BACKGROUND

Professor Russel Griggs’ “Report of the Review of Further Education Governance in Scotland” submitted to Scottish Ministers on Friday 20 January 2012 contains some pretty strong stuff.

Professor Griggs’ team has delivered a comprehensive report on governance, in which structures for new regional further education boards are laid out in immaculate detail. But they lack a wider context in which they might operate.

Supplementary Guidance on page 60 to Professor Griggs from the Cabinet Secretary for Education shows that the Report’s terms of reference were amended by the “Putting Learners at the Centre”  pre legislative consultation in September 2011.  Further developments, including the issuing of the Scottish Funding Council’s “Putting Learners at the Centre Implementing Paper” in November 2011 and the adoption of the Scottish Government’s Budget on Wednesday 08 February  2012 shows that the Report’s background and context have moved even further. This Huckfield briefing offers suggestions for the context in which the Griggs’ recommendations might operate.

CONCLUSIONS OF REPORT

The “Report of the Review of Further Education Governance in Scotland” represents a comprehensive and detailed report and its main conclusions are considered below. These are links to its main findings below:

Colleges after the 1992 Act 

A brief summary of changes for colleges since the Scotland version of the 1992 Higher and Further Education Act.

Scotland’s Colleges Do Well 

Setting achievements by Scotland’s Colleges in a context. These achievements were also summarised in a recent Huckfield briefing on “Funding for Scotland’s Colleges”.

Griggs’ Regions and Other Regions 

Griggs’ regions don’t necessarily match existing regional boundaries.

Communities and Third Sector 

Though pages 18, 26 and others mention community involvement, community and Third Sector representation needs to be accommodated to ensure successful regional delivery by the new structures.

Regional Board Management and Central Structure 

Outlines for the conduct of new regional Boards are set out, with not much left for the Scottish Funding Council.

Running a Regional Board

There needs to be more detail on the running and objectives of Regional Boards.

Capital Projects 

If, as the Report recommends, the Scottish Government is to provide capital funding, like the NHS in Scotland, detailed guidance will be needed on regional board provision for maintenance and depreciation of assets.

But these conclusions and recommendations above deserve a wider context, on which this Huckfield briefing makes suggestions, including the following: (Please click on links below for these following sections)

ENGAGING EMPLOYERS 

Strong themes on the need for greater employer involvement have appeared in several reports before the Griggs Report. Many concluded that employers and colleges need to connect better to ensure that qualifications and outcomes are relevant for local labour markets.

DISAPPEARING YOUTH LABOUR MARKET 

There is an increasing number of young unemployed in a young people’s labour market which is rapidly disappearing. Economic and social conditions have changed so that going from school to work becomes much more difficult. New routes and pathways to work are needed.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Through direct funding for the Third Sector, including Third Sector Interfaces, and through various local authority structures for neighbourhood participation and community involvement, there are a large number of local community and Third Sector structures. Their involvement in regional further education is essential for its effective delivery.

YOUTH EMPLOYMENT STRATEGY 

Any regional college governance structure should take adequate account of a range of initiatives in the Scottish Government’s comprehensive Youth Employment Strategy published on Tuesday 31 January 2012, especially those for procurement and community benefit.

Below this Huckfield briefing highlights issues which should form a background for further consideration of the Griggs Report’s recommendations. These are summarised below.

CONCLUSIONS OF REPORT

The following represent some of the main topics on which the Report produced conclusions:

Colleges after the 1992 Act

The Report on page 2 describes the purpose of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act:

“The current structure and governance of the FE Sector in Scotland was set up as a straight Scottish parallel to the Further and Higher Education Act in 1992 in England and Wales. Basically it backed Colleges out of the Local Authorities they were part of, made them independent entities with charitable status, gave them some governance requirements by statute, and then told them to be free, independent and create their own future.”

