AELP Editorial – 28 November

By Mark Dawe | Chief Executive | AELP:

We now have three out of three manifestos from the main parties.

There has been a lot written about the commitments from all three parties to skills and further education. Along with a commitment to business and productivity and dealing with the consequences of Brexit, retraining and apprenticeships from level 2 to level 7 are top of the agenda.  More money invested in skills and apprenticeships means more people will be trained and meet the skills needs of business and the economy as a whole.  It is not more money to do the same with the same number of students, it is more money to support more individuals whatever stage they are at in their career and life.

Conservative Manifesto
With the commitment to some form of right to retrain, the Conservative Party has joined the other two main parties in committing to some form of personal skills account.  This is something AELP can now work on in preparation for the new government whatever colour they are – even if that colour is a political rainbow.

AELP has done a useful little summary of the three main parties manifesto’s in relation to skills, including our full response, and this can be found here.

Even in the introduction of the Conservative manifesto, apprenticeships were in one of the main points: “Millions more invested every week in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure while controlling debt”

The main points from the Conservative manifesto include:

  • Right to retrain
  • £3bn into skills
  • Sorting out the SME apprenticeships
  • More high-quality apprenticeships
  • Mandatory apprenticeships in infrastructure projects
  • It’s not just about productivity but also about “enabling people to fulfil their potential”
  • Replacing ESF funding
  • A focus on prison education and work-based skills
AELP’s response was:

“AELP warmly welcomes the additional funding promised for skills, because Brexit means that we need to train or retrain more home-grown talent.  All three main parties appear committed to some form of skills account for individual leaners which we would consider a positive step with the right to train or retrain.  Equally positive would be the establishment of the £3bn National Skills Fund if it is allocated correctly to employers and learners to encourage good quality training provision.

“The Conservatives are right to aim to ‘level-up’ opportunities for small businesses.  Right now, SMEs are being starved of funding to offer apprenticeships to young people across the country and the proposed Fund could actually be swallowed up in its entirety by the need to restore the funding smaller businesses used to receive for apprenticeships before the levy was introduced.  But AELP looks forward to making constructive proposals on the design of the National Skills Fund.”

Labour Manifesto
Meanwhile, some of our members were worried about the references to the private sector in the Labour manifesto. AELP’s response to this was as follows, hoping it provides some reassurance:

“We heard very encouraging statements at the Labour party conference about the important role that independent training providers play in the sector and Labour’s lifelong learning commission has since recommended that providers of all types should collaborate closely for in forming local delivery partnerships.  AELP believes that a mixed economy of supply generates the most effective results for local communities, employers and learners.  Gordon Marsden is also a strong supporter of devolution and it may be that the mayoral combined authorities, like they’ve already started to, will want to procure adult education to providers of any type that they feel will deliver the best outcomes to their communities at best value.  Similarly we would find it very strange if any government started to interfere in how levy paying employers chose to contract out their apprenticeship training, given that all registered providers are tightly regulated under a national system.”

The Forgotten Third
Great report in the TES on the report produced by Centre for Economic Performance at LSE picking up the now, I believe, universally accepted fact that we have forgotten a third of the population – in particular around level 2 provision. You can see the article here.

Sadly, actually it is not universally agreed – the university sector, through their membership of UVAC still seem to question the value of level 2 apprenticeships.

To be fair to Mandy Crawford-Lee, this is a toned down version with a hint of collaboration compared to some of the elitist ranting we have seen from the CEO of the organisation over the past few months and actually repeated a couple of weeks ago [].

Let’s see if we can find some middle ground!!

Anyway, forgotten 50%, forgotten third, whatever it is – they have been forgotten and abandoned by policy makers and the politicians and then need to be a key part of the overall thinking when it comes to apprenticeships and skills with the new government.

We hear arguments from those that promote the productivity agenda that level 2s don’t give the same productivity return as higher levels.  I am not sure there is enough evidence to make those claims.  Of course, roles at level 6 will have an impact on productivity – but what adds more value (especially when taking account of the amount of funding made available)? Moving from a level 5 to a level 6 or moving from a level 1 to a level 2?

