Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence




  The Association of Computer Trainers (ACT) represents the leaders of the UK IT training industry. Its members conform to the highest standards of quality, learner support and learning materials. To qualify for membership, applicants must meet the following criteria:

    —  Each member must have a minimum of twenty-five (25) operational training centres.

    —  Each member must have training centres operating in a minimum of four Government Office/RDA regions.

    —  Each member's training centres must have at least one nationally recognised independent IT Training or IT Testing accreditation eg: ECDL, MOUS, OCR, BTEC.

    —  Each member's principal activities are training centre-based and must have a minimum of five years' track record in the training industry.

  Together, the members of ACT operate almost 200 IT training centres, employ 800 training and learning support staff, and train over 80,000 individuals each year.

  The centres are experienced in the delivery of government-funded training, having played major roles in the delivery of training under programmes such as:

    —  New Deal.

    —  Work Based Training for Adults.

    —  European Social Fund.

    —  UK OnLine (ICT for Employability).

    —  Individual Learning Accounts.

  The Association is currently working on the design of an accreditation process to allow the extension of full or associate membership to those independent training providers who meet the rigorous standards met by the Associations founding members. This will then allow the introduction of a self-regulatory mechanism for the industry as a whole.


  The breakdown of the Individual Learning Account initiative in October/November 2001 has left a vacuum in the funded training provision for the individual seeking life-changing skills. Not since the introduction of Vocational Training Relief in 1992 has the individual been denied funding in support of his or her own commitment to learning.

  The current situation satisfies none of the interested parties:

    —  Learners are deprived of much-needed help towards obtaining the skills needed to take them forward in the workplace.

    —  Learning providers are threatened by the current vacuum as their potential clients await the outcome of the government's promised re-introduction of an "ILA-style" programme at some ill-defined time in the medium term future. Providers are also being damaged by the wrongful implication that they have behaved improperly over ILAs.

    —  Government is unable to deliver its promised commitment to lifelong learning and faces continued criticism until a replacement programme is put in place.

  The purpose of the following proposal by the Association is to put forward an interim funding regime, which has a number of clearly defined benefits to all the interested parties:

    —  It will make available once more funded learning for individuals seeking career opportunities currently denied them by inadequate skills in a key sector.

    —  It will focus on clear, targeted groups within the community that are suffering most by the cancellation of the ILA programme.

    —  It will re-establish momentum in the crucial IT training sector, that is so important to future well being of the UK economy.

    —  It will have the necessary safeguards for the use of public money that were lacking in the ILA scheme.

    —  It will enable government to demonstrate clearly to its critics that it understands the needs of both learners and providers, and is putting in place a realistic interim programme.


  The proposed programme will be designed to reach individuals within the community who lack fundamental Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills, or whose ICT skills levels are insufficient to make them attractive to potential employers. The objective is to create increased employability for key sectors within the community.

  Whilst very different in a number of key features, the proposed programme draws heavily on the experience of the IT training sector in the delivery of the DfEE's ICT for Employability programme (later re-named UK OnLine) in 2000-01. This was a similarly targeted programme, providing appropriate, high-quality learning across many sectors, with an inexpensive, but effective regulatory regime. ACT believes such a programme could provide a swift and workable solution to the current difficulties.


  All parties agree that the problems associated with the ILA programme stem mainly from the failure—for laudable reasons of extended choice—to impose quality thresholds on training providers (and others) able to draw down funding under the scheme.

  ACT has drawn up clear membership criteria for current and future members that ensure that training centres so approved meet the highest standards of quality and probity. ACT urges government to accept ACT membership as sufficient accreditation for involvement in this and future programmes. ACT will shortly produce a paper for government outlining its plans for self-regulation within the IT training industry.

  For those providers that choose not, at this stage, to become members of ACT, it is proposed that government rely on Employment Service Approved Provider Status or the Adult Learning Inspectorate as a clear indication that the provider has successfully passed a rigorous inspection process.

  Other accreditation may be added in due course.

  This proposal concentrates on ACT members' ability to deliver the programme. ACT accepts that other providers could, and should, be involved once the necessary accreditation is determined.


  The target groups are those most in need of such skills to overcome their current disadvantage in the job market. These groups would include:

    —  Those in receipt of Job Seekers' Allowance.

    —  Those in receipt of Income Support.

    —  Those on Incapacity Benefit.

    —  The adult dependants of the above groups.

    —  Returners looking to re-enter the job market after a gap of more than three years.

    —  Other disadvantaged groups that may be especially targeted to meet government objectives on employability.


