Sector leaders have criticised the government for excluding key skills shortage areas in their list of adult education (AEB) subjects in line for an in-year 20 per cent funding top-up.
Experts have also complained that the chosen subject areas are male dominated, while courses more likely to be taken up by women, such as in hospitality and health and social care, have been excluded.
It was announced last week that adult education providers will receive a 20 per cent top-up this year and next on their earnings for adult education budget (AEB) courses in six subjects: engineering, manufacturing technologies, transport operations and maintenance, building and construction, ICT for practitioners, and mathematics and statistics.
Skills minister Robert Halfon said he was aware that the FE sector was facing “financial pressures in key subjects like engineering, mathematics and construction, which is why we’re giving an additional significant boost in funding for these essential courses”.
But other skills shortages areas, like health and social care, hospitality and agriculture were excluded from the 20 per cent funding top-up.
The government is aware of a need for more training in the health and social care workforce. Two of the 20 standards selected for a funding increase by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education that came in May were for adult care.
In January, health and social care was identified as a “priority” subject area in line for an AEB funding rate increase. But that uplift doesn’t come until 2024, which has left leaders frustrated that the sector has been excluded from funding boosts this year and next.
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “Given unprecedented rates of inflation, any uplift in funding rates should be welcomed. However, it’s disappointing that some areas haven’t received additional funding.
“It is frustrating in particular that care has missed out – especially as this was a sector which was identified as having extra costs when apprenticeship uplifts were announced.”
Susan Pember, policy director of adult education body HOLEX, said that skills needs in health and social care will be local priorities through the local skills improvement plans (LSIPs), and providing extra funding now would rebalance beneficiaries between males and females.
“Although the extra funding rates are welcome it does seem that the majority of the extra will go to courses where the majority of learners (outside of IT and science) are men.
“HOLEX would have wished health and care was prioritised as it is a government priority sector and will feature in most of the LSIP’s.
“The health and care area is one of the key progression pathways for women and selecting it for extra funding would have helped the area increase capacity for when the LSIP’s are in place.”
FE Week analysis of education and training enrolments indicates that twice as many male learners will benefit from the 20 per cent top-up than female learners.
The figures show 15 per cent of all education and training enrolments were in the sector subject areas holding the six chosen top-up subjects. Ten per cent were men and 5 per cent were women.
The difference was most pronounced at level 1, with figures showing that males were four times more likely than females to be in subjects that will benefit from the 20 per cent top-up.
Similar criticisms were levelled at the DfE in 2021 when it launched its skills bootcamps programme in male-dominated sectors, leading to a series of recommendations from its equalities impact assessment to bring in more female learners.
The department did not confirm that an equalities impact assessment had been carried out but told FE Week that it did consider its public sector equalities duty when deciding which courses to prioritise for extra funding.
The six chosen tier 2 sector subject areas were chosen to mirror the 16 to 19 high value course premium, which the DfE felt was the best way to target the limited funding available.
A spokesperson said: “These subjects are where providers are likely to need the greatest support in recruitment and retention and where the new funding rates in 2024 to 2025 will give the biggest increase.”
However, this doesn’t explain the absence of extra funding this year for health and social care which in 2024 receives one of the largest increases in its funding weighting.
Sector leaders believe the reason is more likely affordability.
Where is the money coming from?
FE Week reported in last week’s edition that funding increases for this year and next will come from underspends within the existing budget.
Stephen Evans, chief executive at Learning and Work Institute, said that missing shortage sectors proved the need for a bigger overall budget for adult education.
“Adult skills funding is set to be £1 billion lower in 2025 than it was in 2010, so any increase in funding rates means fewer learners without a budget increase. That said, we can’t pretend inflation doesn’t exist, so the government is right to raise funding rates.
“It’s unfortunate they’ve only chosen the courses they have, when health, social care, retail, hospitality and other sectors are just as in need of more learning. Time for the government to increase overall funding.”