Hard-to-reach learners won’t be helped by the programme if councils engage the same old providers, writes Ian Ross
It has become apparent from contacting numerous local councils that many are taking wildly different approaches to rolling out the Multiply programme.
As a quick reminder, the programme, part of the UK shared prosperity fund, is gearing up to support adults in improving their numeracy skills. Currently, half of the working-age population have entry-level everyday maths skills.
Multiply will help to boost confidence and assist individuals with career progression while supporting the government’s levelling-up mission to ensure that by 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have increased.
Local authorities across England are finalising their investment plans, outlining how their proposed provision will meet the Multiply investment prospectus. Around £270 million is being allocated directly to 91 mayoral combined authorities and local councils.
Local councils are also finalising their delivery plans and how they are going to respond to rolling out Multiply. But after contacting just 14 local authorities, it’s clear there are inconsistent approaches.
Allocating funds directly to 91 bodies, namely mayoral combined authorities and local councils, comes with many hurdles. This presents a challenge to ensuring the funding helps those that Multiply is designed to support.
Although there are advantages to devolution and giving local bodies the autonomy to lead Multiply in their areas, some local councils are already struggling in drafting their investment plans. I have seen some councils send out their entire investment plan templates inviting external stakeholders to write it for them.
Some councils have written their plans behind closed doors
Other councils are running consultation events and co-producing their proposals with local stakeholders. But some have just written their investment plans internally behind closed doors.
I have also observed how advanced some councils are in drafting their plans, while others are only just starting to think about what interventions they might offer.
The risk is that those councils without the internal expertise or passion risk squandering an opportunity for their residents to access high-quality numeracy provision.
Then there are major discrepancies in how Multiply will be delivered in year one, which runs from April 2022 to March 2023.
Given that Multiply investment plans will not be approved by the Department for Education before August 2022, mayoral combined authorities and local councils will only have seven months to spend their year one allocations from September 2022.
Although this timescale is tight for commissioning delivery partners, some bodies have decided to just hand the money out to FE colleges or their existing adult community learning providers in year one. Meanwhile other councils are running short competitive grant application processes during July.
While I appreciate there may be capacity issues within local councils, handing money out to existing providers is unlikely to have the desired impact of finding hard-to-reach learners.
FE colleges and council adult community learning providers already have adult education budget funding to deliver maths qualifications and non-accredited numeracy provision. I question why they are not already reaching these target group of learners with their existing AEB funding?
So it is crucial those drafting their investment plans look beyond FE colleges and existing adult community learning providers.
There are many local providers, already working with hard-to-reach learners, who can bring innovation and add value to Multiply.
It is all well local councils reassuring the sector that new providers can get involved in year two but, as proved by West Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council, it is possible to roll out a short competitive grant process in year one if the drive and determination are there.
Let’s make sure Multiply has the impact it deserves, and we do not to waste a once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive up adult numeracy.