An influential committee of MPs has told DfE ministers to “get serious’ on skills in a damning report on the state of the skills system.
A report published by the Public Acounts Committee today has put together a series of recommendations for the government to boost skills training and education, warning that the £4 billion annual spend on 19+ education and training is “failing to deliver skills we need for the economy”.
The apprenticeship levy must be reviewed and an action plan produced to boost participation of people from disadvantaged backgrounds in training, the committee said.
The committee’s recommendations have called on the Department for Education to “review how it incentivises employers to invest in skills development, including through the apprenticeship levy, and in light of the findings, take action to improve the effectiveness of the incentives”.
In addition, it said the DfE should develop an evidence-based plan to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds into training, strip out government programmes that overlap with each other, and come up with measures to support colleges to tackle financial and workforce pressures.
The report authors said they were “extremely concerned” at the fall in FE and skills training participation from disadvantaged groups, saying take up in the most deprived 20 per cent of England had fallen 39 per cent in five years.
In addition, it said that making the apprenticeship landscape work for smaller employers is “fundamental” to increasing take-up from 16-19s and disadvantaged groups.
Committee chair Meg Hillier (main image), warned that the government is “not going to make inroads on levelling up if it does not get ahead of this”.
She added: “With UK workforce numbers falling the government need to get serious on skills. The future of the economy depends on it.”
The PAC pointed to adult education figures which revealed participation had halved from the 3.2 million learners in 2010/11 to just 1.6 million a decade later.
Other recommendations from the committee included clarifying success measures of the FE Skills Index – the government’s tool to determine the impact of further education on productivity, and providing more detail on the Unit for Future Skills – a division of the government to look at the link between skills and jobs.
Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) welcomed the report and its findings.
“We know there has been a significant drop in adult participation in FE and skills training,” she said.
“This can be largely attributed to the fact adult education funding has halved in the past decade, alongside reduced employer investment. Both employers and government must address declining participations in adult education by increasing investment, to support disadvantaged adults develop work-ready skills and enable employers to fill skills gaps.”
Hickie added that clearer guidance on training and education pathways and reduced complexity in the system were also needed.
On colleges, the report said college financial health remained “fragile” and the money and workforce squeeze had forced some colleges to reduce the length of courses or narrow the curriculum, as well as cut back on enrichment activities and careers advice.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said colleges were being “starved of the investment” to deliver skilled workers.
He added: “Anyone working in the sector will not be surprised by the alarming picture this report highlights. Cuts since 2010 have reduced participation in adult education to record low numbers.”
Hughes pointed to the chancellor’s autumn statement that snubbed FE funding when schools were given a £2 billion uplift each year for the next two years, and said that sectors struggling to recruit people contributes to a “massive drain on productivity and therefore economic growth”.
Skills minister Robert Halfon said: “Our skills programmes have been designed hand-in-hand with businesses to meet their needs, and that of the wider economy. Our ambition is to ensure people of all ages, at all stages of life, can access high quality technical qualifications and training – and are able to climb the ladder of opportunity.
“We are focused on delivery to drive long-term economic growth and create a pipeline of talent to meet the needs of our future workforce. That is why in the autumn statement we announced Sir Michael Barber will be advising on skills implementation to drive forward our progress.”