NIACE response to Skills Funding Statement

6 December 2012

NIACE has responded to the Skills Funding Statement, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“We welcome the emphasis throughout the Statement on meeting the needs of those people who need the most help to get on in learning and in life. Examples of this include the continued full funding, at higher rates, of English and maths; the commitment to support fair access to apprenticeships for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities; the focus on supporting the skills needs of the unemployed; and the intention to introduce traineeships for those people not yet ready to enter into apprenticeships or work. However, we are concerned about the suggestion that ESOL (English for Speakers of other Languages) learners will ‘progress to Functional Skills in English and GCSE English Language’; NIACE feels ESOL learners need qualifications specifically designed for the second language learner, which are fit for purpose.

“We are also pleased to see that the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) is endorsed with a review into the operational issues which have beset it since its inception. This has to be the right approach to making sure that the unitised nature of the QCF can be utilised to support flexibility in learning. The continued support for the Innovation Code is good news as colleges and providers begin to have confidence that they can use it to meet local bespoke needs of both learners and employers.

“We are, of course, pleased that Community Learning funding has been retained and that the funding for the Specialist Designated Institutions will be maintained for the foreseeable future. It is good to see an endorsement of the Community Learning Trust approach currently being piloted – in particular the role that local authorities play in this work.

“The news that, overall, the revenue funding has not been cut further than planned is also welcome. The new injection of capital into FE colleges will have a quick and direct benefit to learners across the country, as will the funding of modern equipment.”

There are three areas going forward which NIACE is keen to support:

1. Ensuring that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) take both a short term and longer term view of the skills support that adults need in their areas to be able to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. NIACE advocates an assessment of skills needs for adults in their areas in light of the growth sectors which the LEPs want to support. Marrying this assessment with the development of adults with relevant skills will enhance growth as well as social mobility.

2. NIACE looks forward to the consultation and engagement around Traineeships because it will be critical to get right the interactions with other funding streams and eligibility rules in order to ensure a flexible, but targeted, programme which is capable of meeting diverse and bespoke needs of people across the age range, from 16 all the way up to 60. We feel Traineeships support the principle, dearly held in adult education, of starting from where the learner is, rather than where you want them to be.

3. Supporting Work Programme prime providers to develop the English, ESOL, maths and employability skills of their clients so that they can have the best chance to find, stay and progress in work. Our new publication due out on 12th December will set out how this is already being done with examples from a few prime providers and we would like others to take up this challenge.

David Hughes, ended:

“It is important to note that this Skills Funding Statement – which directly affects the life chances of over 3 million adults per year – is an inclusive statement that isn’t solely focused on colleges, but which recognises the role that other providers can and do play in supporting opportunities for adults. We are particularly pleased about the endorsement of the role of the Third Sector and look forward to facilitating the new Strategic Framework announced in the document.

“Overall this is a positive Statement which takes us through the next 18 months. We are now keen to build the evidence and the case for further investment in learning for adults as the spending review process moves into action. We fully support the aspiration of whole system reform and that the future relationship between the sector and Government will be built on freedom and not control. Recent research from both NIACE and BIS continues to provide hard evidence about the importance of learning for adults and how its value extends over and above the impact on economic growth. Learning is not only good for people’s employability, but also for their health, their families, and their role in their community. We look forward to continuing our ongoing dialogue with Government to demonstrate these benefits of learning as we head towards the next Spending Review.”