Skills bootcamps ‘counter-intuitive’ to long-term FE simplification, top civil servant admits


Pilot schemes, such as skills bootcamps, are “counter-intuitive” to the Department for Education’s long-term goal of simplifying the FE system, Keith Smith has admitted.

The director for post-16 strategy at the DfE and mastermind behind the FE white paper conceded that introducing programmes with brand-new funding rules and methodologies do add further complexity to an already complicated system.

But he explained that schemes like this needed to be ramped up quickly to help the country’s recovery from Covid-19 and asked the sector: “Please don’t take anything that happens in the short-term as any sort of indication of where the future intent will be.”

Skills bootcamps are currently being piloted and are set for a £43 million national launch later this year. They are part of the prime minister’s “lifetime skills guarantee” and plan to get people quickly back into jobs following the pandemic.

They offer learners aged 19 and over the chance to take a 12-to-16-week level 3 or higher course with a guaranteed job interview at the end.

But as previously reported by FE Week, the new courses involve a totally new funding formula, with providers receiving 30 per cent to start the learner, 60 per cent for achievement and then ten per cent for eligible progression.

Providers also do not record learners through the individualised learner record and there are currently no plans for Ofsted to inspect the provision.

This is despite the DfE pledging in its FE white paper to “reform our funding and accountability system” of which “simplification and streamlining of funding” would be central.

Following this week’s Budget, Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the job schemes that have been created or scaled-up to aid the country’s Covid-19 recovery, such as Kickstart, bootcamps and traineeships, need to be “aligned and funding simplified”.

“The programmes currently do not work well together, are confusing to employers and will not work effectively for many unemployed people,” he added.

“The key thing now is to join up jobs and skills initiatives to allow as many people as possible to benefit from them quickly.”

Quizzed during an FE Week webcast on the white paper this week about why the government appeared to start from scratch when designing bootcamps, Smith agreed they could cause more confusion for the sector.

He said: “Yeah, I can see that. There is always a balance in the short term about getting money into the system in a way that is being provided for. In this case, government is really keen to test it [bootcamps].

“I completely accept the challenge that some of this is going to feel a bit counter-intuitive in the short term, that we’re perhaps doing things that potentially aren’t necessarily always in keeping with the longer term.

“All I would say is that I completely recognise that. Those listening today will understand there is a lot of complexity here we need to sort out. So please don’t take anything that happens in the short term as any sort of indication of where the future intent will be.”

He added that the white paper’s promised funding and accountability consultation “really will be the place that we start to mock all this up”.

The consultation is expected to launch later this year.

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