Last week, most focus on was the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. This week it has been on the Prime Minister’s difficulties with his Party and with the proposed Merkozy Amendments to the Lisbon Treaty. So it’s probably understandable that the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills’ publication of two more chapters in its “New Challenges. New Chances” series on Further Education Reform on Thursday 01 December 2011 passed almost unnoticed.

The piece highlights some of the more important proposals and changes in these papers.

Funding for Training the Unemployed

After the August Riots there were changes in funding under Learner Eligibility Rules. “New Challenges. New Chances” extends those cohorts who will be eligible for Government funding including: (on page 6)

  • “Unemployed people on benefits who are looking for work to access labour market relevant courses, which help them improve their skills or re-train to help them get a job
  • “Those at risk of social exclusion to support them to access community learning. We remain committed to safeguarding a range of learning opportunities that support access and progression for people who are disadvantaged and least likely to participate”.

At the moment, further details are awaited on both of these. They are included here since both are changing. Under the Youth Contract, which was included in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, those on Job Seekers’ Allowance for more than 6 months will be able to keep their benefit and enrol for training.

Community Learning will be through pilots described below. There is more about this in Community Project Grants.

More Flexible Delivery

There are at least three portents of more flexible future delivery:

1) “Innovation Code” from “Colleges in the Community”

Some relaxation is proposed for delivery which is not yet in the Qualification and Credit Framework. “New Challenges. New Chances” on page 6 seeks to promote innovation and enterprise by:

  • “Supporting FE colleges and providers to draw down funding for programmes that meet a particular employer skills need whilst they are simultaneously developed for the QCF. This “Innovation Code” was a recommendation from Baroness Sharp’s Report on Colleges in their Communities and will operate on the understanding that colleges and providers will work with appropriate partners to develop the programme to fit the specifications of the QCF so that over time it can become part of a nationally regulated offer”.

The actual recommendation from Baroness Sharp’s “Colleges at the Heart of Local Communities” was more specific:

  • “Establish an ‘innovation code’ to allow flexibility to fund responsive provision which meets locally assessed priority needs. This should total up to 25% of the college’s adult skills budget per annum (by September 2012), rising to 50% (by September 2014).

It remains to be seen how this sits alongside the current DfE Consultation for Study Programmes for 16-19 year olds, which includes “one qualification of substantial size” and the new proposed Employer Ownership Pilots which will seek to transfer funding from providers and qualifications to employers for their  greater involvement in designing qualifications.

2) Skills Funding Agency – Funding for Job Outcomes

“New Challenges. New Chances” says on page 12:

“FE colleges and providers can also access units and full qualifications from the Qualifications and Credit Framework to design a flexible pre-employment training offer for the people who are unemployed and looking for work to enable them to access jobs in the local labour market. Where an individual’s main goal on starting a course is to get a job, from 2012 the Skills Funding Agency will pilot paying for job outcomes”.

As the “Skills Investment Statement 2011-2014” which accompanies  “New Challenges. New Chances” says on page 5 describes this:

“In the 2012-2013 Academic Year the Skills Funding Agency will trial making payments on the basis of job outcomes for unemployed learners, whose training is being fully funded. This trial will enable the payments to be integrated into the new simplified funding system from the 2013/14 Academic Year. The amount will be relative to the size of the learning aim in line with the approach taken to funding qualification achievements. This will ensure the amount paid for an outcome is proportionate to the funding paid for the student’s training”.

3) Awarding Organisations

“New Challenges. New Chances” on page 18 introduces the prospect of more flexibility for Awarding Organisations:

“Following the recommendations in the Wolf report, we will consult on whether current National Occupational Standards are fit for purpose in a job market where the nature of work is evolving rapidly and individuals change occupations more frequently.

“Where there is demand, Awarding Organisations will be able to develop new assessments based on criteria which ensures rigour and is focused on the core English and Maths skills needed in the labour market and for progression. We will expect greater employer involvement in the development of these awards and assessment models that are flexible enough to support lower level learners to progress.”

These above sections on increased flexibilities represent new approaches for the Skills Funding Agency. It remains to be seen how “Innovation Code” programmes to “fit the specifications of the QCF” or flexibility under Job Outcome Payments and for Awarding Organisations will sit alongside the “Consultation on 16-19 Study Programmes” which seeks more coherent programmes. It seems that not all of these initiatives may be pushing in the same direction.