In terms of fiscal benefits for government, it has been proven that work-based level 2 learning does give a productivity gain. There is evidence that improvements in functional Maths and English, along with sector skills, leads to better health and wellbeing, removing a significant burden off the state.  The very fact that someone is employed in sustainable work, with training and then being in a position to progress, has significant benefits in terms of reducing the burden on the welfare system, contributing to the tax system and actually being a productive member of society.

The list of benefits is long and equals if not exceeds those of, for example, better management practice at level 7.  And we haven’t even started to list the social benefits gained through this level of training and support.  This is something that, at the moment, the Treasury seems to rank a long way second compared to productivity, so I won’t bother listing those benefits here, other than repeat the phrase: “Treasury, you are forgetting a third, a half whatever the proportion is!!” It is not one or the other between levels – it is all of them.

The question to answer is who pays for what, what are our national entitlements, what do we expect government to fund and how to we encourage funding and support for everything else if it isn’t government funded.

World Skills UK
I attended the World Skills UK live (skills show) at the NEC at the end of last week. For regular readers of Countdown, I don’t need to repeat my absolute passion for the competitions and the show in driving up quality across the sector, aligning to world standards and, on top of it all, an incredible careers experience for 80,000 school kids ticking 70 Gatsby boxes under one roof.

What is so reassuring is that, walking around with senior representatives from the ESFA, DfE, Ofqual, Ofsted, CEC, NCS and every other education and skills acronym, they could all see this as well.  We MUST take this inspiration and enthusiasm and embed it in our skills system.  It is only one part, but it is a vital part.

I spoke at the event alongside the head of World Skills Russia.  After coming 33rd in the rankings with no medals a few years back, they used the World Skills standards and approach to drive change across Russia. In Abu Dhabi two years ago they came first, in Kazan this year they were pipped into second by the Chinese – just watch the battle in Shanghai in two years’ time!!  And this was systemic change – not just hot housing a few competitors.  For a country with 2.5 times our population they shared some amazing statistics.  1.5m school children visit their competitions each year.  That would be something like 600,000 in the UK compared to our amazing 80,000 in Birmingham.

The answer – have regional shows and skills competitions.  Russia have 8,700 skills experts at the moment with an aim for 70,000.  Now the definition might be slightly different, but the UK have 140.  I am not saying we should or can do what Russia do. There are a number of cultural and political differences that mean a slightly different approach might be needed!!  However, Russia has demonstrated what is possible with focus and investment.  A lovely way also of describing skills programmes for me and the other over 50s – no not an MBA apprenticeship, but instead, Skills for the Wise.

New IfATE chief executive
Finally, a proper welcome to Jennifer Coupland.

I am sure we would all have loved to be a fly on the wall during her one-week handover with Sir Gerry.  Now for a few more weeks of Purdah and then she can really get going and sort things out.  I am sure the Business Admin level 2 trailblazer is already pencilling in a date to meet her, as promised at AELP’s Autumn conference, probably arranged by a BA level 2 apprentice!

This hopefully will help Jenifer understand the case as to why this apprenticeship is vital for so many employers, and in particular levy payers.  And while we hate the measure, the proposed standard blows away the 20% off the job and 12 months on the job requirements.

Anyone who doesn’t believe this please drop me a line and we will arrange a visit to some of these employers to talk to their business admin level 2 apprentices.  Anyone in the DfE who wants to meet one of these amazing apprentices, just walk the corridors of Sanctuary Buildings – you employ loads of them.  Time to shift from “two faced” to “two supporters”.

And while we are on Jennifer’s to do list – EQA.  On 13th December, post-election, you have got to hope that she will apply her common sense and shift all EQA to Ofqual (and all Apprenticeship inspection to Ofsted – but that might take a little longer) and scrap the £40 charge.

I hear the screams of “but we need professional expertise to be able to quality control each sector”.  Yeah right – that is why the care sector is now being done by the rail experts.

Nothing against the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), but don’t tell me they have the sector expertise on judging adult care worker standards.  Let me help you.  No, they don’t.  They understand assessment.  And that is why we have Ofqual.  Ofqual are the country’s, if not the world’s, leading experts in regulating qualifications and understanding assessment.  I think I have made my point

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