Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Right to Learn (SPEB09)

Submission to Public Bill Cttee - Skills and Public Ed Bill

Right to Learn - Who We Are

The campaign Right2Learn was set up in December 2020 and taking its inspiration from the 2019 Lifelong Learning Commission , specifically calls for everyone to have a statutory right to learn , whatever their age and background , enabled by strong funding , information, advice and guidance.

We believe unequal access to learning through life is a huge , growing cause of inequality in our country , sowing divisions in our communities , entrenching low skills and low paid work , levelling down people’s life chances.

The list of 31 supporters for our launch included three former Secretaries of State , policy makers, academics , economists and leading figures from the worlds of FE, HE and Skills. Right2Learn activities and initatives work across a wide coalition of interests - HE and FE, colleges and universities , skills and awarding bodies, the third sector, trade unionists and Learning Reps, businesses , adult education and community groups , and MCAs and local government.

Since our launch we have held three major conference events with speakers including David Blunkett , Andreas Schleicher of the OECD , Ruth Silver, Estelle Morris , Nick Hillman and Kirstie Donnelly , as well as contributing blogs ,articles , analyses of the White Paper Skills for Jobs while hosting an active series of blogs on our website @right2learn.co.uk and an active Twitter presence.

Steering Group and Co- Founders of Right to Learn

Professor Graeme Atherton , Director of National Education Opportunities Network

Professor Vicky Duckworth , Faculty of Education , Edge Hill University

Gordon Marsden, Shadow HE, FE and Skills Minister , 2015-19

Matt Waddup , former head of Campaigns and policy at UCU 2013-20

( All of whom participated in the 2019 Lifelong Learning Commission )

Local Skills Improvement Plans ( Part 1, Chapter1 , Clauses 1-5)

The principle of local skills being a key part of delivery of this Bill is one few could quarrel with - and employers are a key part of that mix. Employers need to develop - often bespoke, module based - new skills for their employees for needs in the workplace and improving work and productivity.

But also big employers both locally and nationally -as well as the smaller firms supply chains that feed their output - (such as the aerospace and defence industries in the North- West and elsewhere) need to be supporting their employees to acquire broader enabling skills ) so that their employees can thrive in future and often different jobs , as well as working in concert with new challenges over the next decade.

Unfortunately the ‘ framework’ in which DfE has set out LSIP plans described Explanatory Notes to the Bill as needed to ensure technical education and training is more responsive to local labour market skills needs ‘ ( Part1, Ch1, Para 24) is flawed.

Right2Learn has consistently since its launch in December 2020 , and through its events, and website blogs , emphasised the critical role of demand as well as supply . DfE ‘s proposals for LSIPs in Clauses 1-5 are at best two dimensional and too narrowly drawn. .

The suggested composition for LSIPs takes little account of the breadth of stakeholders necessary to,participate the geographical areas they cover , and help dynamic and organic collaboration to address demand and co-ordinate sfunding coming from Whitehall and other agencies.

Right2Learn contributors - such as Professor Ewart Keep , a leading economist who served on the Lifelong Learning Commission and was one of our signatories of support for Right2 Learn’s launch in December 2020- have consistently stressed in research and articles over a number of years

We believe a far wider representation on LSIP bodies is needed for success in output and outcome. That’s why the amendment to Clause 1 made by Lord Watson and agreed in the Lords , which stated LSIPs should be developed in partnership with local authorities and local post -16 education providers , would go some way to addressing this gap.

Unfortunately DfE has indicated they wish to remove this clause , thus fettering the right for universities , FE colleges and providers to be involved with the development of LSIPs in their area. The Education Secretary has also downgraded the involvement of mayoral Combined authorities and the Greater London Authority , replacing it with a new clause that they will have their views ‘ duly considered’ - a phrase so weak and imprecise as to be ineffective.

To add to this confusion , the Government announced on July21 2021 eight ‘trailblazer ‘areas across England with funding of £4million for ‘Chambers of Commerce and other business representative organisations in these areas who, will work with local providers to develop LSIPs’ (p26 in Commons Library Research Briefing 9 November 2021).

Two of those areas , the West of England and South Yorkshire , are already Mayoral Combined Authorities , who are either already developing skills strategies or have the capacity to do so. Duplication of two competing skills strategies across the same geographical areas is significant , and risks , given the thrust of DfE ‘s apparent intention , (given the new clauses they have now tabled) to keep MCAs at arms length and not work with businesses as active participators in LSIPs , thus failing ‘effective education and training for local needs’ the DfE ‘s heading for Chapter 1’sb explanatory notes to the Bill.

