The education secretary has urged colleges to embrace the new level 3 offer under the lifetime skills guarantee as the £95 million scheme edges closer to its launch.
Delivering a keynote speech at today’s Association of Colleges conference, Gavin Williamson said colleges will be “absolutely key” to the programme’s success and “strongly encouraged” delegates to get involved if they hadn’t already.
FE Week recently highlighted the plight of the fully funded level 3 offer for 24-year-old and above learners for independent training providers, who are being given just a four-month window to start and complete the substantial courses.
The issue stems from the scheme being funded by the new national skills fund but routed through adult education budget allocations, the contracts of which run out for private providers in July.
Colleges are funded differently through “grants” and will continue to receive funding for the level 3 offer in the next academic year.
The government has set aside £95 million to fund the “entitlement” during the next financial year from April 2021 to March 2022.
Williamson said: “The lifetime skills guarantee will include our new level 3 offer for adults, which is backed by new money from the national skills fund and will enable tens of thousands of adults to benefit from hundreds of free qualifications from April.
“Colleges will be absolutely key in delivering this new offer and ensuring adults across the country can develop the skills they need to get ahead in the labour market. I want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve already put in to scale up this offer ahead of April.
“I strongly encourage you to take up this level 3 entitlement offer and thank those who’ve already embraced it.”
‘The future is further education’
The education secretary also used his AoC conference speech to urge colleges to “think local” as the sector moves through its next set of reforms.
He insisted that “the future is further education” but that employers must be “central” to the system as outlined in last month’s FE white paper.
Williamson said: “I want the white paper to reshape the whole system of learning and acquiring skills in this country.
“And it is going to do this by putting employers firmly at the centre of a local skills systems, firmly at the heart of our colleges, working together with you, our colleges, and other local partners to shape technical skills provision, so that local economies thrive and local businesses benefit.
“We know that education and training must develop hand-in-hand with business partners if we are ever going to beat our chronic skills shortages.
“So we need to think local. We need local solutions for local skills needs. We need you to work with local businesses and employers so that the courses you offer are those that are likely to lead to jobs.”
A key new proposal in the white paper is “local skills improvement plans” led by businesses in chambers of commerce, which will be piloted and backed with a new £65 million strategic development fund in 2021/22. The cash will also support the development of new “college business centres”.
Williamson said there will be more information “coming soon” on the year-long strategic development fund pilot.