Sector reacts positively to FE progression proposal from Labour taskforce

A Labour Skills Taskforce recommendation that school funding be withheld if students do not progress into FE, employment or training has been greeted enthusiastically by the FE sector.

The taskforce’s third report, Qualifications Matter: Improving the Curriculum and Assessment for All, was published last week, and said that schools cash withheld should go instead towards their careers guidance services.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) all said they “welcome” the focus on careers guidance.

The report also suggested the creation of a national baccalaureate qualification, available to all learners leaving secondary school, consisting of level three core learning, maths and English, a personal development programme and an extended project.

Brian Lightman, ACSL general secretary, said: “This report makes a compelling case for moving towards a broad, national qualifications system that provides progression for all learners. A new focus on vocational education is needed, along with a way to give these qualifications greater credibility.

“A national baccalaureate scheme which provides an accreditation umbrella is an interesting idea and one we would be keen to explore further.

“We are pleased to see the emphasis on aspects such as independent research and personal development alongside the critically important areas of maths and English,” he said.

He added: “The focus on independent careers guidance provided by qualified, trained advisers is welcomed, and we will continue to work with strategic partners in developing this in a way that is appropriate for both schools and colleges.

“Tracking destinations is important, but it must be recognised this is influenced by more than what happens in schools. Before financial sanctions on schools are proposed, very serious, looming funding pressures must be addressed. We need to see real progress towards a national, fair funding formula.”

The taskforce recommended that young people continue to study maths and English to the age of 18, and that jobseekers be given training to bring their maths, English and IT skills to level two.

However, ATL, AoC and 157 Group also said there was “more detailed work” to be done to flesh out the proposals.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said mandatory maths and English until 18 was “a good idea”.

He said: “It’s good to see the Labour Party raising a number of key issues, from the suggestion of a national baccalaureate, to the inclusion of tech levels.

“They have rightly placed an emphasis on ensuring careers advice and guidance is of a high quality, to help reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training.

“As part of our Careers Guidance: Guaranteed campaign, we’re calling for a local careers hub, greater investment in the National Careers Service and for the Department for Education to match the amount given by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

“These broadly match the direction the party is headed in terms of careers advice.”

He added: “It is also absolutely right to identify maths and English as essential vocational skills but we must bear in mind it would be a huge commitment not only in workforce development terms but also in terms of developing a curriculum that meets students’ and employers’ needs in this area.

“We were also very pleased to note that a future Labour government would consider a cabinet level appointment for skills and qualifications, which would give the sector the high profile it so rightly deserves and that there is an appreciation of the need to build on what works as well as to address that which needs more systemic attention.

“There is clearly much detailed work required in order to flesh out these proposal and we look forward to contributing to this important work.”

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary for policy at ATL, said: “We are pleased the Labour Party is making a commitment to provide high quality vocational qualifications.

“We are also pleased it plans to ensure there is proper careers guidance for young people in areas of high unemployment, and call on Labour to extend this right to all young people.

“It is also good news that the Labour Party plans to provide jobseekers with training in English, maths and IT.

“However, we question where the funding will come from for the training and for developing and running the tests to see who needs training?

“And we are worried about where the training will take place following the recent cuts in funding for further education colleges which may mean that there aren’t enough college places or FE colleges to provide the training.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “It is good to see the Labour party taking a holistic view of post-14 education, and emphasising the need for prestigious vocational pathways for learners of all abilities.

“We have long argued that youth unemployment would be best tackled by taking a broad view of the system from 14 to 24, and this report is a step on the way to that.

“We agree that the success of the education system should be assessed on the aims of what it is trying to deliver — namely a generation of skilled young people who are ready to enter the workplace and have fulfilling careers. High-quality vocational education, including apprenticeship programmes, is key to making that a reality for more learners, and proposals for a baccalaureate system of qualifications seem to be a reflection of that principle.

“We would suggest, though, that what is needed is a restatement of aims and purpose and the freedom for professionals in colleges and schools to deliver on these aims.

“A programme of ‘major reform’ that focuses on detailed arrangements for funding and qualifications may be needed to underpin that.

“We will be working hard with the Labour Party over the coming months as it considers the policy implications of this report.”