Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report


An appropriate accreditation body

161.  Mr James O'Brien of Pitman Training Group plc and the Association of Computer Trainers told us that "in all of our experience training for most people, particularly at this level where it is pitched at, is a local experience and, therefore, to control that locally or regionally is a far better, more effective way to ensure that it is reaching the target market".[309] Mr O'Brien also told us that the Learning and Skills Councils [LSCs] were "ideally suited" for applying a threshold to training providers at local level.[310] He pointed out that "the Department found it within themselves to write to 2½ million account holders, yet they did not write and ask the 8,000 or so learning providers to go and make themselves known to the Learning and Skills Councils, for example. It would have been very easy to do".[311]

162.  The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education [NIACE] noted that there appeared to have been little or no evidence of misuse or abuse of ILAs when they were first piloted by Training and Enterprise Councils.[312] Mr Alastair Thomson of NIACE told us that "there is a very strong case to look again at rooting the new mechanism more locally, either regionally or sub-regionally through the local Learning and Skills Councils".[313] Mr Roger Tuckett of Henley Online told us that "There has been a lamentable failure, frankly, in the current arrangement, which is national ... I get a warm feeling that the LSCs are well placed to deal with this although you do get slightly the message that LSCs do have administrative issues to deal with".[314] Mr Tuckett described the LSC structure as "an organisation in transition".[315] Mr Stuart Ingleson of Preston College also suggested that the LSCs were the appropriate machinery, albeit "with some reluctance" because "at the moment I am not entirely sure how the LSC will develop".[316] Mr Hugh Pitman of the Association of Learning Providers told us that the LSCs "have an enormous amount on their plate".[317]

163.  Mr Geoff Hall of the Learning and Skills Council[318] said that it was built in to the remit of the LSC that providers should satisfy a quality threshold to have access to LSC funding: "they have to be able to perform the basic data collection and be able to audit it, and they will be liable to inspection, in most cases through the Adult Learning Inspectorate".[319]

164.  We would expect the Learning and Skills Council to take the lead in prior accreditation, with a fast-track registration process for providers with a proven track record of delivering quality training. To some extent LSCs are still untested in their new guise and the Department will need to be vigilant that to ensure that each of the LSCs matches the effectiveness of the best. National providers, and providers of on-line or distance learning, will almost certainly need to be registered at a national level.


165.  The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education [NIACE] contended that the only case for having a wide offer would be if it were genuinely universal — covering initial higher education as well as further education.[320] NIACE suggested that a more tightly targeted system might prioritise either individuals (by level of prior attainment) or communities (prospective learners in rural areas disadvantaged by lack of choice, for example) or both.[321]

166.  The Trades Union Congress called for ILAs to continue to be open to all adults not in higher education as a way of promoting a lifelong learning culture but they argued that there is a need to minimise deadweight by reducing the subsidy to those with relatively high qualifications and bringing in more targeting of non­traditional learners.[322] The Learning and Skills Development Agency identified "a clear tension between simplicity of operation and closer targeting to those in greatest need -- increased targeting inevitably requires more complex administrative systems".[323]

167.  In its consideration of an ILA successor scheme, the DfES has been considering whether to target certain learner groups to give better value for money. Mr Healey told us that it might make sense to consider targeting the successor scheme in a way that supports other Government policies, such as helping to close the digital divide.[324]

168.  There needs to be greater clarity regarding the purpose of ILAs. This would inform the determination as to whether or not the scheme should be universal. If the primary aim is to encourage lifelong learning, then the scheme should be universal. If the primary aim is to encourage people into learning who have little or no experience of recent learning, then the scheme should have some criteria.

169.  We are not convinced that the Government had adequately clarified the precise educational and social objectives of the ILA scheme nor that it had fully considered the wider implications of the rejection of the savings account model. It was unclear whether the highest priority was to enhance the computer skills of all adults, to encourage those with few or no qualifications back into learning or to 'create a learning culture'. With a target fixed in terms of the number of accounts, though, it was clear that the delivery mechanism had become confused with the educational objective.

