Education: Shake-ups shape the new year

More changes are ahead for plumbing and heating engineering students

After a busy summer in the world of education and training, the 2021-22 school year is swiftly upon us. From flexible apprenticeships to hard hitting reviews, it seems things are never quiet in further education (FE). Here, P&H Engineering reviews the headlines causing a stir.

A new breed of apprenticeship?

Bidding has opened for funding from a £7 million pot designed to get flexible apprenticeships off the ground. The first industries targeted are construction, agriculture and creative.

Under flexible apprenticeships, flexi-job apprenticeship agencies employ the apprentice, who then learns the practical skills required to be competent over a number of projects, with different employers. For employers it offers a ‘talent pool’ to dip in and out of when required. The £7 million funding is set to establish a small number of flexi-job apprenticeship agencies, with the first apprenticeship starting in early 2022.

Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said: “Our flexi-job apprenticeships will unleash exciting new opportunities in sectors such as the creative industries and construction, where employment is increasingly flexible and project based.”

Education and Skills Funding Agency review

Professor Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, is taking the helm of an independent review of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). The ESFA is responsible for £65 billion in funding for the training and education sector and regulates academies, further education, sixth-form colleges and training providers. It also has responsibility in delivering on apprenticeships, T-Levels and the National Careers Service.

The ESFA will be undertaking the review until early 2022. It will cover aspects such as its governance, accountability model, impact and operating model.

Minister for the school system, Baroness Berridge, said: “We will examine the ESFA and will identify opportunities for improvement, and areas of success on which we can build, so that it continues to deliver for the public and to represent a responsible use of taxpayers’ money.”

Government announces ‘Trailblazer’ areas

The government has announced the first areas to receive Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIP), led by eight Chambers of Commerce (see table, below) and backed by £4 million in funding.

As part of the government’s new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, LSIPs give employers a central role working with further education colleges, other providers and local stakeholders to develop new “local skills improvement plans”. The plans shape technical skills provision to meet local labour market skills needs. The trailblazers will be led by accredited Chambers of Commerce and other business representative organisations, in collaboration with local providers. Employers and provider groups will be engaged to ensure that the most effective models of employer representation are created before wider rollout.

Not everyone is on board. A number of peers in the House of Lords have reservations about the scheme, citing issues with ‘left out’ areas, an absence of involvement with independent learning providers and a lack of clarity on the geographical areas covered.

Skills Index 2021

The Further Education (FE) Skills Index is published each year by the Department for Education and shows how the aggregate value of the skills supplied by the FE system each year has changed over time.

Key findings in 2019/20:

• The Skills Index has decreased almost every year since 2012/13, and in 2019/20 fell by 21% (its largest fall to date) against the backdrop of COVID-19 restrictions.

• The downward trend since 2012/13 has mainly been driven by a decline in FE learner numbers, leading to fewer achievers. The number of achievers in 2019/20 was less than half (47%) what it was in 2012/13.

• The number of achievers in 2019/20 was also impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, with disruptions to exams and breaks in learning, leading to fewer achievements. Achievements in both apprenticeships and classroom-based learning fell by around 21% in 2019/20.

• The value added per learner was 6% greater in 2019/20 than it was in 2012/13, suggesting that learners across FE have shifted towards more valuable qualifications (particularly towards apprenticeships which typically have higher returns than classroom-based training).

• The provision mix has become more valuable for apprenticeships (compared to classroom-based courses) as apprentices have gradually shifted towards higher levels and more valuable subjects.

Download the full report here.

Pay rise for apprentices?

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Apprentices (APPG) annual report is calling on the government to improve pay conditions and mental health support, increase apprenticeship uptake and improve on delivery.

The 2020-2021 annual report made recommendations including:

• The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill should be used as an opportunity to improve overall apprenticeship provision and support the delivery of quality apprenticeships.

• UCAS should continue its expansion of its existing portal to service further education, apprenticeships, and T-levels.

• The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) should ensure continued flexibility at all stages of the apprenticeship process, most notably including end point assessments.

• The government should mandate statutory training for both employers and providers to safeguard apprentices’ mental health as it brings forward an Employment Bill. This should include a mental health toolkit.

• The Department for Education should establish a government-run advice and one-stop-shop for small businesses providing support to take on an apprentice and the process.

• The government should increase the flexibility of what the Apprenticeship Levy can be used for and when. The Levy should allow businesses to transfer or pool their resources to improve provision of apprenticeships.

• The Department for Education should provide bespoke guidance to providers and employers on how T-levels, Kickstart and apprenticeships can provide benefits and complement one another.

• HM Treasury should raise Apprentices’ Minimum Wage to be in line with the National Minimum Wage.

• IfATE’s funding band review must ensure sustainable and long-term funding for apprenticeships to ensure that employers have the confidence to invest in their workforces.

Download the full report here.

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