Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the London Institutes for Adult Learning (SPEB03)

Skills & Post-16 Education Bill

Committee stage – Response to call for evidence:

This briefing has been prepared by the London Institutes for Adult Learning (IALs), a network of established adult learning organisations who support over 60,000 adult learners (aged 19+) every year. We are brought together as a network by virtue of having in common the status of "Specialist Designated Institutions" derived from the 1992 Education Act.

The Skills for Jobs White Paper and the Skills & Post-16 Bill tend to refer to Colleges as the main focus of the reforms. There are many other types of provider as well as Colleges operating in the post-16 sector. The Department for Education has given some reassurance that the new Bill, when enacted, will not alter the status of Specialist Designated Institutions in any way, including current eligibility for grant funding. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to have this reiterated in the debate and carried into the guidance for the new Act.

Each of the IALs has a unique approach to serving its communities and has its own specialist style of provision but we have in common that we provide a broad curriculum, offering a choice of entry points for people of many different backgrounds and interests. Many of our students are from disadvantaged communities who may come to our courses with few or no qualifications, often as a means of building their confidence to learn, perhaps with the intention of going on to further study for a qualification or to seek work. Whatever their starting point or background, our monitoring shows that adult education students make progress towards better work, improved health & wellbeing and other economic and social outcomes which benefit themselves and their communities.

The White Paper and the Bill contain a number of measures which are directly relevant to adult learners studying with the IALs and these will be the main focus of this response. Both the White Paper and the Bill, however, also omit some key areas of policy and practice and this briefing also points to where there are opportunities to strengthen post-16 education by supporting community adult learning through the new measures and initiatives.

As the Bill progresses clarity is needed on:

· How consultation and preparation of the Local Skills Improvement Plans will be developed – and how IAL providers will be included.

· How the new LSIPs will link with existing local and regional economic strategies – such as those produced by the GLA/MCAs – especially where funding may be directly linked to delivery against them.

· Whether the definition of "local needs" can incorporate a broad range of outcomes – including health & wellbeing, community participation and other social and economic outcomes which community adult learning can deliver through non-accredited courses or qualifications below Level 3.

· Which types of providers are affected by Clause 18 of the Bill, and any implications for providers currently in receipt of Adult Education Budget through either the ESFA or Mayoral Combined Authorities?

Omissions:

The White Paper does not cover fully:

· The value of qualifications below Level 3

· Relation to the wider post-16 funding landscape

· Reskilling and second L3 qualifications

We would like to see these included in a new lifelong learning strategy which includes:

· Closer working between employers and education providers to meet skills needs in attributes such as communications, problem solving and critical thinking

· The benefit of broader outcomes achieved through adult learning

· The blend of digital online and venue-based provision.

The Skills & Post-16 Education Bill and community adult learning

Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) – Chapter 1 of the Bill introduces LSIPs to be developed by employer representative bodies. Local education providers will have a new duty to "have regard to the plan so far as it is relevant to any decision that the relevant provider is making in relation to the provision of post-16 technical education or training that may be relevant to the skills, capabilities or expertise that are, or may in the future be, required in the area".

The IALs will want and expect to work with employer representative bodies in the development of LSIPs in their area. The IALs already work closely with – and are funded by – the GLA and Mayoral Combined Authorities, each of whom already have economic development plans relating to skills and employment in their regions.

The Bill strengthens the role of employer groups who will lead Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). In order to have the biggest impact in local communities it will be important for employer groups to speak with all kinds of community providers so that LSIPs support a wide range of provision at all levels (including below Level 3). This will ensure that the Plans meet the needs of the most disadvantaged communities.

We are pleased that the Bill includes a clause which says that LSIPs should "draw on the views of", amongst others, further education institutions, community learning providers, and specialist designated institutions. We hope to see this retained and strengthened in the published Act.

· The IALs would like clarity on how the LSIPs will be handled so as to include IAL providers (as well as other providers working in the post-16 space such as General Further Education Colleges).

· IALs would also like clarity on how the new LSIPs will link with existing local and regional economic strategies – such as those produced by the GLA/MCAs – especially where funding may be directly linked to delivery against them.

Meeting local needs

The Bill introduces a new duty for further education providers to "review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs" and to take appropriate action to ensure that it is. The Bill also introduces extended powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where providers are not complying with this.

The IALs are already closely attuned to meeting local needs, our college buildings act as community hubs for a wide range of activities and some IALs (such as the WEA) provide most of their courses in community venues which are not conventional education settings. The majority of IAL students come from local community catchments and curriculums are designed with local needs in mind (as well as also delivering provision which has national significance because of its specialist nature, for example City Lit’s provision for the Deaf community).

The emphasis on local needs described in the Bill is primarily through the lens of the needs of local employers and in particular how providers can deliver technical qualifications which are relevant to their sectors.

· The IALs would like to see the definition of "local needs" incorporate a broad range of outcomes to include, for example, progression into work for students taking non-accredited courses or qualifications below Level 3; students coming off income-related benefits following study with community providers; students going on to further study having taken qualifications below Level 3. We believe it is important that local needs is extended to include outcomes related to health & wellbeing, community participation and other social and economic outcomes which can be linked to community adult learning.

Lifelong Loan Entitlement

The Lifelong Loan Entitlement (chapter 3) - is very welcome but it only supports learners studying at Level 4 and above. There are a number of financial (and other barriers) which impact learners wanting to take Level 2 qualifications, and below, in particular.