170.  We recommend (a) that the educational and social objectives of any successor scheme should be defined before determining a delivery mechanism and financial support criteria which advance those objectives and (b) that those objectives should be closely integrated with other aspects of policy towards lifelong learning.

Payment in stages

171.  Mr Healey told us that there was strong support for withholding an element of the ILA payment until after completion of the learning which might "introduce some sort of check on the delivery of learning, without necessarily having a complex or comprehensive system for somehow accrediting the actual nature of the learning".[325] Ms Denyse Metcalf of Capita said that "we need to look and explore more carefully the point at which payment mechanisms come into play. It is clear that at the moment in the public sector payments are not always made up front and of course with the ILA it was at the point of registration on the course. It might be more appropriate to look at phasing those payments".[326]

172.  We expect that the new ILA system will include some kind of staged payment system, perhaps combined with early notification to the individual of how their ILA has been spent.

Advice and guidance

173.  In other parts of the UK (but not in England), ILAs could be used to purchase advice and guidance. The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education [NIACE] argued that integrating any new initiative with information, advice and guidance strategies should be an imperative.[327] Mr Derek Grover of the DfES agreed that "a very important point" for a successor ILA scheme would be that "we almost certainly need to do more than was done in the original scheme to offer information and advice to the individuals taking it up".[328] We recommend that provision should be made to pay for advice and guidance where this can be demonstrated to advance the objectives of the scheme in terms of reaching the target audience.

Group learning

174.  The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education [NIACE] suggested the pooling of accounts was an area which would merit further development.[329] They told us that there was evidence from community­based lifelong learning policy initiatives that informed intermediaries could help encourage participation among groups of new learners.[330] The Learning and Skills Council also saw advantages in pooling resources.[331] We see the possibility of some form of pooling in the successor to ILAs as a promising area for future development.

Timing and consultation

175.  The DfES told us that it was too soon to be clear on detail or give a firm date for the introduction of the new scheme announced by the Secretary of State in October 2001:

"We are committed to consultation with ILA providers and learners; drawing lessons from the ILA programme; and to remedy shortcomings in the programme. The DfES is also working closely with the colleagues in the devolved administrations to develop future plans. We are determined to review thoroughly all aspects of the ILA scheme before we decide on the details of the successor programme. We will, therefore, actively involve providers, learners and other stakeholders in the development work for a successor programme".[332]

176.  The DfES began a consultation exercise in January 2002, consulting all providers registered at the ILA centre, 1,000 ILA account holders and other stakeholders[333] to ask them for their views on the principles behind the ILA programme and the strengths and weaknesses of its method of operation and control systems, including the registration of providers and learners. The DfES also invited views on the form a replacement ILA­style scheme might take, views on the use of the ILA brand name and possible changes to the programme (for example the addition of quality assurance, the provision of additional advice and guidance to learners, and making some of the payment dependent on the completion of learning).[334]

177.  The final date for the completion of questionnaires and interviews was 28 February 2002. The Department was planning to hold eight seminars in March to validate the findings of the consultation and to collect further views. Six of the seminars would be for providers, one for the TUC and one for the Association of Colleges.[335] The DfES also ran an on-line consultation at its website. Mr Healey said that the Secretary of State would wish to make an announcement on a successor scheme "just as soon as we can".[336]

178.  Mr Stuart Ingleson of Preston College said that "unless we get some steer about the mark 2 ILA ... we will downgrade our estimates of our student numbers".[337] Mr James O'Brien of Pitman Training Group plc and the Association of Computer Trainers told us that "training providers need is that certainty to say when the new scheme is coming ... we can deal with certainty".[338] Ms Sue Cara of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education [NIACE] told us that —

    "we obviously would like to see things move forward as quickly as possible, but I think it is actually critical to get it right, and I think that getting it right is probably a little bit more important in this than ... rushing back to something which just plugged a few gaps".[339]

179.  We are not satisfied that the Government understood, at a sufficiently early stage, the effect of the sudden closure of the scheme on providers. Many of the smaller and more innovative providers may be unwilling to risk entry into a second ILA scheme without a contractual arrangement with the Department.

