The Prime Minister sets out radical changes for FE and skills

Policy Connect and members respond

On Tuesday 29th September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee along with a package of policy and funding reforms across FE and skills.

Writing in FE News, Policy Connect’s Head of Education and Skills, Simon Kelleher, welcomed the announcements for progressing the conversation on lifelong learning. Accompanied with the right levels of investment, and the reforms called for in our England’s Skills Puzzle report, the Guarantee offers a chance to shift us towards the strategic system of lifelong learning we need for the fourth industrial revolution and longer working lives.

The speech was also welcomed by leaders and organisations from across the sector. Below our members offer their views:

"It's good to see National Skills Fund being invested in extra and much needed funding for adult education alongside the adult education budget and we have recommended that the comprehensive spending review should integrate these two budgets and the National Retraining Scheme into a single pot which providers of all types can access. The next step after that is that adult learners should access the pot instead via properly regulated individual skills accounts, so we end up with a fully demand-led system like we now have for employers with apprenticeships." 

Jane Hickie, Managing Director, Association of Employment and Learning Providers 


"It’s pleasing to see the prime minister take on board some of our recent recommendations to help reskill adults and we broadly welcome the Government’s commitment to offering adults without A-Levels the opportunity to access fully funded courses. This is certainly a step in the right direction, however these measures still seem narrow in their scope and don’t contain the creative thinking needed to address vast skills and jobs challenges that lie ahead.

How is the provision going to be flexible enough for people to fit learning around their lives and responsibilities – whether that’s childcare, caring for a relative or a part time job? And, while the intention is that adults learn skills valued for employers, will the training courses on offer match up with the demand in the local area? A skills and training offer fit for today must include the option of digital learning with the focus being on the skills acquired rather than a qualification.Meanwhile, if only those without an A-Level (or equivalent) qualification are eligible for this training, it completely overlooks huge swathes of the population who have been displaced from their industries this year and will need to completely retrain and change their skillsets now. And, while this will help social mobility, it can’t be a true lifelong skills solution if you’re only eligible once.

In our CSR submission we detail how skills funding could be better used to help people understand their transferable skills as well as the new skills needed to get back into work. While it’s currently unclear how much this latest Government intervention will cost, investing £65 million – or just under £1 per head – in a network of digitally enabled Employment and Training Hubs across the UK that provide meaningful, long-term support to stem unemployment would be much better value for money. We can’t wait until April for these interventions – this is our act now moment". 

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO, City & Guilds Group


"The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) welcomes the Prime Minister's announcement of a new plan to transform the country’s training and skills programme and a Lifetime Skills Guarantee scheme. This is a vital step to help boost the numbers of new entrants, support our industry and increase productivity. We know the engineering construction industry will face critical skills shortages over the coming years, and we agree that transforming the foundation of the skills system is a necessary step to help maintain a pipeline of skilled recruits into the industry, particularly if we are to deliver a green economic recovery. Technical education remains one of the most valued routes into our sector and it’s encouraging to see the focus on increasing funding and maximizing opportunities for SMEs taking on apprenticeships. The ECITB is eager to support the Government’s ambition to help people to upskill and reach their full potential, and we are looking forward to working together on this important agenda." 

Ana Julia Fernandes, Public Affairs & Campaigns Manager, ECITB


"More than ever before that we need our FE sector to be at the forefront of social and economy recovery. The Prime Minister’s speech sets out a welcome step towards achieving this. Supporting adults towards their first level 3 qualification will enable those furthest from the labour market to upskill and gain meaningful employment. We also welcome the refocus towards lifetime learning and flexible funding for FE and HE so that adults and young people can reskill into sustainable jobs fit for the future. However, we need to see government match this ambition with pace and urgency. Our recent report ‘Our plan for FE’ calls for the FE sector to receive critical attention, and more importantly for urgent investment and funding that has so long been denied it." 

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive, Edge Foundation


"The Prime Minister’s skills announcement is cautiously welcomed because the time has come to recognise the value of skills to underpin business competitiveness, innovation and resilience. Enginuity believes that we need to be able to respond to the opportunities of Industry 4.0 and low carbon technologies and to capitalise on making innovation provide the opportunity to repurpose talent and ensure no one is left behind. Our hope is for more detail in the days to follow, as currently, the skills announcement falls short of industry requirements and indeed may fail to stave off mass unemployment and uncertainty amongst our workforce and moreover a loss of talent from the engineering and manufacturing sector." 

Jacqueline Hall, Head of Policy & Strategy, Enginuity


"The latest announcements from the Prime Minister highlight the potential that FE offers to contribute towards a fairer future at a time of great uncertainty and change. Through this renewed commitment to lifelong learning and retraining, the sector can be mobilised to aid economic recovery, and offer people and communities the skills and networks they need to thrive as the patterns and structures of work continue to change. However a pre-requisite for success will be investment in staff and learners. FE has the creativity and strength to deliver, but after a decade of austerity and disruption, must be placed on a firm footing for this exciting new future."

Dame Ruth Silver, President, FETL


"As the Prime Minister announces a major extension of post-18 education and training, Learning and Work Institute (L&W) calls for further action to reverse a ‘decade of decline’ in lifelong learning. The new ‘lifetime skills guarantee’, which comes ahead of the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, give adults the chance to take free college courses that are valued by employers, and new entitlement to flexible loans to help adults to retrain. Learning and Work Institute has welcomed the announcement, but called for additional investment, and a comprehensive plan to reverse a decade of decline in lifelong learning. L&W’s adult participation survey shows that just one in three (33%) adults have taken part in learning in the last three years, the lowest figure ever recorded. The number of adults taking part in learning and training has fallen by nearly 4 million since 2010.

The new lifetime skills guarantee will help more adults improve their skills, and hopefully kickstart a new era of investment after a decade of decline during which the number of adults gaining A level equivalent qualifications has almost halved. But while this new entitlement will help, it can only be the first piece of the jigsaw and a down payment on the £1.9 billion extra investment needed. We need an ambitious lifelong learning strategy, support for people to retrain and change careers, and investment to create a pipeline of learning from basic skills to higher education.” 

Fiona Aldridge, Director of Policy and Research, Learning and Work Institute


"The PM has rightly recognised the potential of the FE sector and the learners that thrive within it. I hope these measures will help to bring much needed options to adult learners that are looking to retrain in a variety of industries, not just IT and construction, and the flexibility for Colleges and Independent Training Providers to deliver it effectively."

Christianne Cavaliere de Moncayo, Chief Executive, LCBT


"Further education is in dire need of funding, but that is because Conservative and coalition governments of the last 10 years have decimated it. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister has the audacity to lament a lack of funding for colleges, and to criticise record student debt levels, when they are the direct result of decisions taken by his party. Today's plans will not undo a decade of cuts." 

Jo Grady, General Secretary, UCU