On the ground the ‘liberation’ of further education went further than that. Further Education Colleges were given a licence to trade, without catchment areas or boundaries. Some Colleges developed outposts in Siberia and China. Others began accrediting activities which nobody previously had thought of accrediting.  Many College Principals resigned because they felt this didn’t represent their view of the further education world. Many that remained soon styled themselves as ‘Chief Executive’.

There is one important step which the Report doesn’t highlight – the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 which set up the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council.

About the current organisation of Scotland’s Colleges’ Griggs on page 2 writes:

“Currently we have 37 Boards of Management of incorporated Colleges with a further four Colleges which are not incorporated in statute but are publicly funded.

“While the sector undoubtedly did produce the innovation which was hoped for post 1992, in recent years it has also given rise to many inequalities. We highlight over 20 in this report, the majority of which we do not believe add value to the learner across Scotland or provide a consistent national approach in areas where perhaps that is desirable. Focus has remained, for the Colleges, on their own geography without any real focus on what is best for the learners across Scotland.

“There also has been no real national direction or policy from Government for many years which can provide the overall guidance and principles that the sector needs, and with 41 different College Boards it has been difficult to establish any real cohesive engagement between Government and the sector as a whole.

“The funding mechanism that the sector currently uses also does not help either governance or cohesion.

“This, along with other issues surrounding the status of Colleges, has diminished the value that the sector should contribute to the Scottish economy”.

All this represents a pretty bleak view of the world. This is really saying that left to themselves, Scotland’s Colleges probably won’t get things right.

Scotland’s Colleges Do Well

But surely Scotland’s Colleges don’t do that badly? The Scottish Government’s “High Level Summary of Statistic s Trend Last Update”, November 2011 showed that:

  • There were 347,336 students undertaking courses in the 43 SFC-funded colleges in Scotland in 2009-10, accounting for a total of 438,522 enrolments, individuals can enrol on more than one course.
  • In 2009-10, the number of FE students decreased by 33,915 from 301,692 students in 2008-09 to 267,777. However, the number of full-time students increased by 9% between 2008-09 and 2009-10, which resulted in a 1.5% increase in FE activity at colleges (as measured by SUMs). At FE level, in 2009-10, there were 47,630 full-time and 267,777 part-time students.
  • The main reason for the high number of part time students at FE level is that many students are also in full time jobs or have other domestic responsibilities. The majority of these types of students are frequently enrolled on programmes with a vocational orientation.
  • 95% of all the activity programmes in Scotland’s colleges led to a recognised qualification. The latest figures for 2009-10 indicate that 23,221 HE qualifications were achieved and 95,178 FE qualifications were achieved by students studying at colleges. Furthermore, 38% of enrolments by working age students in Scotland’s colleges, had a direct involvement in industry and commerce in 2009-10.
  • In 2008-09, the most recent year for which SFC data is available, 41,243 FE students received support from bursary funds. This amounted to £67.4mn  of support, which in real terms meant an increase of 8.6% compared to academic year 2007-08 (£60.4mn).

These achievements were also listed in a recent Huckfield briefing on “Funding for Scotland’s Colleges”. All of this surely suggests a high level of participation in Scotland’s Colleges?

Griggs’ Regions and Other Regions 

New regional further education structures are Griggs’ main recommendation. But he leaves it to the new Regional Groups to work out how things will play out on the ground. On page 3 he says:

“The Chairs and the Principals/ CEOs and the Student Representatives of all the Colleges, the UHI centre, the Local Authorities, Trade Unions plus any other body that has a key current or potential interest in UHI be given the task, by June 2012, of producing a solution for their area which uses the regional structure and governance proposals from this review as its base”

On page 4 the proposed Regional Boards will be allocated outputs to deliver:

“To achieve that change we believe means moving to a new place in terms of the way Boards operate, and we recommend that Boards should be given outcomes which they have to achieve and then be judged through a new auditing system to ensure they have achieved them. This will mean that the Boards will be clear of ‘the what’ in terms of what is being asked of them through the individual outcomes, but will encourage different solutions, and we hope innovation, in ‘the how’ of those outcomes being achieved”.