180.  We sympathise with the private sector providers who feel let down by the way the ILA system came to grief, but our judgement is that the Government has to get it right this time, even if that entails some delay in getting the new scheme up and running. While we would certainly prefer to see the successor ILA scheme come into operation sooner rather than later, our principal concern is that whatever form it takes, the new form of ILA should be a permanent and successful part of the lifelong learning strategy.


181.  In addition to work on the successor programme, the DfES was considering financial support arrangements for adult learners (outside higher education), and developing pilot arrangements, as announced in the December 2001 Pre­Budget Report, that would test how free tuition together with employer compensation for time taken off by employees for learning could act as an incentive to learning.[340] The Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) published its initial report in December 2001, In demand — Adult Skills in the 21st Century. The Learning and Skills Council is developing a Workforce Development Strategy to address all the main proposals of the PIU Report, including funding issues.[341] NATFHE put forward a suggestion that the new form of ILA might be linked to paid educational leave.[342] The 2002 Budget included the announcement of pilot schemes to test four complementary, linked elements of a new approach to UK skills policy, to include free learning provision and accreditation for employees without basic skills or level 2 qualifications to work towards recognised qualifications up to level 2 standard (including basic skills) with approved providers.[343]

182.  In the DfES document Delivering the Results: A Strategy for 2006, one of only two milestones for 2002 is "to expand Individual Learning Accounts". Ministers have made it clear that it is their firm intention to introduce a new Individual Learning Account programme.[344] We support Ministers in their determination to learn the lessons from the collapse of the first version of ILAs and to bring forward as soon as practicable a more robust version which is capable of expanding adult learning, to the benefit of each learner and the nation as a whole.

183.  The Liaison Committee has encouraged select committees to suggest in their reports the terms of proposed substantive Motions for topical debates on the floor of the House.[345] Accordingly, we propose that the following Resolution should be debated by the House:

"That this House approves the Report from the Education and Skills Committee on individual learning accounts;

notes that the lessons from the collapse of the ILA scheme include the need for stronger quality assurance, better intelligence about unscrupulous providers, a full business model, stronger and clearer contract management arrangements with the private sector and tighter security architecture;

and calls on the Government to bring forward as soon as practicable a more robust version of the individual learning account which is capable of expanding adult learning, to the benefit of each learner and of the nation as a whole."

309   Q.76. Back

310   Q.85. For the Association of Computer Trainers' detailed prescription for an interim funded training programme, see Ev22 to 26. Back

311   Q.62. The Association of Computer Trainers speculated that the cost of writing to all ILA account holders might have been more than three-quarters of a million pounds Ev15. Back

312   Ev56 paragraph 6. Back

313   Q.175. Back

314   Q.73. Back

315   Q.74. Back

316   QQ.251 and 253. Back

317   Q.265. See also Q.264. Back

318   Shortly after giving evidence to the Select Committee Mr Hall took up an appointment as Deputy Principal of Nottingham New College. Back

319   Q.279. See Q.280. Back

320   Ev56 paragraph 6. Back

321   Ev56 paragraph 6, Q.174. Back

322   Ev49. Back

323   Ev155 Appendix 2 paragraph 18. Back

324   Ev120 paragraph 40. Back

325   Q.577. Back

326   Q.591. Back

327   Ev56 paragraph 7, Q.173. Back

328   Q.12. Back

329   Ev56 paragraph 7. Back

330   Ev56 paragraph 7, Q.187. Back

331   QQ.293,334. Back

332   Ev119 paragraph 37. Back

333   Ev121 Annex 3. Back

334   Ev119 paragraph 38. Back

335   Ev120 paragraph 39. Back

336   Q.578. Back

337   Q.216. Back

338   Q.68. Back

339   Q.191. Back

340   Ev120 paragraph 41. Back

341   Ev83 paragraph 22. Back

342   Ev168-9 Appendix 12. Back

343   Developing Workforce Skills: Piloting a New Approach, HM Treasury/DfES, April 2002, page 22. In the National Qualifications framework, level 2 qualifications include GCSEs at A* to C, intermediate GNVQ and NVQ level 2. Back

344   Q.46. Back

345   First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC 300, paragraph 39. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 1 May 2002