Ideally the Lifelong Loan Entitlement would be extended to learners studying at Level 3 or Level 2 (where courses are not fully funded through other means). In fact, when considering the broader outcomes of learning, as previously stated, there is need for consideration of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement benefitting those learners/individuals who are seeking skill development through non-accredited provision.

Extending the Loan Entitlement would rely on Treasury support to finance the expected take up, which could be considerable. The Loan would also need to be administered in such a way that it did not create barriers for low income learners who would not otherwise find taking out a Loan either feasible or advisable

As an alternative to extending the Loan Entitlement to not just support L4 and above, an initiative which would increase participation is the continuation of the Adult Education Budget (AEB) low-wage trial, which ran from 2018 to 2020. This enabled adult learners who earned just above the usual threshold for eligibility for fully funded Level 2 courses to have their courses supported. The threshold at the last trial was just over £16,000.

The National Skills Fund has introduced a new offer of a fully funded Level 3 qualification for adults who do not already have one. Without financial support to open up Level 2 courses to more low income learners, take up of the new Level 3 offer may be affected. Some learners may not be able to afford to take the Level 2 qualification which would enable them to progress on to Level 3.

Other entitlements to funding

The IALs welcome the addition to the Bill of clause 18 (Lifelong Learning Review) which confers a duty on the Secretary of State to review the impact of restricting funding on students wishing to take an equivalent or lower qualification. Adult learners may need to take such qualifications in order to move into other sectors or to be more agile in their work options.

Clause 25 - Provision of opportunities for education and skills development – is also a welcome addition as it enshrines the importance of the Adult Education Budget to supporting lower level qualifications. This is the most prominent and direct mention of adult education at lower levels and would provide a strong commitment to lifelong learning in all parts of the community if the enacted.

The wider context of community adult learning

The specific clauses in the Bill on LSIPs, meeting local needs and "relevant providers" are the ones which most directly affect Institutes for Adult Learning and our students.

There are also a number of areas which not directly covered by the Bill but which could be addressed elsewhere in order to strengthen the context in which the Bill/Act will operate.

The White Paper and the Bill focus primarily on: technical qualifications at Level 3 and above; the needs of local employers; funding for students who wish to pursue qualifications and careers in certain sectors; linking providers’ performance with delivery against local need (as set out in the LSIP) and powers to intervene where this is not met.

The Bill and the White Paper either omit or are less clear on:

· The value of qualifications below Level 3 in creating progression pathways for students – Department for Education data has shown the return on investment for these qualifications, concluding that the Net Present Value of qualifications below Level 2 is higher than that for a Level 3.

Provisions in the Bill offer no new support for students studying below Level 3 and the IALs would like to see this crucial pathway recognised as an important part of the post-16 education landscape. Without adequate support through the Adult Education Budget for these lower level qualifications in future years, many students will not be ready and able to take up the Level 3 offers which are featured in the Bill.

· Relation to the wider funding landscape – the outcomes of the consultation on "simplification and streamlining of funding for further education to support high-value provision relevant to the labour market" have yet to be published and yet the Bill has distinct implications for the post-16 education funding system. It is vital for the Bill and the resultant policy development from any consultation to be considered together and for students and providers to have a clear idea of the direction of travel for the funding system in order to plan for the future. The IALs will be paying particular attention to how support for community adult education is maintained as it supports some of the most disadvantaged communities and helps adult learners progress at many levels.

· Reskilling and second L3 qualifications – One of the more straightforward omissions in the paper is support for adult learners to be funded to take a second Level 3 qualification. Many adult learners will have achieved their first Level 3 some time ago and may have used it to pursue a career which is no longer viable. With the economic turmoil that has come from the pandemic, many adults will want and need to re-skill (rather than upskill) to switch sectors and enter new careers. Support for second Level 3 qualifications could facilitate this.

· Post-pandemic economic recovery – rightly and crucially, the Bill and the White Paper both foreground economic recovery and the relation between local economic growth and post-16 education. The IALs welcome many of the initiatives and believe that some adult learners will benefit from the support for first Level 3 qualifications and loans for higher education.

We believe that the vision in the White Paper should go further, however, and incorporate a new lifelong learning strategy which includes:

1. A fuller understanding of employer need, including skills and attributes beyond the narrowly technical, such as communications, critical thinking and flexibility, which employer surveys frequently cite. Community adult learning courses can deliver these broader skills

2. The economic benefit of broader outcomes that can be achieved through adult learning – for example, health & wellbeing which is crucial to the nation’s productivity as well as being of central importance in itself

3. The blend of digital online and venue-based provision – the IALs continued to deliver high quality provision throughout lockdown by accelerating the development of online courses, retaining many of the strengths of venue-based provision, such as interaction with tutors and other students and the ability to draw on learning resources in a range of media. Now that social distancing restrictions are gradually lifting, IALs will blend online provision with in-person to offer a range of courses which have greater flexibility than ever before. This would be a key time to co-design some of this future provision with local employers and other stakeholders in the local economy, aligning with the LSIPs but also linking to other strategies focused on health, community engagement and the wider digital economy.

The London IALs contributing to this response are: City Lit, Mary Ward Centre, Morley College London, Richmond & Hillcroft Adult Community College, WMC (Working Men’s College), WEA (Workers Educational Association).

If you have any questions about this briefing, please contact: Phil Chamberlain, Executive Director for External Engagement at City Lit, but who also supports the IALs.


November 2021

 

Prepared 30th November 2021