Different approaches for different areas is fine. But there will be problems fitting all this alongside existing local government, Community Planning Partnership, NHS and other boundaries. Within the Scottish Government’s Concordat 2007 many Community Planning Partnerships have spent much time in constructing admirably detailed Single Outcome Agreements.

Many other strategies currently feed into and derive from these SOAs. How many SOA outputs might be fed into those for Regional Further Education?

Communities and Third Sector

On page 18, Professor Griggs’ Report writes on local communities:

“Community reputation where the links of Colleges to their local communities can vary in nature and in strength. For example some Colleges place significant weight on access courses and are seen as a key community resource, while others deliver more provision of national significance and may have weaker community links. In defence of some Colleges, not every Local Authority, or indeed community, appears to value their Colleges to the same extent, which is also part of the challenge”.

Some of this surely overlooks ongoing Scottish Government funding for Third Sector Interfaces to ensure Third Sector input into Community Planning Partnerships? Third Sector organisations include local community groups. They have debated long and hard across Scotland about how these Interfaces and their local representation on CPPs might be constructed. Local community representation on the new Regional Boards is surely essential to achieve many of these outputs?

Might there even be some elected places on Regional FE Boards, following the precedent of elections to NHS Boards under the Health Board (Membership and Elections) Scotland Act 2009?  Larger cities in Scotland all have their variants of local community participation including Aberdeen’s Neighbourhood Community Action PlansEdinburgh’s Neighbourhood Partnerships and Glasgow’s Local Community Planning Partnerships

To achieve many of these outputs, some community participation and input is surely essential?

Regional Board Management and Central Structure

On page 29 Griggs writes strong words on the conduct of Chairs and Boards:

“Each Regional Chair and Board will be audited annually or at an appropriate time to ensure that they are fulfilling their agreed outcomes. If they are not doing so a programme of action will be put into place to rectify areas of concern or failure. This could ultimately lead to the removal of the Chair and/ or Board if they do not fulfil the required outcomes”

On page 6, at the heart of all of this will be a new central structure:

“A central team is formed to manage the process of change across the sector and work with the new Chairs and Boards, once recruited, to deliver their initial outcomes. The ‘FE Change Team’ would report to the Cabinet Secretary and his senior officials in terms of its work. It would also control the transition funding that will be needed to achieve these changes. It would be disbanded when the new structure is in place”.

Together with Professor Griggs’ recommendation on page 41 of a new FE Strategic Forum, one wonders whether there will be much FE work left for the Scottish Funding Council.

Running a Regional Board 

Griggs on ‘Financial Strategies’ in Section 6 on page 30:

“The strategy for the region should set out how the Board will manage financially the organisation in an effective and sustainable way over time as well as on an annual basis. We do not think that this should necessarily mean that each new entity has to make a surplus all the time…….. we would wish the new Regional Boards to demonstrate an ability to take account of the longer term and provide a sustainable financial future for the region. This could include spending to save in the knowledge that this may not give a surplus every year”.

This needs further strategic direction. Similarly, the surplus target of not exceeding 10% of annual revenue also needs further explanation on pages 36 and 37:

“The limit of 10% is what we believe should apply, which is based on what we know today. However like much else that we recommend it could and indeed should evolve. Therefore one of the tasks for the new FE Strategic Forum should be to relook at the percentage and review if a different or better formula should be used. We would not wish the basic premise of a cap to be removed but there could be other ways of establishing what it should be.

“The latter distribution of funding should be done by a new body consisting of the Chairs of all the regions plus others, which we set out later in this review”

Again, one wonders whether this is sufficient guidance for running regional structures, which have yet to decipher ways of delivering outcomes, which are not yet decided.

Capital Projects

Page 45 on Capital Funding also seems to raise more questions than it answers:

“This would mean that Government would allocate no real capital funding to individual Colleges beyond what they need to keep existing LAPs, physical or electronic, maintained to a standard that is fit for purpose for the learner yet allows movement with technological advancements”

When Griggs concludes on page 46 that “A central resource is established within Scottish Government that works with Colleges to deliver major capital projects for the FE sector”, this surely raises more questions than it answers? Colleges now have detailed funding and policies for maintenance and depreciation. Who will provide for this?  Other organisations, including NHS Scotland, have comprehensive guidelines for all of this.