This could undermine the Government’s commitment to ‘ levelling up’ parts of the country - seaside and coastal communities , the so- called ‘ red walls’ in the North areas , as well as rural areas in the south - west and the East of England - which have traditionally struggled with adequate skills sets and outcomes both for young people and older workers to,get new jobs and careers. One of R2L ‘s co founders , Graeme Atherton , founder of NEON , Professor at the University of West London published a ground breaking study Learning About Place in July 2021 , based on research and a series of meetings involving stakeholders from eight red wall and other towns.

Right2Learn , strongly believes that unless the scope of LSIPs is widened considerably in autonomy and membership , the ability to respond to the specific needs of place and demand will be severely limited , in terms both of output but also outcome , in those areas.

This next decade now faces substantial challenges post Covid and post Brexit for the skills needed - both bespoke and enabling ones - as well as the already predicted of the 4th Industrial Revolution , rapid expansion of digital and AI processes, and urgency on the back of climate change to create a green economy with hundreds of thousands of new jobs .

We believe it is critical that local skills and training strategies need to look far more widely at including third sector organisations., as well as HE and FE providers .There must be far more opportunities for the direct involvement of SME clusters and organisations and the so- called gig economy which the Taylor Commission highlighted , including co- operatives and self- employed .

Public sector bodies ( such as the NHS):in areas wherever they have substantial numbers of skills and employees have a key role to play . There should also be substantial input from locally elected bodies , and from unions and other organisations with long experience in supporting and , reskilling their members.

There is no magic Whitehall formula for LSIPs , given the asymmetric nature of place and local economies. But their ability to have wider autonomy there to address specific local economic and social needs should be given proper scope in this Bill and in any subsequent post Augar announcements .

We believe Clause 5 with its specific new duties being placed on local FE colleges , needs also to,, support the autonomous HE role and degree awarding powers a number of colleges now have ,after the legislation passed in 2017

This is not an insignificant issue . A number of FE colleges - for example Blackpool and Fylde College - with that new HE status are situated in areas which do not currently have stand alone universities.,- They need to play a crucial role in the pipeline of higher level skills in towns where achievements post Level, 4 have historically fallen short .

Technical Education Qualifications, Apprenticeships etc ( Part 1 , Chapter 2, Clauses 6-14)

Clauses 6 and 7 extends further the functions for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education ( IFATE) , as part of Government’s thrust to expand T Levels and other new technical qualifications over the next decade.

We at Right2Learn understand and accept the need for new functions for IFATE , given our analysis of the revolution in skills is likely to be needed. But we are concerned , given previous problems over funding and logistical support from DfE to IFATE since its original launch in .There must be adequate bedding- in time for IFATE in relation to the current timetable for T Levels.

On a broader front Right2 Learn and its supporters share the widespread concerns that the Government has been going too far ,too fast to remove existing qualifications at Level 3 such as BTECs before T levels have established themselves in sufficient numbers and good outcomes .

Getting that balance right is critical not just for economic and skills outcomes but also for social equity and progression for tens of thousands of would be learners of all ages .

Kirstie Donnelly , CEO of City and Guilds , speaking on a panel at our Right to Learn Conference on May 20th , highlighted how the Covid pandemic had hit hardest prospects for people in areas like logistics , social care , hospitality and others in both service and other jobs which could not be done remotely. She listed young people , lowest income earners ( a high proportion of those affected being women) , workers with disabilities , and ethnic minority employees.

All of those groups she said had been heavily involved in taking BTEC qualifications . Future restrictions or abolition could disadvantage even further people from those groups seeking qualifications at Level 3 , but unable to access T levels.

The amendment tabled in the Lords by Lord Watson , also supported by Lord Blunkett -and agreed there -would prevent Ifate from withdrawing established level 3 courses , including BTECs for four years also supported by Lord Blunkett , while Lord Baker’s amendment( also agreed) would prevent a student being deprived of the right to take BTECs and other non T level qualifications.

Sadly both of these amendments are now subject to removal from the Bill by the Government , as well as a watering down of the Baker clause (, giving teeth to the ability of school pupils to access information from a range of FE colleges and training providers) , from three occasions to one.

