Charlotte Bosworth thinks that while the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) removal of funding from a raft of level two qualifications had economic merit, young people must be able to learn employability and personal development skills to prove attractive to potential employers.
Earlier this year the SFA announced it was removing funding support for nearly 1,500 qualifications at level two and above.
This followed two government-backed reviews to investigate the merits of continued funding for certain qualification areas at a time when public budgets are under increased pressure and scrutiny.
One of the key qualification areas that has fallen victim to the resulting cuts is ‘employability and personal development’, which was deemed to be somewhat generic in nature and too lacking in robust qualification status to impress potential employers.
The lack of a clear path to work was cited as a primary reason to pull the funding for such qualifications.
Most education stakeholders — including OCR — agree that a process of de-cluttering the qualification system is a positive step forward, especially in areas where there is little or no take-up.
Nonetheless, it is also important that we continue to support young people who have perhaps struggled academically, but could be helped to fulfil their potential through access to relevant guidance and training in skills and personal development.
If we remove funding for employability skills and personal development qualifications in line with the decision of the SFA, then we must strive for alternative options so that the potential for students to miss out does not gain traction
If we are not careful, we could begin to see a gap emerge where such students fail to benefit from the employability skills and development support they require and deserve.
We have a clear duty to ensure that young people who, for a variety of reasons are furthest removed from the workplace, are not forgotten in the race to slash public expenditure.
Such students who have perhaps struggled within an academic environment need to be encouraged and supported in realising their own aspirations to forge a successful working career, despite a lack of formalised qualifications.
We believe that many students’ learning thrives when exposed to a more holistic combination of essential skills such as maths and English, set alongside practical and inspirational learning experiences found, in vocationally-based courses.
This enables them to access the type of skills and characteristics that will ultimately help them in the world of commerce when they are competing against other candidates for positions.
If we remove funding for employability skills and personal development qualifications in line with the decision of the SFA, then we must strive for alternative options so that the potential for students to miss out does not gain traction.
An alternative approach could be to provide adequate funding for programmes of adult learning, rather than reliance just upon qualifications.
Such a programme for the post-19 age group would enable learners to continue to attain the softer skills, which, alongside vocational and practical training, can develop a potential employee with more rounded attributes to set before a prospective employer.
While a programme of this nature may not carry the badge of formal qualification, it will, give students a fighting chance when it comes to securing employment.
I view it as a form of ‘intervention’, where the ability to access skills via learning in a supported environment can only enhance and not diminish the employment prospects of many.
The SFA’s remit is to fulfil the government’s desire to make sure that FE provides the skilled workforce employers need and to help individuals reach their full potential.
While the need to optimise hard-pressed budgets from the public purse is sensible, we should also make sure that by saving cost in the short term we do not also create a bigger and potentially more expensive problem further down the line.
See the first 2014/15 edition of FE Week, dated Monday, September 8, for an expert piece by Dr Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for development and research at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), on SFA qualifications reform and its decision last week to list a further 174 qualifications facing the axe.