ENGAGING EMPLOYERS

It is rather surprising that Employer Engagement on page 49 of Professor Griggs’ Report Professor Griggs’ Report is relegated to the category of “Other Issues”:

“Much is always made of the need for the FE Sector to provide people for industry, and indeed one of the new focuses in the recent consultation Paper is on Colleges’ prioritising learning opportunities which lead to jobs. On the other hand there is much evidence that industry is actually not very good at forecasting what it needs any distance into the future, in terms of how it should respond rapidly to changes in the economy. We suggest that the need for Colleges to promote dynamic change is likely to get greater not less over the coming years as the world adjusts to a new economy and its implications.

“We do not believe therefore that there is a single national solution to this interface. That is why we have suggested that a key outcome for each region should be, in terms of its strategy, to stipulate and be judged against how they will interface with and react to local industrial and employer needs. While we accept that the national Industry Advisory Groups (IAG) may well help frame some of that thinking for the future, the only real way to manage that interface on a day to day basis is geographically. It also has to be accepted that in some areas local industry may not want to play a part in that interface as it does not see it as a priority”.

All this seems a rather gentle conclusion. It will surely be difficult for regional college structures to meet employability targets without greater employer involvement?  The Committee for the Report didn’t have direct employer representation and the Report does not list much evidence taken from groups of employers. A series of major reports during 2011 pointed to the need for more employer involvement.

Many of the following reports were also mentioned in a recent Huckfield briefing on “Funding for Scotland’s Colleges”.

Alison Wolf’s Benchmark

Although designed for an English audience. Alison Wolf’s ‘Review  of Vocational Education” March 2011 has become a benchmark for more employer involvement. On page 77:

“Finally, as we have seen, employers value ‘work history’ and experience – that is, having held a proper, paid job in a real workplace, as opposed to ‘work-related’ experience in an educational institution or government training scheme…. However, it is becoming ever harder for young people to obtain ordinary employment and too little is being done to assist them in obtaining genuine workplace experience and employment-based skills”.

UK Commission on Employment and Skills

In July 2011 the United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills published a report on Scotland. On page 25 under “Customer Focus: What is the Challenge?” the UKCES Review of Employment and Skills in Scotland continued:

“Although there is evidence of customer involvement in design and delivery of provision in the skills system, and employer involvement in co-design of services for large-scale recruitment, this is not a regular and consistent feature across the whole range of employment and skills services. …..”

“.. There is limited customer consultation in design and delivery of programmes, offering very few opportunities for customers to influence or develop and take control of their own innovative and positive employment solutions”.

Recommendation 2 on page 29 says:

  • Extend the opportunity for direct involvement in the design of provision. This could include services replicating in-house training schemes as part of pre-employment.
  • Identify opportunities to involve employers directly in the delivery of services, for example deliver training directly at employers’ premises.

Willie Roe’s Report

To ensure more employment engagement and involvement, WIllie Roe’s “Review of Post 16 Education and Vocational Training in Scotland” in August 2011.  On page 49 he ways that the UKCES Report represents a “call to action” for:

“Employers to engage more effectively with local partners that deliver employment and skills services, clearly signalling their needs and becoming involved in the design and delivery of provision”

This represents an echo of Alison Wolf’s “Review of Vocational Education” published in March 2011. Prof Wolf on page 143 writes:

“Indeed our third major objective should be to recreate and strengthen genuine links between vocational education and the labour market; and especially, in the case of young people, the local labour market. Employers are the only really reliable source of quality assurance in vocational areas, and, in spite of lip service, have been progressively frozen out of the way vocational education operates” .

