A review of English and maths accreditation is welcome, but should not result in new qualifications, says Charlotte Bosworth.
In the Skills Minister Nick Boles’ introduction to his speech he mentioned a moment full of risk, his analogy was to make a party political point about the choice the electorate face in May’s general election, but for me the analogy works well for the place we find ourselves in as a sector.
In my foreword to the FE Week Reader’s Manifesto, I mentioned the political football nature of reform and constant churn that has affected our sector for too many electoral cycles.
I believe that although relatively policy light, the two inputs we had on the first day of the AoC Conference from the Skills Minister and his Shadow Cabinet counterpart suggested that this initiative churn shows no sign of abating.
Nick spoke of English and maths and the need to review the best ways to accredit these, including in said review employers, providers and exam boards.
But we must not rush to create new qualifications or assessments nor must we rush to re-title something that as a qualification type is still in its infancy and beginning to gain credibility with employers.
Liam Byrne spoke of three shifts needed in FE — for FE to become the new spine of professional and technical education, to have as many people going into apprenticeships as university, and for FE to become closer to business.
These are laudable aspirations, but we must ensure we continue to provide services through FE that cater to the needs of the entire cohort and we must avoid the rush to an apprenticeship arms race over numbers of starts.
The quality of provision is still more important than the quantity. But Liam also spoke of his party’s vision for Institutes of Technical Education, and this for me is an area of concern.
We must look at how we create capacity in the institutions that we already have, rather than creating further complexity to layer onto our already complex system
Through policy churn we have, in some places, lost a sense of the purpose of different types of education and provision.
If Institutes of Technical Education is a plan to create another layer of different types of institutions then we must resist it.
We should be able to look critically at where we are as a sector and if there is a gap to fill to meet the technical education needs of learners, then we must look at how we create capacity in the institutions that we already have, rather than creating further complexity to layer onto our already complex system.
The Skills Minister also spoke of the outcomes of the traineeships funding consultation that the government ran in the summer.
The announcement signals a greater parity between arrangements for traineeship funding between 16 to 18-year-olds and 19 to 24-year-olds.
Our response to the consultation had argued for greater consistency in programme management.
One of the key issues is that in the way that the government department’s responsibilities are split, there is an artificial policy divide at 19. We are pleased that the announcements in the government response to the consultation address this in both learner eligibility and approach to funding.
I was also pleased that, in the announcement, the government is looking at an “evolutionary” approach rather than a revolutionary one in the move to a greater focus on outcomes.
In the simplest terms, the answer to the consultation’s central question about whether there should be a greater focus on positive outcomes was ‘yes’. However, I think we must be clear about what behaviours we want to drive.
In schools policy, we have seen the all-pervading effect of performance tables and their ability to drive school curriculum offer and qualification choice.
But the often hidden message is that education is broader than just the exam syllabus. So we must ensure that in this evolutionary approach we keep in mind and guard against the introduction of a new set of ‘performance measures’ that to help those easiest to help and to forget those young people who need time and support.