Major parts of the economy will see level 3 qualifications in their sector excluded from the new Lifetime Skills Guarantee, FE Week can reveal.
Sectors deemed a low priority with low wages include hospitality, leisure, travel, retail, media and arts, while sectors such as IT, construction and engineering will get the green light.
When the all-age first full level 3 (equivalent to two full A-levels) policy announcement was made in September by prime minister Boris Johnson the government said it would give “adults the chance to take free college courses valued by employers, supporting people to train into better jobs”.
Since then the Education and Skills Funding Agency has been working on developing a list of those qualifications that would be “valuable in the workplace” to be funded from the national skills fund, from April 2021.
It is understood, based on accounts from those involved in the process, that the ESFA has determined priority based on the 50 “sub-sector subject area” categories already assigned to the nearly 1,200 full level 3 qualifications currently eligible for legal entitlement funding for those aged 19-to-23 from the adult education budget until the end of this year.
This has led them to exclude nearly 30 (see full list right) of the 50 sector areas, accounting for around half the qualifications, as well as several hundred Access to HE qualifications, on the basis that learners who take out loans can already get them written off if they go on to complete a degree.
As a result, the full level 3 Lifetime Skills Guarantee qualifications are expected to number less than 400 – around a quarter of those 1,200 available from the adult education budget or funded from advanced learner loans.
Exclusion has prompted exasperation from sector bodies, with the chief executive for trade body UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls, saying how “incredibly disappointing” it is to see her area barred from the guarantee, especially after hospitality has been “hammered harder than any other by the crisis and needs support to get back up to full strength and contribute to rebuilding the economy”.
She expressed hope the government would “open every possible avenue to people looking to join” the sector, adding: “It could be crucial if we want to see hospitality, and the economy, bounce back.”
Reacting to our analysis, Federation of Awarding Bodies chief executive Tom Bewick criticised the DfE for coming up with a qualifications list “without any meaningful consultation with the occupational sectors concerned.
“It is pretty shocking, and takes the idea of ‘Whitehall knows best’ to a whole new level. I can’t see how policymakers are any better at second guessing the future of the labour market than those who actually work in it.”
He said the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is “increasingly looking like a con trick”, and instead of putting “genuine lifelong learning and choice at the centre the new entitlement for adults, the government seems determined to massively limit the choices people can make by prescribing only a very few occupational routes for people to re-train in”.
Ofqual data on certificates at all levels awarded between July and September 2020, published this week, shows several of the excluded sector subject areas were in the top ten for number of certificates awarded, including sport, leisure and recreation, performing arts and media and communication.
Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan told an FE Week roundtable last month the qualifications that will be delivered under the guarantee would have to be high quality, have the respect of business and address a “wide range” of labour shortages.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the Association of Colleges’ FE summit on Wednesday the guarantee would mean teaching skills “that are highly in demand”.
Sector organisations to whom FE Week have spoken have protested that their skills are much-needed. General manager of the Institute of Administrative Management Andrew Jardine said that at first they had been “delighted” about the announcement of the new level 3 entitlement. “We were, therefore, deeply saddened and frustrated, although not necessarily surprised, to learn that the government has not included administration qualifications in the new scheme,” he added.
“Administrative roles may not get the headlines in many organisations, but I don’t know of any organisation that can function efficiently and effectively without them.”
Institute of Travel and Tourism director Peter Robinson said his sector contributes around £60 billion to the economy annually, and the decision to exclude the subjects “highlights once again the failure to understand the high-level skills and knowledge attained through tourism qualifications and the long-term value that these qualified professionals add to the industry and make to the wider economy”.
Creative & Cultural Skills, which advises the arts sector on technical education, has said it is “disappointed specific creative qualifications have been omitted from the Lifetime Skills Guarantee”, but hopes the approved qualifications will help them address their need for business operational skills.
They urged the DfE to “give thought to how they’ll support adults to retrain for the many roles the creative sector will continue to need in a post-Covid world, so as to avoid further perpetuating the perception that careers across the creative industries aren’t valid”.
The arts sector has previously come under criticism from Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman, who accused colleges in January of “flooding a local job market with young people with low-level arts and media qualifications”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced the level 3 entitlement with the Lifetime Skills Guarantee at Exeter College in September, saying the qualifications will help people “change jobs and find work in the burgeoning new sectors this country is creating”.
But the list of qualifications has suffered delays, with the DfE originally saying it would be released in October.
Keegan then told awarding organisations and sector representatives at an October roundtable her department was hoping to release the list “in the next couple of months, and hopefully by November”.
When FE Week took the sector concerns to the DfE a spokesperson said the new entitlement “is designed to help more adults to gain the skills that are valuable in the workplace and that will help them to progress.
“We are continuing to engage widely with the sector on the development of the offer and will confirm details in due course.”