‘Unsustained’ initiatives and ‘inability to learn lessons’ affecting skills system, report warns

Further education and skills has been marred by frequent change and “unsustained” initiatives, and a “lack of organisational memory” regarding past policies has resulted in an “inability to learn lessons”, a report has found.

The report, from City & Guilds and entitled Sense and Instability, also says that administering funding at local levels, for example, through local enterprise partnerships (Leps) has proved effective and points out that skills policy and initiatives need “planning, phased implementation and monitoring”.

It sets out the context that skills has flipped between departments or been shared with multiple departments 10 times since the 1980s, resulting in 13 major acts of Parliament. It also states that 61 Secretaries of State have had responsibility over the last three decades.

The 69-page report calls for stability through consensus, with an emphasis on less frequent disruptive policy changes. In particular it calls for the existing network of Leps to continue to exist for at least the duration of one more Parliament.

It also calls for better understanding of historical context to improve future policy, with references to occasions when policy has been watered-down or scrapped without realising its potential. It suggests that the business, innovation and skills (BIS) select committee holds a wide-ranging inquiry to help inform the next government’s skills policies.

Thirdly, it suggests the establishment of an organisation similar to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility for skills, in a bid to achieve “coherence through independent oversight”.

City & Guilds chair Sir John Armitt said: “They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

“It would be madness to ignore the evidence of three decades of skills and employment policy — yet our politicians have failed to learn from the past.

“This report is a wake-up call to all policymakers. I urge all parties — irrespective of political colours or ideology — to look and learn.”

Former Schools Minister Lord Adonis said: “Everyone responsible for policy-making and implementation must continue to challenge and improve the system.

“This report rightly highlights the need for better checks and balances on policy making so that where there is an intervention by government, or a change of direction, it is grounded in a strong evidence base that takes into consideration the lessons of the recent past.

“I hope that this paper begins a debate that is long overdue.”