National Careers Service

There is more about the proposed National Careers Service. “New Challenges. New Chances” on page 7 says:

“In April 2012 we will launch the National Careers Service, building on Next Step. The Service will have a new focus on specialist careers guidance, built on the principles of independence and professional standards, and will ensure there is a strong information, advice and guidance offer available for young people and adults”.

This Service will be provided online, with a helpline and a “network of organisations providing face to face careers guidance in the community to adults” and those over 18.

With 1.16mn 16 to 24 year olds not in employment, education or training, even with the £1bn (£940m) Youth Contract programme over 3 years which aims to provide work placements, apprenticeships and advice and guidance for 18-24 yr olds and particular support for 16-17 yr old NEETs, there will still be a significant gap in provision. (More details on the Youth Contract in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement are included in the posting below). Connexions no longer exists in a form which is needed. The end of Education Maintenance Allowances – which for many young people at least enabled their regular access to advice and training – has deterred many young people from attendance and thus being supported.

Leadership and Management Advisory Service (LMAS)

LMAS has performed an interesting role for providers, especially colleges, to gain access to smaller employers. It’s a pity that more don’t know about it and the way it works. “New Challenges. New Chances” says on page 10:

The Leadership and Management Advisory Service (LMAS) is a £20 million programme offering support to up to 13,000 high growth SMEs and social enterprises in the 2011-12 financial year to help develop their management capability. In the 2012/13 academic year, LMAS will be aligned with Business Coaching for Growth and will form part of a package of support including: coaching of senior management teams; access to business and knowledge networks; and fast-track access to trusted sources of specialist advice such as the Technology Strategy Board and UKTI.

This is an extension to a useful programme for providers since it enables early engagement and access to small businesses which can form the basis of further support. The current scheme enables projects with a total cost of £2000, with the company matching the LMAS grant 50/50.

Higher Vocational Education

Before the 1963 Robbins Report on Higher Education, because of large numbers of part time students, Further Education Colleges delivered more higher education than universities. The 1966 Higher Education White Paper designated some FE institutions as ‘polytechnics’. But for 20 more years FE Colleges continued to enrol almost as many students as 29 polytechnics on higher education courses.

The prominent role of Further Education Colleges is once becoming more recognised. “New Challenges. New Chances” gives encouraging recognition of a Further Education role in Higher Education on pages 12 and 13:

These changes will have significant implications for many FE providers. Further education already provides nearly 40% of new entrants to higher education (HE). The sector is an increasingly significant HE provider in its own right, hosting around 180,000 students on HNCs, HNDs, Foundation Degrees, degrees, Apprenticeships and professional awards. Colleges have a distinctive mission in delivering locally-relevant, vocational and technical higher-level skills across the country.

“The use of the title “college of further and higher education” has received support from FE colleges with significant HE who wish to express that fact more explicitly. We will review the criteria for adoption of this title to ensure they better reflect the new and emerging landscape. We will take account of the outcomes of the Government’s proposed reforms to higher education including those proposals around university and university college title.

“Whilst many colleges and providers have long and established track records in offering Level 4 technical and professional qualifications, this has been a neglected area in policy terms for some time, particularly around what has become known as ‘non-prescribed higher education’. We will develop and promote the concept, identity and value of our ‘Higher Vocational Education’ portfolio with clear, flexible and articulated progression routes into Levels 4, 5 and 6”.

During last month’s HEFCE HE Margin Bidding process, there were only 34 bids from HE Institutions, and 167 bids from Further Education Colleges to support students on HE courses. FE Colleges are keen to improve the range of their Higher Education offer.

The whole education funding landscape is changing – from Early Years to Higher Education. Rather than Further Education and Higher Education Institutions’ seeing each other as competitors, since they both have a distinctive offer hopefully more delivery partnerships will arise.

Community Learning

There is a current consultation on the £210mn annual “pot” for Adult Safeguarded Learning. Recipients, including many local councils, are free to decide how they deliver provision across these areas.

  • Personal and Community Development Learning
  • Family Literacy, Language and Numeracy
  • Wider Family Learning
  • Neighbourhood Learning in Deprived Communities

Effectively these previously separate funds are now “de ring fenced”. Though the Skills Funding Agency requires that learner numbers should be maintained, there are stronger arguments for refounding this funding in local community structures. “New Challenges. New Chances” on page 13 is constructive about this:

“BIS funding will continue to support a universal community learning offer, with a wide range of learning opportunities available to all adults in England.

