It might be a busy few days at Association of Colleges (AoC) conference, but that is set to continue with an extensive programme of reforms hitting the sector, as Graham Hasting-Evans explains. 

Many will be focused on their post-16 area reviews or looking forward to their ‘turn’ with apprehension.

FE Commissioner Dr David Collins has already revealed early findings from the first wave of these reviews.

Speaking at this year’s Higher and Further Education Show following he said during the next 18 months he and a team of advisers would be travelling the country “endeavouring and encouraging marriages, federations and divorces between colleges to try and set up a sustainable FE sector”.

But this is not the only major policy change happening. Arguably we have change overload.

Let’s start with funding — always a good place to begin.

For many, funding will be seen as the major and immediate challenge — but that is only the start

Budgets are being cut. Everyone is expecting the November 25 autumn statement will tell us how bad it will be.

There is also likely to be a major shift in the funding mechanism. We are expecting this to probably include a de-centralisation of whatever is left of the Adult Skills Budget and a move to funding on the basis of outcome performance statistics. In other words a lot less money cut up differently.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (Leps) have a place in all of this but not all the country has a Lep in place and many are still trying to work out what they should be doing and how to do it.

For many, funding will be seen as the major and immediate challenge — but that is only the start.

The whole focus for the curriculum will be changing. There will be more focus on improving English and maths, through GCSEs and an upgrading of Functional Skills (reform of Functional Skills is likely to happen in 2016).

There will be an increase in professional and technical courses and qualifications from now; and there will be courses and qualifications aimed at getting people into a job in a certain sector as well as into a specific job role or apprenticeship.

There will be a ramping up of the apprenticeship numbers to achieve the 3m target; and root and branch reform of apprenticeships with the ‘old’ SASE frameworks frozen and all ‘new’ apprenticeships modelled on the Trailblazer approach complete for delivery by September 2017.

There will be changes to the funding of apprenticeships from this year as a transition to the introduction of full employer funding through the new planned HMRC-administered levy from September 2017; and major changes on how apprentices are regulated and governed by Government and employers.

There will also be replacement of the QCF with the RQF by Ofqual; new EU procurement rules with the AoC initiative already underway; and support for the unemployed and those with learning difficulties.

All of which is a very ambitious programme of change for 2016-17 and much of these policy changes lack the necessary detail.

There is a complete lack of clarity over how much of this will work, despite the fact that much of the change is due to happen over the next nine to ten months.

People are also questioning how the current Trailblazer process can ramp up from some 400 apprenticeship registrations against the 50 completed Trailblazer standards to 3m in this Parliament. The concern is it will only be achieved by cutting the quality which is in direct conflict with the objective of the reforms.

And all of this policy change is happening as the area reviews and fundamental restructuring of provision is being carried out leaving the area review teams facing some challenge.

They have to first review the present provision against current known demands. Then (using perhaps a crystal ball) they have to decide what will be the impact of all the policy changes in their area, many of which are still not clear.

Mr Hasting-Evans is due to chair a one-hour AoC conference fringe session, Delivering innovative routes to employment with Local Enterprise Partnerships, on Thursday (November 19) from 9am.

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