DfE launches consultation on fully-funded digital skills training

The Department for Education has launched a consultation on the new national standards for digital skills, including plans for new qualifications at two levels.

The consultation sets out the government’s plans to overhaul the current national standards, which set out core digital skills, as well as improving basic digital skills with qualifications at ‘beginner’ and ‘essential’ levels. 

All adults without basic digital skills will be able to enrol on the new qualifications free of charge from 2020, as previously reported by FE Week.

Free digital skills training for adults was first announced by the government in October 2016, and became law in April 2017 as part of the Digital Economy Act. Funding for the courses will come from the existing £1.5 billion annual adult education budget.

The consultation document said the publicly funded digital skills courses will be “offered up to and including the ‘essential’ level (level 1)”, but that extending the entitlement to courses at level 2 would be considered “in the longer term”.

It added that, in order to make sure that only those adults who do not have secure basic digital skills receive funding, providers will need to carry out stringent checks on learners.

This will include assessing their current skill level, ongoing assessment to support learning, and recording evidence of all assessment outcomes in a learner file.

However, the document also noted that the government had “found few initial assessments for basic digital skills that would meet the proposed AEB funding rules” and said it would “welcome” examples of best practice.

“In advance of introducing the entitlement in 2020, we will publish a list of qualifications eligible to be included in the digital entitlement offer, alongside those specified for English and maths,” it said.

“For a qualification to be approved as part of the entitlement offer, awarding organisations will need to submit qualifications developed on the new national standards for consideration against the qualification eligibility principles. Further details on this process will be confirmed in due course.”

Announcing the consultation launch, skills minister Anne Milton warned that one in five people living in the UK do not have “basic digital skills”, and said increasing understanding was a “big challenge to tackle”.

The ‘beginner’ qualification will be designed for adults with little or no prior experience of using digital devices or the internet, and will include basic skills like using a search engine, sending and receiving emails, completing online forms and protecting personal information, and  supporting them to use digital devices like tablets, smart phones and laptop. 

The ‘essential’ qualification, designed for those with “some experience” but who are “lacking secure digital skills” will include topics like evaluating online content, managing online identity and understanding and exercising rights for controlling the use of personal data.

Another consultation, run by qualification regulator Ofqual, is also due to launch imminently on aspects such as the structure and title of the qualifications and coverage of the standards.

The Department for Education’s consultation will run until January 10, 2019.