We’ve seen a few legislative strides this year:

  • The Skills bill passed its report and third reading stages in the House of Commons recently, clearing the way for it to become law.
  • The “lifelong loan entitlement which has the potential to open up opportunities to access higher education throughout life” has reached its consultation phase, which is open to the public and closes on May 6, 2022.
  • The government unveiled it’s flagship Levelling Up White Paper. The document which sets out plans to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.

Each highlights positive discussions but proposals to clarify objectives and outline delivery models are hampering the benefits of the legislation that are urgently needed now, and not in three years, as some plans are stipulating.

The Lifelong Loan Entitlement 

The scheme designed to boost demand for higher technical qualifications and reverse the decade-plus decline in adults participating in education and training is now in its ‘design’ stage. Providers including universities, colleges and training providers are now being asked to help design and outline proposals for the scheme. The 60-page consultation document published recently contains 49 open-ended questions on topics ranging from; the changes needed to the student finance system, how to provide maintenance support and how qualifications should be approved for the scheme.

Ministers have given themselves until 2025 to build, test and implement the LLE. The recent consultation bundles questions along three themes: ambition, scope and quality, but at present there remain concerns over suggested models. For example Susan Pember, policy director at HOLEX described how a lack of cross-government initiatives within the LLE is a “lost opportunity”.

“It is helpful that the consultation is out, but the proposals for a four-year loan entitlement are still very perplexing,” she said.

“Mainly because students can already get a four-year loan for both fees and maintenance and I can’t see the demand for that type of delivery at 19 declining. The lack of parity between level 3 and 4 and 5 seems to be as wide as it has always been and the limitations around the pilots for developing and delivering modules are not going to support the change to the post 19 skills landscape the way government hopes.

“A loan for a few HE modules does not constitute a lifelong learning policy – this is a lost opportunity to develop a true lifelong learning policy, to join up across government and offer students a real alternative and clear progression routes for life and work.”

Concerns around the proposals and the raft of questions that create more issues than workable solutions has left a lot of the education sector including David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges and FE Week author to state “Government needs to stop talking about a lifelong learning entitlement and get on and deliver it.”

The Skills Bill 

The same paradigm is seen in relation to the Skills Bill. People are used to politicians disagreeing on party lines, but in recent debates in parliament, respected Conservative voices lined up to criticise the government’s approach to the bill. That included former Tory education secretaries Ken Clarke and Ken Baker – the latter going as far as to call the bill “an act of educational vandalism”.

Sadly, the government was having none of their wise counsel: during the last debates every Lords amendment was taken out and every Commons amendment blocked. In relation to the few changes that did make it through and allowed the bill to passed its report and third reading stages in the House of Commons on Monday, clearing the way for it to become law, several members of the House of Lords spoke to FE Week this week to indicate that they are actively considering using the “ping pong” process to bring back the heavily debated legislative changes proposed and reopen the debate.

This continued review delays much needed access to funding, but also seemingly systematically disbands the effectiveness of the bill. The education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has warned members of the House of Lords against changing the skills and post-16 education bill again. In his letter to peers, Zahawi writes: “I will commit my officials to engage with stakeholders, including the Local Government Association, the Greater London Authority, mayoral combined authorities and the Association of Colleges, and ensure that I am satisfied their views have been fully considered in the development of [LSIP] statutory guidance.”

Responding to a Lords amendment that would prevent universal credit claimants losing benefits by taking part in education and training, Zahawi says this would “create significant financial cost by widening eligibility for universal credit. The Commons has voted to remove this clause, and it would be inappropriate for the House of Lords to introduce a measure which impacts on public spending.”

Use Data to drive Education Reforms

We have peer reviewed several reports highlighting how to bring about effective education reform, and done our own digging into data held within the Smart Apprentices systems. Using this wide body of research as well as lessons learned in the field, we’ve seen numerous process through which educators use data as the basis for decision making and achieving results at every level of the education system. Many of these decisions play directly into, and could provide definitive answers that bolster discussions outlined above.

It remains within the remit of education establishments who are involved in consultative processes, and are able to offer feedback, or are a member of a governing body, to use these examples of data driven decision making to  strengthen the debate, an approach that could help drive these conversations towards an unequivocal and natural conclusions faster.

Following our merger with Advanced and bksb, we envisage a future where integration between Smart Apprentices, bksb and ProSuite will create a seamless solution for FE. One that combines the entire learner journey with powerful supersets of data to empower more providers with information to drive enhanced business solutions and help colleges become truly outstanding. Implementing these decision making processes can help remove a lot of this bureaucracy, especially when bolstered by examples used and proven within your own establishment.

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