Plans to merge several adult skills budgets into a single skills fund have been delayed for a year.
The Department for Education had intended to issue allocations for the skills fund for the 2023/24 academic year. The new fund brings together the adult education budget, free courses for jobs and community learning under a single heading.
The move is part of the government’s reforms to simplify the skills funding system and make providers more accountable to government priorities.
Other reforms include the introduction of a needs-based funding formula, moving away from historic performance, new employment related objectives for community learning and a promised rise in funding rates for priority courses.
Enhanced skills inspections, where colleges receive an extra judgement from Ofsted on how well they are meeting local skills needs, are another part of the government’s reform plans. These began in inspections this September and a number of reports have already been published.
But responses to the government’s latest consultation on the proposals, which closed in October, indicated widespread concern on the timing of the introduction of the new skills fund.
DfE has said a “significant” proportion of its 249 responses to the consultation flagged concerns about introducing the new skills fund in 2023/24 with calls for a longer lead-in period.
The government had now said the skills fund will be implemented in time for 2024/25.
Attached to the skills fund were proposals to increase funding rates for priority courses and plans to “re-orientate” community learning provision towards a controversial set of objectives.
Under the skills fund, courses that are “non-qualification” based must achieve at least one of three set objectives; achieving employment, progression to further learning that brings learners close to employment and helping learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to access independent living.
These new objectives have been met with strong opposition from adult education and local authority leaders who have argued that removing objectives relating to families, communities and health could displace thousands of vulnerable learners.
A delay in the introduction to the skills fund also means the rate rise and new objectives for community learning have also been put back to 2024/25.
A full response to the second stage consultation is expected early in 2023.