Guide to the Skills System

The new ‘Guide to the Skills System’ publication was launched on July 6th to over 140 guests, including more than 30 Parliamentarians, in the House of Lords. 

The Guide comes from the Skills Commission, an independent group of leading experts and opinion formers from the education and skills sector, with ten years in researching skills and further education to help form crucial policies.

The Skills Commission is seeking to place FE and skills centre stage in this Parliament given it has not had the prominence it deserves. This bite-size document makes the skills system digestible, accessible and will aid MPs in better engaging with policy over the course of Parliament. It will assist them to make the best possible policy decisions in this key area.

The Commission warns that unless policymakers are able to view the skills system holistically we will not be able to build the skills system our industries and enterprises need and the public deserves.

Aimed at Parliamentarians and their researchers, as well as the wider policymaking community, the Guide contains: 

Six key messages for reform in this Parliament to provide better understanding for better policy making:

  • Ensure stability in the system
  • Adopt greater systems thinking
  • Improve the policy process
  • Enhance quality and confidence
  • Boost employer engagement
  • Ensure fair and sustainable funding


  • A short history of skills looking at past skills policy and comparing key bodies, funding structures and regulators
  • An overview of the skills system with maps and infographics on qualifications, funding, learner numbers and more
  • A policy review of the last five years from 2010-15

At present the UK faces growing social and economic challenges that the FE sector is well positioned to address. The Commission, however, is concerned that unless due attention is given to the role of the skills system in this Parliament, important opportunities to address Britain’s lagging productivity, and declining rates of social mobility, may be missed.

Research and guides like this are critical to ensuring the future of FE and meeting the challenges of creating a skills system fit for the 21st century.

The Commission is making the publication available to download for free from the Skills Commission website (www. The report was launched formally at a reception hosted by Baroness Sharp of Guildford in the House of Lords on Monday 6th July.

The launch was attended by leading figures from across the education and training sector and guest speakers included Anne-Marie Morris MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Skills Minister Nick Boles MP; and Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

Commenting on the publication of the Guide Co-chair Dame Ruth Silver:

“This Guide is our gift to the new Parliament to help ensure that skills policy moves to the top of the political agenda. Alongside mobilising to address concerns over skills mismatches, productivity and the prospects of those trapped in low paid work, we must also ensure that we are enabling the FE and skills sector to meet the challenges and opportunities created by an ageing population, technological innovation and a changing labour market. Greater systems thinking will be required to ensure the system can adapt to the demands of the age.”

Co-chair Barry Sheerman MP added:

“Unleashing the potential of our FE and skills sector is key to meeting some of the big challenges we face today. But the sector also faces its own challenges too; an ambitious apprenticeship target and a duty to ensure that all young people up to 18 are in suitable education and training, all at a time when the sector’s budgets face further deep cuts. I am however pleased by the growing interest from colleagues from all sides of the House in the skills agenda and I hope this Guide will encourage more of them to engage with this policy area which is so crucial to the success of the nation.”

Charlotte Bosworth, Director of Skills and Employment, OCR, commented:

"Over 50% of 16-18 year-olds in education and training take vocational and technical training programmes. If we are to give the majority of our young people the best chance to succeed in life and play their part in growing our economy, then there needs to be greater clarity around the whole of the FE system and the qualifications, skills, support and guidance it can provide.  Young people need stability and security but policy churn and lack of investment is having a detrimental impact on them.  This guide is a step in the right direction to help policy makers provide some of that stability."

David Russell, Chief Executive, the Education and Training Foundation:

“At the Education and Training Foundation we believe it is important that policy makers understand the importance of the further education sector and the skills system.  We are pleased to be able to lend our support and contribute to this guide.

“I hope the guide will be useful and will arm Parliamentarians with the knowledge they need to make vital decisions. We look forward to working with the government in the next five years, and to help them to make a real difference to everyone involved in the FE sector.”

Dr Lynne Sedgemore CBE Executive Director, 157 Group:

“We are delighted to have supported this publication which we hope will galvanise interest from a wide variety of parliamentarians and policymakers. The Guide describes a system which has the key ingredients to deliver world-class provision, and it demonstrates how Colleges and other providers are already driving real change, with a focus on local needs and higher-level skills. Over the next five years we must take proper stock of what is working well and push forward with policies which we know can deliver high-quality education and training for all. We look forward to continuing the discussions we are sure this publication will generate.”

This Guide was kindly supported by OCR, the Education & Training Foundation, and the 157 Group of Colleges.

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