Government’s 3m apprenticeships target ‘largely unfunded’ — and rest of FE will pay, warns post-16 policy adviser Wolf

Government plans to create 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020 are “largely unfunded,” post-16 policy adviser Professor Lady Alison Wolf claimed today in a hard-hitting report that warns FE could “vanish into history” to foot the bill.

The King’s College academic, who penned a 2011 government review of vocational education, said the push for apprenticeship numbers risked “major cuts” to the rest of the adult skills budget and branded post-19 funding as “unstable, inefficient, untenable and unjust”.

In her latest report, entitled Heading for the precipice: can further and higher education funding policies be sustained?, Professor Wolf challenged the government on its apprenticeships pledge, saying: “The government has made commitments to apprenticeship which appear to be largely unfunded.

“One obvious source of funds is the rest of the adult budget. This has been falling sharply in recent years, and is currently one of the few sizeable ‘unprotected’ budgets in Whitehall which can be adjusted easily.

“It seems extremely likely that additional, major cuts, will be made, further widening the resource gap demonstrated in this paper.”

It comes just days after Skills Minister Nick Boles told the Association of Employment and Learning Providers conference how a study showing the return on public funding of apprenticeships outweighed that of classroom-based courses would “guide” decisions.

The report, supported by the Gatsby Foundation, also comes as the sector prepares to take its share of £900m of cuts facing the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education, while providers were told they would have to wait until after the July 8 budget for a decision on in-year apprenticeship funding growth requests.

Martin Doel (pictured below right), chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “Professor Wolf is right to say that unless its funding is protected adult education and training could disappear entirely.Doel

“If post-19 education starts to vanish so do the future prospects of the millions of people who may need to retrain as they continue to work beyond retirement age, as well as unemployed people who need support to train for a new role.

“Adult education and training in England is too important to be lost, to both individuals and the wider economy.

“Colleges are ambitious and work hard to make sure they’re helping to produce a workforce with the right skills for the local job market but they cannot do this alone.

“The Government must look again at its funding of adult education and training and ensure that it is given the support it so rightly deserves.

“In 2011, Professor Wolf issued a landmark report which changed the face of post-16 education. Her latest report is equally as important.”

Professor Wolf’s 87-page report goes on to say that spending per head on the 20 to 60-year-old population has halved since 2010, while cuts in the early years of the Coalition meant the total skills budget fell below 2002 levels a decade later.

Professor Wolf warns that as the gulf between college and university funding continues to expand, student demand will move into the university sector, driving technical education out of the FE colleges — which are best placed and most suited to delivering it.

Her report says the result will be the destruction of the college-based part of the education system, crippling the country’s ability to provide technical, employer-facing education. Further, it will place unsustainable demands on the higher education budget, potentially threatening quality.

“We should all be extremely concerned about our increasingly inefficient and inegalitarian system of funding post-19 education. Our future productivity and prosperity are at risk if we don’t address the ongoing erosion of provision outside the universities,” said Professor Wolf.

Nigel Thomas, director of education & skills at the Gatsby Foundation, said: “Professor Wolf’s report lays bare the failures of the current system of FE and HE funding and how these threaten the provision of technician-level training. Technicians are critical to our economy but our skills system is not producing them in anywhere near sufficient numbers.”

A BIS spokesperson said: “The government is committed to creating 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020 and will continue to work with colleges and business to ensure that happens.

“We will continue to focus investment in areas that have the most impact on increasing the skills of our  workforce and help increase productivity across the country.”

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    • FE Commissionaire

      Yes, it means exactly that, ie if you don’t achieve by 19 you will more or less be written off by this Government. There’s nothing modern, nothing customer focused and nothing innovative in England’s over-arching education system. It’s a class based race to achieve by the age of 19 with the odds loaded heavily in favour of the privileged, families who are already relatively successful, and areas with low deprivation. And it’s just about to get much worse with little or no emphasis on social mobility.

      Imagine our society if you could only take your driving test once or twice with a cut off at age 19! That’s the kind of ‘skills system’ this Government is intent on. As a result, employers will be left with a rapidly shrinking pool of qualified, skilled and work ready people.

