The findings of a hotly anticipated review into technical and professional education (TPE) have been hit by further delays — with the government now refusing even to say whether or not it will be unveiled before the EU referendum.
The report, which will set the scene for the first skills white paper in more than a decade, is being worked on by an independent panel led by Lord Sainsbury (pictured).
It is set to recommend the creation of 15 new ‘professional and technical’ routes with apprenticeship or substantial work experience, as exclusively revealed by FE Week on May 6.
The report was originally expected in March, and was then pushed back to May — but a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson has now declined to say whether it will be published before the referendum on whether Britain should quit the EU on June 23.
In fact, if it is not unveiled before May 27, the report will be banned from publication until after the referendum — due to purdah rules governing the release of important information during periods of national campaigning.
A source told FE Week the release date was discussed at a meeting at BIS on Wednesday (May 18), and that officials believe it is highly likely that the report will now won’t be published until early July.
Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said this latest delay will further undermine the FE sector’s efforts to plan for the future.
He told FE Week: “With a sector already uncertain of its future direction amidst cuts and rushed area reviews, this delay adds to their worries.”
What’s more, he said it “further exacerbates frustrations” over Monday’s (May 16) higher education white paper, which upset educators because it made no reference to an “integrated skills strategy” between the two sectors.
The delay comes after the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) released a document in February labelled ‘The Legal Entitlements for 2016 to 2017’, which referenced an upcoming skills white paper, which was to be published “in the spring”.
It said: “The 2016 to 2017 funding year is part of a transitional period as we move towards full skills devolution and the implementation of TPE reforms.
“This transition gives time to move to new entitlement qualifications as well as make any changes to curriculum that come out of the reform of TPE. More information will be available when a skills white paper is published in the spring.”
But FE Week reported last month that the reference to “spring” had apparently been removed from an updated version of the report — indicating that publication would be delayed.
The online link to the first version of the document was also altered to redirect straight to the new updated copy — making it impossible for readers to compare the two.
And as revealed by FE Week earlier this month, the skills white paper will bring an end to mixed provision and make 16-year-olds choose between academic courses, leading to university, or a new TPE route into work.
The Department for Education said the panel’s outcomes would be published “in due course”, but would not specify whether it would be before or after the EU referendum.