“The consultation endorsed a new, clearer commitment to using the public funding subsidy to support access, and progression in its widest sense, for people who are disadvantaged and who are furthest from learning and therefore least likely to participate. In the 2012/13 academic year we will pilot different locally-based ‘community learning trust’ models to channel Adult Safeguarded Learning funding and lead the planning of local provision in cities, towns and rural settings. If this proves to be an effective model we will roll out community learning trusts across England to begin full operation from summer 2013.”

There is more about this in Community Project Grants.

Colleges and Offender Learning

The National Offender Management Service is gradually extending its territory throughout mainstream vocational training delivery. NOMS itself is an ESF CoFinancing Organisation. “New Challenges. New Chances” on page 15 provides further insight:

“Following a review we launched Making Prisons Work: Skills for Rehabilitation in May 2011, setting out a new strategy for offender learning. The strategy sets out an increased focus on vocational and employability skills, and introduces a decisive shift to local decision-making based on clusters of prisons between which prisoners move. It also sets out the Government’s commitment to trial outcome payments giving colleges and training providers a greater stake in delivering learning successfully. Prison Governors will work closely with the Skills Funding Agency and other partners to determine a mix of learning provision that will fit offenders for the range of jobs and Apprenticeship opportunities available to them in the areas to which they are released.”

College Governance

As mentioned above, all funding and delivery structures throughout education are changing. On page 19, “New Challenges. New Chances” is much more specific than in previous versions on College Governance, emphasising these new freedoms for colleges:

” … through the Education Act 2011 we have removed a wide range of restrictions and controls on college corporations, putting colleges on a similar footing to charities operating within the independent/private sector. Corporations no longer need to seek permission to change their Instrument and Articles and the legislative requirements for these are now reduced to a minimum core of essential elements. A Corporation can decide to dissolve the college itself, if this seems the best approach to ensure the provision of high quality, flexible provision to meet the needs of their local areas. We will continue to ensure that the naming of colleges is accurate and meaningful. We will review ways of protecting the terminology and titles in relation to FE colleges to maintain the high reputation of the FE sector.

“In considering the needs of their local areas – whether these are cities, towns or rural areas – we expect colleges and providers to look at a wide range of evolving models, including joint models across the post-14 education sector”.

“New Challenges. New Chances” continues by suggesting new structures and models for colleges on page 19:

  • Setting up companies or, trusts
  • Or mutualisation models, in line with the Coalition’s commitment to support the creation of new public service mutuals, empowering employees to take over the services they provide.

Various partnership structures are suggested – with other colleges, employers, UTCs and working with Group Training Associations for apprenticeship delivery:

“Colleges might take up the opportunity to sponsor, establish or work with Academies (3-19 or 16-18) or Free Schools (3-19). There are many examples of this already working in practice, for example there are currently (as of November 2011) 27 FE colleges across the country sponsoring or co-sponsoring Academies, with a further 15 due to sponsor Academies in 2012.

“The vital accountability to communities is recognised in Baroness Sharp’s review of colleges’ role in their communities. Any college considering a major change in their delivery model will undertake a College Structure and Prospects Appraisal and consider carefully and thoroughly the impact on their communities, consulting widely and transparently on their proposals, and taking explicit account of the views of the people – learners, employers, and the broader community – that they serve.

“College corporations must recognise that they are operating in an open market which should allow for new entrants, offering greater choice and diversity. The processes for developing new delivery models or securing new provision or partners should be transparent and through open and competitive procurement practices, with demand driving a more diverse supply side

All this surely means that there will be no longer a typical FE College.  Some will join forces with academies. Others may form Free Schools and Colleges. Others may form joint trusts with employers under Employer Ownership Pilots. Colleges are free to find their place in the market place.

Colleges now “Providers”

However, unlike the new freedoms of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, Colleges and other providers no longer have a Funding Agency as a backstop or Funder of Last Resort. They don’t have a Central Bank for their Sovereign Debt. What is not emphasised is that following Royal Assent for the new Education Act on Tuesday 15 November 2011, colleges are now providers to the Skills Funding Agency. This is a neat way of resolving the conundrum post by the National Audit Office refusal to close the Skills Funding Agency’s accounts while it was deemed responsible for Colleges’ viability.