      The much vaunted growth in apprenticeships (whether the Tories version or Labour’s), are not the answer either in terms of volume, employer commitment, or quality (their fitness for purpose to provide the country with suitably qualified vocational and technical skills). Anyone who has worked in the world of vocational education and training knows that the most consistently, most problematic part of the skills system over the past two decades has been ‘apprenticeships’. Relying on the nostalgic rhetoric of apprenticeships is simply not a credible solution. Yes, there are some good apprenticeships that look something like most people’s understanding of what an apprenticeship should be. However, the volume of such apprenticeships is pitifully small. The reality is that successive governments had already dismantled the nation’s apprenticeship system (in the joint names of labour market reform and wider neo liberal economic reforms, and employers have greedily lapped up those new freedoms).

  1. Professor Wolf is to be congratulated for pinpointing the way in which the government’s proposed expansion of apprenticeship provision is being used as a cover for the decimation of further education provision, particularly for the post 19 age group. As the AOC have pointed out, we face the real prospect within the next 5 years of hundreds of thousands of young people aged 19 and over literally having no vocational educational option available to them unless they can pay for it privately or persuade an employer to take them on as an apprentice.
    The Learning Revolution Trust is a charity committed to promoting educational participation and achievement in East London and these policies will be a disaster for many young people living within disadvantaged communities who often have not achieved the qualifications they need at school and rely on the vocational pathways and opportunities offered by FE. It will also be a disaster for employers who are constantly complaining of their inability to recruit employees with the required skills and whose problems are only likely to get worse.
    Professor Wolf is also spot on in pointing to the extraordinary discrimination in funding between higher and further education, with universities having 7 times the budget of further education providers even though they cater for over half a million fewer student every year.She turns the spotlight on the dangers of top down crash programmes by showing how previous expansions of apprenticeship provision have led to a shift towards older age groups and a focus on lower level qualifications. The suspicion is that the only way the government will appear to achieve its targets will be through devices such as widespread’rebranding’of existing employees as apprentices; a recent BIS report suggested that up to 93% of adult apprentices may fall into this category.
    There is now an urgent need for the sector and all the stakeholders who rely on it to work together to reverse the current direction of travel to bring about a sustainable vocational education strategy fit for the 21st Century and to fight for it.

  2. It’s been an interesting few weeks since the General Election.
    We’ve seen a delay in growth payments until after next months budget, the announcement of a further £900 million in year cuts across our sector, on top of the 24% cut already announced, a commitment to 3 million apprentices during this administration, which appear to be at the cost of adult skills training, the publication of Professor Alison Wolfs report (above) and the sad death of Chris Woodhead.
    Have I missed anything?
    The report by Alison Wolf clearly shows the risks to FE delivery in general, to providers of this service and more importantly, the users of this service.
    The clear message here is that without investment (funding) for our sector, it will collapse!
    Is this our legacy?
    We have defined routes of education and skills training
    Compulsory Education
    Further Education
    Vocational Education (Including Apprenticeships)
    Higher Education
    All of these have an essential place in our society, they all deliver outcomes that – should – sustain our economy.
    But – each of these areas is not given the time, funding or underpinned governmental support to be embedded and successful over a prolonged period.
    What we need is investment and stability as well as defined routes through this journey with platforms at each level allowing individuals to step off at any point.
    Compulsory education must return to traditional subjects. We all need a good level of English, Maths, Science. We also need Religious Education, understanding different faiths, developing compassion for each other, Geography, History, Physical Education.
    These subjects are our staples and should be protected. I understand that applied learning has its place in contextualising given problems to aid learning, but that need to be its limit in compulsory education.
    Teacher training must be prioritised and importantly, work based, helping all teachers across all education manage behaviour, engendering respect regardless of the ‘clients’ age with mandatory CPD that includes research.
    We must stop disengaging our compulsory aged clients in mixed ability classes. There’s no shame or stigma attached to working at a pace that suites you, in a group of your peers – news flash – we’re not all the same, but we can all achieve our potential, studying the same subjects, at the same time, at a challenging pace that considers our ability at that time.
    We have a target of 3 million apprenticeships during the course of this administration. Clearly this is being funded at the detriment to other programmes, adult learning in particular.
    How has this figure been reached? How many are required by employers in each sector to meet their needs? How many people are due to retire from these sectors over the next 5 years, and has this target number taken account of this natural wastage from our skills pool?
    Undertaking changes to such a critical sector within our society, a sector that does directly impact on individual and collective economic prosperity must not be a tool for political gains.
    All age education and training cannot be a lottery for those lucky enough to take part and compulsory education should be, must be, the foundation on which all other learning is built.
    My optimism and passion for all age learning is being stretched and I am genuinely concerned for the future of our sector.
    Professor Wolfs report must be used as the warning against making these mistakes!!!