These change dilute the assurances previously given by the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi over retention of BTECs but also hugely underestimate the critical role of strong broader information , advice and guidance (IAG) to pre-16 year olds in achieving the step changes in access to a broad range of vocational qualifications and skills.

Affecting those from disadvantaged backgrounds already struggling with GCSE s to enter into a T Level programme , that divide but also hampering the chances needed for a strong cohort of younger people - not least for the 700 to 800 young people currently identified as NEETs and also part of our Right2Learn discussions.

Lifelong Learning (Part1 , Chapter 3 , Clauses 15-18) Initial Teacher Training for FE ( Part 2, Clause 19) and Provision of Opportunities for Education and Skills Development (Part 3 , Chapter 1, Clause25)

At the heart of Right2Learn’s activities and vision is the urgent need to transform access to lifelong learning , not just as an economic imperative , but also a social and moral one. Over two decades ago David ( now Lord) Blunkett set out as Education Secretary his paper on The Learning Age -= the fundamentals of which , as he argued at Right2 Learn’s inaugural conference , remain just as relevant today.

Many of our Right2Learn supporters , as well as its four co- founders , have continued to argue for its importance and centrality ever since . So we welcome the recognition of this in Government , after ten years which saw four million fewer people participating in adult education since 2010 on the back of the tripling of tuition fees in 2012 and the subsequent withdrawal of widening participation and access initiatives that were designed to mitigate their impact.

The proposals for a Lifetime Skills Guarantee set out in the White Paper are a useful start , coupled with the recommendation of a Lifelong Learning Entitlement by the Augar report and the 2018 report of the House of Lords Economic Affairs , which recommended ‘funding for modules or credit where a full degree is not required’. On the back of this , as the Commons Library briefing of has noted, the Government has announced a £2 million bid process for universities and further education colleges ‘ to create new short courses across five subject. This trial will be part of the LLE’.

But the devil is , as always in the detail , as well as in the timing , finance and delivery. For years lifelong learning advocates , including a number of campaigners who are supporters of Right2Learn , have lamented the lack of joined up Government between DWP, BEIS , and the DfE , over the 16- hour a week learning rule , blocking those out of work but receiving benefits , from gaining qualifications that would advance their chances of better jobs. Despite numerous statements of intent to resolve this, the situation remains unsatisfactory.

That is why we welcomed Clause 17 in the Bill , tabled by the Lord Bishop of Durham , agreed and added to the Bill at Report stage , requiring the Education Secretary to review , as the DfE Explanatory notes explain ‘ with a view to ensuring that adults unemployed and in receipt of Universal Credit that enroll on an approved training course for a qualification that supports them towards sustainable employment do not lose their entitlement to Universal Credit’.

DfE seems minded to reject Clause 17 , which again is depressing evidence that Ministers and officials are not prepared to will the means to achieving the ends. In the light of the continuing high figures for those x millions without basic skills , that approach is particularly damaging , and we believe should be resisted. The Multiply initiative on numeracy announced by the Chancellor in his Budget is welcome , but does little to addres gaps in other basic skills , especially English.

Initial Teacher Training for Further Education

Together with Further Education Colleges , HEIs are providers of pre- service and in- service teacher education . There is strong potential for teachers to develop an environment driven by a multidisciplinary curriculum ; the aim being to enhance the learning experience of individuals and the group. Teachers’ awareness and sensitivity to the issues that learners bring into the classroom and strategies for dealing with them effectively are important if the barriers are to be addressed.

To promote social justice , inclusion and care , Right2Learn believes it is time for a change in the way potential students teachers are trained. There needs to be a holistic curriculum which explores and addresses the many dimensions ( e.g. health and education) that feeds into inequity and impacts on many marginalised communities.

The inclusion of initial teacher training in this Bill offers a chance to expand the lens of the programmes developed , delivered and evaluated , and which have grown from a multidisciplinary perspective. Health programmes and trainees ( nurses, midwives and doctors) for example are also engaged in aspects of Teacher training and vice versa.

Embedding those skills and knowledge into developing a holistic curriculum could then be rippled out to trainee teachers and their classrooms , equipping them better to address the needs of the communities they serve.

This would give a chance to move on from the failings of siloing disciplines , to recognise the strength of disciplines working in a joined up way that can contextualise and open out learning opportunities for teachers and their learners.

