literacy and numeracy and by providing top quality apprenticeships.”

In response to the report Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Colleges in England provide work-related education and training for more than 220,000 unemployed people a year, working closely with local employers and Jobcentre Plus to ensure they are providing them with the skills essential to find work. In one of the deepest and most sustained recessions in decades, the work our members do in this area is crucial to getting both individuals and the UK economy back on track.

“Ofsted’s Skills for Employment report addresses a number of issues that our member colleges have been concerned about for some time, namely the difficulties they face in being able to arrange work experience for students, the barriers jobseekers sometimes face in getting the training they need and colleges being funded to deliver national programmes of study that do not always meet local employment needs.”

The AoC also said that it was worth noting that colleges only account for 17 of the providers inspected by Ofsted for the report.

The think tank the Social Market Foundation (SMF) argues that government funding for FE providers should be linked to the subsequent earnings of their students if policy is to result in skills that that lead to employment.

Their Brtain’s Got Talent paper states that government policies have been largely ineffective in giving people the skills they need to secure lasting jobs and raise the productivity of the workforce. The organisation believes that a new model that rewards training providers for offering courses in skills that lead to better paid and higher quality jobs is needed.

Ian Mulheirn, director of the SMF and co-author of the report, said: “The UK is suffering from a chronic skills deficit, with one third of adults lacking good school-leaving qualifications. But attempts to create a demand-led skills system have suffered because policymakers have consistently misinterpreted what ‘demand-led’ actually means. Ignoring wage and employment signals from the jobs market, government has too often focused on giving cash to employers for training they would have conducted anyway, or handing funds to trainees who end up taking courses that don’t lead to jobs.

“This is costly for the taxpayer, unhelpful for employers, and above all, bad for learners whose efforts to achieve sustainable and good quality employment are too often in vain.”

The 157 group said that there needs flexibility around funding to ensure more people land viable, sustainable employment. In their Tackling Unemployment: The College Contribution report the organisation said that colleges should not be restricted to delivering courses only on the Qualification and Credit Framework.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, added, “we welcome this report’s recommendations because many of them chime precisely with what AELP has been saying to the government for months; namely that we need to see more integration between the three main government departments’ programmes that lead to sustainable employment being regarded as the key outcome of the support being given by providers.  Qualifications are important for progression but too much emphasis on achieving one before securing a job can be counter-productive, especially in the current economic climate.

“There is an appetite among our members to make a success of this provision as illustrated by the demand for copies of the new joint AELP/LSIS toolkit and by Ofsted’s own observation that independent providers have been cross-subsidising their provision from other funding streams.  Independent providers are likely to remain committed to the provision, but they require a clear signal from the Skills Funding Agency that it still sees funding of skills for the unemployed as a major priority as well as the funding of growth in apprenticeships.”

The Ofsted report follows the government’s launch in August last year of a set of new initiatives to encourage further education providers to prioritise labour market focused training.

FE Week will be attending the Ofsted lecture today, so stay tuned for more comment and reaction from across the FE sector, and you can leave a comment below