At first glance, funding and liability don’t seem like the most exciting issues facing the FE sector right now. But we must not lose sight of the important regulatory reform that is on the horizon.
The 2021 Skills for Jobs White Paper laid out a blueprint for further simplification of liability and funding, and a first consultation followed last summer. However, following the further decentralization promised in the white paper on the race to the top, further consultations were necessary. This is now live on the Department for Education (DfE) website and closes next Thursday (September 21).
The aim is to simplify the EF funding system, which I know providers will be delighted with. But as things stand, the plans fall frustratingly short of what could be positive reforms for the whole sector.
Here are four considerations:
ITPs are fundamental to adult education, not just to fill gaps
There are some main principles in the new proposals, including simplification, more autonomy and multi-year contracts. But as always, the institutional bias of the DfE means that colleges stand to benefit from it, rather than the principles applying to all types of FE providers. The focus should certainly be on providing greater choice for learners and employers.
The original proposals fundamentally ignored the role of Independent Training Providers (ITPs) and, worryingly, we do not appear to have moved away from this position. ITPs deserve much more than being considered “gap fillers”. This terminology was not only disrespectful, it simply did not reflect the crucial role of ITPs in the delivery of adult education.
Significant Changes to Funding Methodology
We expect big changes in the financing methodology, not only at the national level, but also in the decentralized regions, thanks to a new national financing model. Qualifiers will be funded through a new set of funding tiers, each with its own funding rate. AELP would like to see a simpler set of funding rates – each reflecting the true cost of providing – with regular reviews. This last point is crucial – as it stands, the Adult Education Budget (AEB) funding rates have not been updated for over ten years.
In decentralized areas, the DfE proposes a transition to a more tightly needs-based funding model. This could have a significant impact on decentralized allocations in some decentralized areas where funding is already decentralized. This change may mean that less funding is available in certain areas in the future. AELP believes that the government needs to be more ambitious with adult education and increase its investment in AEB which has lost more than 50% of its value in the last ten years. Reinvestment in adult education would have the side effect of greatly reducing the impact of redistribution and displacement of existing capacities.
An uncertain future for internships?
Internships have proven to be positive for those furthest from the labor market. We know employer demand is also high, but with such a crowded field, internships are often overlooked. In the proposals, there is a rather cryptic statement about the future of internships 19-24. The DfE plans to undertake further work and return with an update later in the year. Could we see internships become a pre-apprenticeship program? An interesting prospect. Another way to stimulate learner participation would be the introduction of a training allowance, funded by current under-utilization.
What about community learning?
We are concerned that consultation significantly understates the value of community-based adult learning – and entry-level provision in general. This is now a worrying and recurring theme across government when considering broader plans to fund 80% and more of Tier 2 qualifications and below for adults. The DfE may consider some of this provision to be more in line with the UK’s Shared Prosperity Fund than the EOA, but this provision is essential and needs to fit into the landscape somewhere. You can’t have an opportunity ladder without the first rungs.
Overall, the consultation on funding and accountability represents a golden opportunity to improve the functioning of the system. But I’m afraid that without a better appreciation of the role of all EF vendors, it’s a dud.
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