Research out next month will prove the value of independent training providers, writes Jane Hickie
The past year saw significant challenges for learners, employers and training providers as Covid continued to affect us all. But the Skills For Jobs white paper, whose anniversary it is this week, offered an excellent opportunity for the sector to shift towards an outcomes-focused approach.
It was good to see the white paper finally recognise the massive contribution independent training providers make in delivering skills training. It was particularly heartening to see the extra emphasis the white paper placed on providers working closely with employers.
We also welcomed the expansion of digital skills provision, moves towards an all-age careers service, better Baker Clause enforcement measures and investment in workforce development across FE.
Yet there is still much to be done if we are to realise an adult education sector that truly prioritises the needs of learners and employers.
For instance, the extension of the Baker Clause to year 7 pupils and better enforcement measures were incredibly positive aspects of the white paper.
So it was surprising and disappointing to see these measures omitted from inclusion in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.
We know from our work with Lord Baker and the Department for Education that most schools are still not adhering to the Baker Clause as they should, despite the landmark legislation. The skills bill’s own impact assessment noted that there was only a 40 per cent rate of compliance.
This needs addressing to ensure that that all young people get fair and equitable access to appropriate careers information, advice and guidance – with parity for academic and vocational routes.
As ever, our biggest challenge is to overcome the lack of parity between ITPs and other FE providers. Recent procurement outcomes and the inability for ITPs to access Covid support packages have hit ITPs hard.
Why this lack of parity? We are all working toward a common goal which is to get the economy back on its feet. ITPs are key to that success. It is high time to level the playing field and give ITPs their rightful place in the system to support that recovery.
It is high time to level the playing field
Functional skills qualifications are another example where that lack of parity continues to cause problems for work-based training providers and their learners.
The UK government recently removed the English and maths qualification “exit requirement” for T Levels. As this hasn’t been extended to apprenticeships, the result is a worrying discrepancy between classroom and work-based learning.
Whilst AELP does not advocate for the removal of English and maths from apprenticeship requirements, parity of treatment for learners is a matter of fairness.
Therefore we want to see the same flexibility at the point of exit at the very least, as well as a review of funding for functional skills qualifications.
The announcement on T Levels has added extra pressure for training providers, who are currently being asked to deliver maths and English within an apprenticeship at a rate of just £471 per qualification.
Disappointingly this amounts to just half of the funding available for delivery in a classroom-based setting. It is a situation that is clearly unsustainable.
Despite these challenges, we do know there is a lot of support for, and interest in, what ITPs do.
AELP has been undertaking wide-ranging research on the role and impact of ITPs in the FE sector, which will be released on February 22 in the House of Commons. This will be hosted by Lord Aberdare, who has a long history of advocating for ITPs.
The research will present strong evidence outlining the unrivalled role that ITPs play in supporting the training needs of learner and employers and will support our calls for ITPs to be treated as an equal partner within the further education system.
Although there have been some steps in the right direction through the white paper, ITPs are still being considered an afterthought by FE policymakers.
If we are to achieve our collective ambition of a vibrant, world-class skills system, ITPs must be placed front and centre in a partnership between all providers.