On page 71 Willy Roe’s Report recommends the creation of Business Education Networks at local level:

“At the level of each local authority (or combination of local authorities) there should be established a Business-Education Network to co-ordinate and extend the wide range of connections that exist (or will be created in the coming years) between businesses, schools, colleges, and training providers. Some places in Scotland already have a vehicle of this kind. The Networks should be co-funded from the private and public sectors”.

HM Inspectors for Scottish Funding Council

Preparing Learners in Scotland’s Colleges for Employment or Further Study”  26 August 2011 – An aspect report on provision in Scotland’s colleges by HM Inspectors on behalf of the Scottish Funding Council says on page 17:

“However, in many subject areas in many colleges, advisory groups are not effective in bringing employers and programme teams together for the benefit of the college, employers and learners”.

“Putting Learners at the Centre”

Following this, the Scottish Government’s “Putting Learners at the Centre: Delivering our Ambitions for Post-16 Education published in September 2011 on page 32 said:

“The system of National Occupational Standards is designed to ensure that the relevance of the qualification system to the workplace is constantly maintained. Both OPITO (the industry led body for the oil and gas sector), and Constructionskills are outstanding examples of bodies which speak to the system on behalf of employers and ensure that the people going into their sectors are well prepared.  However in other sectors the Sectors Skills Council model is not strong. We will improve this situation, where necessary looking at radically alternative models which put employers in the driving seat”

Following these references above to the need for more employer involvement, various structures, including Skills Investment Plans and Industry Advisory Bodies, are currently being explored by Skills Development Scotland and others to secure more employer participation in vocational training and skills delivery. But none of these approaches has yet produced a formula for adequate employer representation on new regional further education structures to secure greater employer involvement in skills design and delivery.

DISAPPEARING YOUTH MARKET

Although designed for an English audience. Alison Wolf’s ‘Review  of Vocational Education” March 2011 on page 26 highlights the significance of the disappearing youth labour market:

“The rapid change in young people’s typical activity and experiences can be summarised using three of the big longitudinal studies for the UK which look at people born in 1958, 1970 and 1991 respectively. Table 1 below summarises their activity at age 18 and highlights both the steep decline in employment – from three quarters to 40% – and the increase in the proportion ‘out of the workforce.’ While the latter figure is partly cyclical, because of the 2009 recession, it also reflects another change in the English labour market. Young people have always suffered first and most in recessions, but England is now also increasingly like other European countries in having very high structural youth unemployment rates, up to and including 25 year olds.”

Professor Wolf’s ‘Review  of Vocational Education” continues on page 39:

“For young people with poor qualifications, the collapse of youth employment is a double problem. The qualifications they are offered are often not valued in the labour market. And while in the past, it was relatively easy to offset a lack of ’valuable’ qualifications through labour market experience, this is no longer true. Improving opportunities for this substantial group of young people must be seen as a national priority”.

Further Huckfield Reports will provide more analysis of the disappearing youth market in Scotland. As a starting point, there is enough evidence that previous approaches of young people attaining qualifications in the expectation that these will always lead to employment is no longer an effective approach.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

This following section provides further analysis of the need for greater community involvement in regional college structures:

Communities and Third Sector

As also shown above, the Scottish Government makes available direct funding to the wider Third Sector and also funds Third Sector Interfaces to ensure Third Sector input into Community Planning Partnerships. Many Third Sector Interface structures include local community groups.

On page 26 Professor Griggs’ Report writes:

“However this does not mean is that each current College within the region would lose its own identity, or deny its community’s ability to make demands of it. Branding and community involvement will be a specific responsibility of the new regional Board and we could see in many cases why the new Regional Boards would wish to keep some of the current identities of individual Colleges the same as they now”

Surely some way must be found to ensure that the detailed preparation undertaken by the Third Sector is carried forward to the new regional college boards?

YOUTH EMPLOYMENT STRATEGY

Economic and social changes since the late 1970s have made it harder to move straight from school into work. With youth unemployment at a record high, the need to provide routes into employment for school leavers is ever more pressing.

