Spending review: Government criticised for ‘warm words’ on skills investment

FE leaders have been left frustrated by the lack of clarity

FE leaders have been left frustrated by the lack of clarity

27 Oct 2021, 16:44

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FE leaders have been left frustrated by the lack of clarity surrounding the government’s spending review commitments for skills.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised today that “total spending on skills will increase over the parliament by £3.8 billion by 2024-25, equivalent to a cash increase of 42 per cent (26 per cent in real terms) compared to 2019-20”.

But much of the investment, which includes funding for capital projects, adult education, the 16 to 19 base rate and apprenticeships appears to be a rehash of previous funding announcements.

FE Week is seeking clarity from the Treasury but the issue has not escaped the sector’s leaders, who have cautiously welcomed today’s spending review.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of think tank the Learning and Work Institute, said: “It’s good to see investment in skills rising again after a lost decade of cuts. However, it looks like this only restores some of the previous cuts and so won’t be enough to transform Britain into a skills superpower.

“The spending review is light on details, but we estimate another £750 million is needed to return investment to 2010 levels and how we invest and what we achieve is as important as levels of investment.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “It’s clear that the chancellor and this government recognise that more investment in skills is vital for economic growth and their levelling up ambitions. So it is disappointing that despite lots of warm words about the importance of skills, and a long list of separate funding pots, overall investment does not look like it is going up by much at all

“A world class skills system needs more investment than this after more than a decade of cuts. Good rhetoric about skills will not level up the country – colleges will do that with the right investment.”

He added: “Government’s consistent refusal to increase the funding per student post-16 is baffling. The funding per adult will not have gone up in 14 years by the end of 2024/25, unlike in schools where per pupil funding will match 2010/11 levels in real terms.”

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “We asked three things of the Chancellor in this year’s spending review: boost capital funding for providers of 16 to 19 education that wish to expand, make a long-term commitment to the increases in revenue funding announced in 2019, and raise the rate of core funding for every sixth form student.

“On capital, it is our understanding that the post-16 capacity fund – currently a one-year scheme – will be extended for a further 3 years through the additional funding announced today. That is excellent news, and will benefit colleges that are currently oversubscribed and help to accommodate the thousands of additional 16- to 19-year-olds that will participate in education in the coming years.

“We are also pleased that the government has committed to maintaining the funding gains made in 2019 and to protecting revenue funding in real terms. However, at this stage, it is too early to say what the new funding rate will be or how funding 40 additional hours of learning per student, per year, will work in practice. We look forward to working through the details of this with officials in the days and weeks ahead.”

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of City & Guilds Group, said: “Whilst we welcome the chancellor’s spending package for professional and technical education, we need more clarity over whether the chancellor’s commitments to the sector are new, or merely a rehash of funding that was already allocated and sold to us as something ‘new’.

“With a million jobs left unfilled (along with our supermarket shelves and petrol tanks) there is too much at stake to get this wrong.”

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: “From the perspective of government wanting to get more money into FE colleges; secure extra capital to deliver on the department’s own technical education reforms; as well as find additional resource for flagship schemes like Bootcamps, DfE ministers can claim some sort of victory.

“In that sense, l would argue that they’ve found more money to invest in the things that are perhaps important to them; and not necessarily the long term investment and policies needed to tackle the great skills and adult education divide that exists in our country.

“Indeed, what this budget and spending review absolutely doesn’t do is fully reverse over a decade of austerity in FE. England’s investment in technical education per head will still fall well below that of our major competitors; and crucially, today’s budget fails to tackle the huge intergenerational divide, since the burden of higher taxes and the cost of living squeeze will continue to fall disproportionately on the young, renters and those in work on average earnings.”

Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “I particularly welcome investment in apprenticeships, traineeships and employability programmes. This focus on vocational learning will help get people of all ages and at every level into good quality training and work.

“However, it is clear there remains a real lack of parity in treatment of different FE provider types. Independent training providers have been left out of education catch-up funding and capital investment, both of which are only available to schools and colleges. This is disappointing, given the important role independent training providers play in supporting employers and learners.”

Simon Parkinson, chief executive of the WEA, said: “It is remarkable to hear a chancellor highlight lifelong learning in a budget speech and we are pleased that there is a new programme, Multiply, to tackle the long standing challenge of poor numeracy.

“However, maths is only one part of the challenge and the nation also needs to tackle other essential skills such as literacy and digital skills. The Multiply programme will be delivered through the Shared Prosperity Fund so it will be separate to the Department for Education’s support of adult learning generally. We look to the detail behind the Budget speech for reassurance that community learning budgets are at least maintained and that the Multiply programme is additional to government spending on essential skills through DfE.”

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical education, said: “We welcome the chancellor’s spending review announcement today which was full of great news for technical education.

“The extra financial support for apprenticeships, T Levels and colleges will be hugely beneficial. The Institute has championed the interests of small businesses within the apprenticeships programme, so it is great to see measures that will help more of them recruit and train apprentices.

“We will work with employers and the FE sector to ensure we capitalise on this timely boost and do better than ever at filling skills gaps, keeping pace with technological advances, supporting the green-agenda, and driving the national recovery.”

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  1. Little did I realise that when I retired from a career in FE 1970-2008, the next 13/14 years would be so bleak for the Sector that I devoted my whole working life to.
    There were some indicators in my last few years that life was not going to be easy – mergers took place, staff reorganisations were common place and the extra-curricular opportunities for students were being stripped away.
    However, watching the state that FE seems to be in now and for the next few years makes me very sad and angry.
    One sensed that there was a realisation that the FE Sector could be pivotal re levelling up and delivering the skills agenda needed for the economy to thrive.
    It feels like ‘a lot of talk and none of the walk’, bamboozlement by numbers and nowhere near the investment required to address the current dilemma.
    FE – RIP