  The providers of learning working on this programme cannot operate in isolation. It will be necessary to work closely with those involved in the management of resources and opportunities for these disadvantaged groups. Relationships will need to be in place with bodies such as:

    —  Employment Service.

    —  Learning & Skills Councils.

    —  Benefits Agency.

    —  Lifelong Learning Partnerships.

  Members of ACT already have close working relationships with the above throughout the United Kingdom.

  However, to reach out to these groups will require a more pro-active approach. Providers will need to use their professional marketing skills and resources to create awareness of the learning opportunities.

  Members of ACT have extensive marketing resources that have already been applied successfully to take government-funded programmes to target groups. This was no better illustrated than in the DfEE's UK OnLine programme in 2000-01.

  This programme, ultimately very successful, was greatly assisted by the ability of the best of the private sector learning providers to make contact with the target groups through its pro-active marketing activity. As a result, ACT members not only successfully completed their UK OnLine contracts well within the prescribed period, but were invited to take up supplementary contracts to help DfEE overcome the inability of other contracted providers—mainly in the FE sector—who lacked the necessary outreach skills.

  ACT members delivered more learning under the UK OnLine programme than any other contractors.


  All ACT members' training centres are in locations easily accessed by the general public and, in particular, by members of the targeted disadvantaged groups. All centres are in town or city-centre locations, close to public transport and shopping. A number are located in public buildings such as libraries.


  The programme will deliver 30 hours of high-quality ICT training to the learner, designed to provide the individual with the specific ICT skills to improve their employability. The course content will be agreed with the learner in the form of a Personal Training Plan. This will follow a Training Needs Analysis, conducted by the provider and designed to assess the learners' current skills level. The plan will then map the skills set needed to meet the requirements of the job market.

  The foundation ICT skills considered essential for employability would include:

    —  Ability to use the Windows platform.

    —  Word Processing.

    —  Spreadsheet.

    —  Database.

    —  Internet & e-mail.


  Potential trainees will be invited to visit the Training Centre for an initial half-hour assessment following which a full induction session can take place. This session would involve a taster session, providing hands-on experience on a PC with an experienced trainer, using the actual training programme materials. At the end of the induction, an outline individual training plan will be agreed with the trainee. The induction should last one to two hours, after which the trainee should be able to commence their chosen training.


  The tailored programmes would deliver 30 hours' learning on the topics listed above to the standard appropriate to the prior understanding of the learner. The course material would map to the syllabus of the following recognised qualifications:

    —  ECDL

    —  CLAIT

    —  MOUS

    —  NVQ Level 2

  Or their agreed equivalents.


  ACT Training Centres will operate the programme on a Tutor to Trainee ratio of at least 1:8. Trainees assessed as needing increased levels of support following their basic skills assessment will be given closer attention, including 1:1 support where applicable.


  The successful UK Online programme recognised the worth of high-quality ICT training at a rate of up to £500.00 for 30 hours' training, based on successful completion of the study programme and gaining a relevant qualification. ACT believes that this figure reflects the true value of the learning experience and the costs to providers of delivering a quality training programme, tailored to individual trainee needs.

  ACT believes it is important that the payment structure includes (as part of the £500.00 maximum entitlement) a payment for completion, thus avoiding some of the potential for abuse.


  The validation of an individual's entitlement to enter the scheme is, necessarily, an issue that will exercise government. If the categories proposed are accepted, most will have a clear, identifying document as part of their claim for benefit that can be noted by the provider against some other form of identification. Where such a document is not commonly available, a simple but effective process will need to be drawn up in consultation with all parties.


  The lack of an on-going audit process was a factor in the abuse of the ILA programme. The ability to fund a major audit team by DfES is thought unlikely. However, ACT believe that an audit process is vital to give confidence to government that the scheme is working effectively and without problem, and that such a process will help restore the image of the training industry.

  ACT is, therefore, prepared to fund a random audit of providers under the proposed scheme. The audits would be carried out on the instructions of the DfES by a prominent firm of Chartered Accountants. The timing, scope and chosen providers in such a process would be determined entirely by the DfES, subject to prior agreement on the budget.


  ACT firmly believe the following:

    —  There is a pressing need on behalf of learners, providers and government for an interim scheme to remove the uncertainty, restore confidence, and allow learners to once again have access to life-changing skills.

    —  The proposed programme is largely proven through the ICT for Employability initiative.

    —  The proposed programme is capable of early launch, stable management and regulated use of public funds.

    —  Such a scheme may provide pointers to the design and scope of a successor programme to ILAs.

  We welcome the opportunity to present our proposals to government.

Association of Computer Trainers

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Prepared 6 March 2002