A rethink and rebooting of teacher training on that multidisciplinary basis , at a time when divisions for communities in place and background have been further exposed by the pandemic , could empower both teachers and their learners , putting social justice , aspiration and progression for them at its heart.

Provision of Opportunities for Education and Skills Development

Right2Learn’s campaigning centres around a pledge ‘ to introduce a universal, publicly funded right to learn through life , underpinned by a minimum entitlement to fully funded local level 3 provision , and the equivalent of 6 years publicly funded credits at levels4 and above , with additional support for priority groups’.

That latter commitment to a firm progression to levels 4 and 5 where needed and wanted ,is echoed by the Augar report ,which said ‘England needs a stronger technical and vocational education system at sub degree levels to meet the structural skills shortages that in all probability contributing to the UK’s weak productivity performance’. Since that report was published in May 2019 , the impacts post Brexit and from Covid make that analysis even more relevant.

Any strategy for making sure the Augar recommendations have teeth must include an adequate pipeline from levels 1 and 2 , both to obtain critical mass and avoid further widening between those who already have , by virtue of where they live or, their social and financial capital , a head start in that progression and those who do not possess those leg-ups in the first place.

Many groups including the WEA , Institute for Learning, the Education Select Committee , and many others , have called for initiatives to create that level playing field. In a Right2Learn blog in January this year , Tim Melrose-Ross, former chair of the HE Funding Council and Ruth Spellman ,former General Secretary of the WEA , laid out bold approaches to achieve this , including delivering Level 2 skills for everyone in English , Maths and Digital , abolition of the ELQ restrictions for adult learners and one stop learning hubs situated in local areas

That is why Clause 25 of the Bill , added to it in the Lords at report stage after Amendment 50 , tabled by Lord Clarke was agreed , would be

a crucial enabler. It would give individuals of any age in England ‘the legal right to free education on an approved course for their first qualification up to and including Level 3 , as well as setting a minimum limit on employers in receipt of apprenticeship funding to spend at least two thirds on learners who begin apprenticeships at Level2, or level3 before the age of 25’.

Government failure to go down this route in some direction would make it very difficult to achieve the numbers and outcomes of progression required.

It is no use announcing new Institutes of Technology in shiny buildings if there is not adequate funding for new staff and retraining , equipment , a strong mix of people from all ages and groups , and not taking account of the digital expansions which may make those buildings rapidly irrelevant. We have strong concerns that the £2.5 billion currently set aside for the National Skills Fund will not unfortunately emulate the miracle of the loaves and fishes . More

resources will be needed.

That is why the DfE needs to engage far more closely with MCAs and other bodies , as we have urged , as active partners in the development of the Skills Guarantee as well as the Lifetime Learning Entitilment. That must be done in a spirit ofenabling instead of lapsing back into the old Whitehall ways of micromanagement , trying to pull levers that Government cannot control. As Dan Jarvis , the Mayor of South Yorkshire , has said , too often that results in mere delegation and not real devolution.

That also means engaging HE and FE institutions in a more collaborative way , recognising the limitations of central government in . We know past failings to appreciate this have directly impacted on workforce skills , with Pearson recently reporting that fewer than 1 in 6 of all undergraduates studied part time in 2018/19 compared to just under half in 2003/04. That is stark testimony to the failure of many advanced learner loans to be taken up since 2013 and a wake up call for fresh approaches to reverse this.

The Government could also begin to encourage and appreciate the positive contributions that the Union Learning Fund and their Reps has produced via collaboration between employers and employees over the past two decades , with outcomes for retraining and skilling of tens of thousands of employees attested to by independent research and see them ,, as a real asset for lifelong learning.

Baroness Barron confirmed in the Lords Report stage of the Bill that ‘ details of the LLE would be included in a consultation , which would be followed by further primary legislation’.

That is a useful commitment , but no time scale has been given. Right2 Learn believes it is imperative that this process is speeded up to a DB set a clear road for implementation well before 2025 . Preparatory, things could be done now which would not involve primary legislation and which many groups and outside policy makers could assist in.

As the former Education Secretary Baroness Estelle Morris said ,addressing our most recent Right2Learn conference in September

‘Lifelong Learning is an economic necessity , but it is not just about buildings and institutions , but about the formation of a learning culture and embedding a culture of learning.’

That should be , we would suggest , what this Bill should also embody , as well as all initiatives that come through Government and Parliament.

ENDS

November 29 , 2021.

 

Prepared 30th November 2021