In February 2018 the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) released a report focussed on education and skills in the North of England.
The NPP was formed in 2016 with the objective to increase the impact and contribution of the North of England to the UK economy. This is their third report and was produced by the NPP Education and Skills group which is made up of 11 individuals, including representation from a further education college. The report is broad and covers many areas relating to education, including early years to degree apprenticeships, and whilst there is relatively little specific reference to further education colleges, there are some key elements of direct relevance to the sector.
We outline three of the main areas below.
1. Apprenticeship levy
One of the proposals in the report is to establish the North as 'the world’s leading centre for degree and higher level apprenticeships'.
The report acknowledges the low level of apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in May 2017 and suggests that slow approval of courses and the surrounding bureaucracy is one of the factors here. It is, however, clear on the view that 'uptake of this levy is key for employers to make a contribution to developing their workforce and in driving improved productivity'.
Further education colleges have a significant opportunity to engage with employers to make this happen. This includes in respect of degree apprenticeships which are specifically highlighted as an area of focus for the North.
As part of the ongoing implementation of the Post-16 Skills Plan, T-levels are expected to be introduced from 2020.
The report acknowledges the opportunity that T-levels bring but raises particular concern about how the work placement element will operate. Under the current proposals (which have recently been through consultation), work placements of a minimum of 45-60 days will be required for all T-Level learners. There are concerns as to whether quality would be maintained and, indeed, as to whether this is achievable at all. The NPP report highlights this whilst encouraging engagement of employers to ensure the placements are provided.
As with apprenticeships, strong working relationships between further education colleges and employers will be vital in being able to deliver on this.
The NPP report has very little comment on devolution but includes one very specific recommendation that 'Metro mayors and areas receiving further education deals to control the Adult Education Budget as well as overall vocational education spending from 16-18'.
As set out in the January 2018 House of Commons report 'Skills devolution in England', the Adult Education Budget is to be devolved to all six existing mayoral combined authorities, half of which are in the North of England. Full devolution of funding is expected to take place from 2019-20, a delay of one year from the previous proposal.
A separate report by the think tank IPPR North, 'Skills for the North: devolving technical education to cities' (also issued in January 2018) highlights that as the majority of the Adult Education Budget must be spent on nationally-defined legal entitlements, the opportunity for devolved areas to make significant changes here is very limited.
The IPPR North report recommended devolvement of certain powers to Local Enterprise partnerships, including but not limited to the Adult Education Budget and advanced learner loans facility.
Exactly how and when the changes will be implemented remains to be seen but there is a high likelihood that the funding landscape will continue to adapt across the whole further education sector.