In the recent Institute of Public Policy Research  “Rethinking Apprenticeships” on Tuesday 15 November 2011, a number of contributors seemed to suggest that more higher quality apprenticeships could contribute to reducing high youth unemployment, as typified in its Introduction on page 6:

“Apprenticeships play a key role in supporting young people’s transition into work and responsible adulthood in many northern European countries and in some other Anglo-Saxon countries, notably Australia. Rates of youth unemployment in these countries are much lower than in the UK.”

Though the Scottish Government Youth Employment Strategy published on Tuesday 31 January 2012 includes more apprenticeships, its approach is more comprehensive and includes other initiatives. This is one of the most comprehensive Youth Employment Strategies yet produced and regional further education has a critical role to play throughout.

Community Benefit

Page 9 of Employment Strategy – Procurement – supply side skills. The Scottish Government has developed a comprehensive strategy for “Community Benefits in Public Procurement” following the publication of an initial strategy in 2008.

Most public sector contracts in which community benefit will be involved will not easily coincide with regional college boundaries. But to make this important strategy work, there needs to be regional college involvement on the supply and demand sides.

There is an extended role for further education both in training and supporting SMEs bidding for tenders associated with public procurement and in helping contractors to deliver. There are now a series of mechanisms through which colleges can support both the supply and demand sides of public procurement.

Procurement 

On page 9 the policy document states: “The Government’s recently published Infrastructure Investment Plan makes it clear that we will use our £9 billion public procurement spending to maximum effect to promote economic growth and jobs, including:

  • Asking every company in receipt of a significant Government contract to produce a training and apprenticeship plan. This particularly targets our young people
  • Continuing to use community benefit clauses to support employability and targeted recruitment and training through public sector contracts. Moving forward we will increasingly focus this on supporting young people.
  • We will introduce a Sustainable Procurement Bill which legislates for a systematic use of community benefit clauses within public procurement. Youth employment will feature centrally within this part of the Bill”.

Throughout the Youth Employment Strategy, there is strong focus on the role of public bodies, as typified on page 11:

“Government agencies and NDPBs are well placed to take innovative steps to support the youth employment agenda. In most cases there will be opportunities to provide employment, apprenticeships and work experience opportunities for young people. Moving beyond direct employment and work experience, many Government bodies are in a position to take an imaginative approach to deriving youth employment benefits as they discharge their core activities”.

Government bodies mentioned for offering apprenticeships include the NHS, Historic Scotland, National Records of Scotland and Creative Scotland. New approaches are also projected for the Royal Conservatoire and links with Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund.

The Scottish Government Youth Employment Strategy represents one of the most comprehensive policies for community benefit and public procurement in the UK. Community benefit in procurement is not as comprehensively defined in policy for England, especially for apprenticeships. Much more of this will not be classical “day release” but delivered at the placete of work. Since many public procurement bodies have a regional rather than local presence, regional further education boards need to take account of their skills, training and apprenticeship needs.

Employer Involvement – Again!

On page 16, the Employment Strategy again refers to the need to involve employers:

“Employers have told us that they often find the range of employment and training support available from different public agencies difficult to understand. We are committed to making it easier for all employers, including small and medium sized enterprises, to make better use of public resources to help young people find work.

“As part of a wider programme of work to better align employability services in Scotland, we will develop a clear and simple national offer of support to employers which combines services from SDS, Jobcentre Plus, Scottish Enterprise and other relevant national bodies”

CONCLUSION

Finally, this Huckfield briefing suggests that Professor Griggs’ detailed and comprehensive report would be even more effective in a wider context which takes account of other important current issues.

Professor Grigg’s concept of further education learning and skills being developed on a regional basis represents an innovative way forward. It stands in direct contradiction to the English policy model, which essentially leaves much of the restructuring of further and higher education to the market, especially through the expansion of student loans for both sectors.

In England, the Student Loans Company will assume its place as the largest funding agency. In Scotland, the largest funding agency will continue to be the Scottish Government, with a watching brief for the Scottish Funding Council.