The resilience of FE will be tested in the year ahead. Here are five key takeaways from our recent national conference, writes Jane Hickie
AELP’s first in-person national conference in three years took place this week. Among the packed agenda, we learned a lot from the two-day event. Here’s five key takeaways from me:
1. There are huge challenges facing us in the year ahead
There are big challenges ahead. A common theme from providers was the impact rising costs are having on their ability to continue delivering high-quality training provision, linked with issues around recruiting and retaining good staff.
Level 2 and below qualification reform is also a major worry. These are important stepping stones, and we must be careful not to remove opportunities in the name of simplification.
And we heard support for our position from Jennifer Coupland of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.
2. Our resilience will be tested at times – but we will persevere
These challenges will test our resilience. This includes meeting the skills minister’s new ambition for an overall 67 per cent achievement rate on apprenticeship standards by 2025 ̶ this ambitious target will need proper funding and support from government.
It was great to have the minister with us, and I hope he heard our concerns loud and clear.
While the new achievement rate target is certainly very ambitious, I fear it won’t be achievable until the Department for Education irons out unhelpful nuances in the current qualification achievement rates methodology and finds a better way to measure success.
Nevertheless, I’ve really appreciated the minister’s engagement with AELP recently – particularly his commitment to helping more SMEs to engage with apprenticeships. However, we clearly still have more lobbying to do around functional skills and tackling inflation before we see further movement. Rome wasn’t built in a day – we will persist!
3. We will need more collaboration in the sector
Meeting these challenges means we need to collaborate more effectively – the whole FE sector must push in the same direction on the big issues.
The whole FE sector must push in the same direction on the big issues
David Hughes, of the Association of Colleges (AoC), focused on this by pointing out there are many areas in which we share common challenges and aims – so why wouldn’t we work together?
Strengthening the relationship between AoC, adult education provider body HOLEX and AELP will be good for the whole sector.
Speaking of collaboration, on Tuesday, we launched our joint report with ERSA on employability and skills provision. ‘Hiding The Join’ – rather fittingly – calls for more collaboration between government departments to ensure better alignment across employability and skills.
4. AELP plays a crucial role in the sector
National conference was an opportunity to reflect on the importance of AELP’s work for our members.
At a time when providers need support and a national voice more than ever, that sense of community is crucial. Membership is growing steadily and skills have never been higher on the government’s agenda.
Despite the challenges, we’ve also had some great wins over the past 12 months, including positive changes to the off-the-job training requirements, a re-set on the cap of ten starts for non-levy-paying employers, imminent changes to the law so that prisoners can undertake an apprenticeship, and additional skills funding in the multi-year spending review.
5. A modern economy needs ITPs
The role of independent training providers in delivering the skills our country needs continues to grow. As we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, and our relationship with the European Union changes, there is even more demand for high-quality home-grown skills.
ITPs – given their ability to adapt and innovate – should play a prime role in making levelling up a success and shifting to a low-carbon economy.
That’s why ensuring there’s a level playing field between all types of providers has never been more vital.