Where are we all going?

17 November 2015

As we approach the AoC’s annual conference in Birmingham the following question is uppermost in people’s minds, “Where are we all going?”.  Many will be focused on the Area Review of FE and Sixth Form provision in their locality or are looking forward to their ‘turn’ with apprehension.

Further Education Commissioner, Dr David Collins, has already revealed his early findings from the first wave of post-16 area reviews which included Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Sheffield,  the Sussex Coast and Solent.

Speaking at this year’s Higher and Further Education Show following those first reviews, he said during the next 18 months he and a team of advisers will be travelling the country ‘endeavouring and encouraging marriages, federations and divorces between colleges to try and set up a sustainable further education sector.’

But this is not the only major policy change which is happening. Arguably we have change overload!

Let’s start with funding – always a good place to begin. Budgets are being cut. Everyone is expecting the 25 November autumn statement to tell us how bad it will be.

There is also likely to be a major shift in the funding mechanism. We are expecting this to probably include a de-centralisation of whatever is left of the Adult Skills Budget and a move to funding on the basis of outcome performance statistics. In other words a lot less money cut up differently.

For many, funding will be seen as the major and immediate challenge, but that is only the start.

The whole focus for the curriculum will be changing, including:

  • More focus on improving English and maths, through GCSEs and an upgrading of Functional Skills (Reform of Functional Skills is likely to happen in 2016)
  • An increase in professional and technical courses and qualifications from now
  • Courses and qualifications aimed at getting people into a job in a certain sector as well as into a specific job role or apprenticeship from now
  • Ramping up of the apprenticeship numbers to achieve the three million target from now
  • Root and branch reform of apprenticeships with the ‘old’ SASE frameworks frozen and all ‘new’ apprenticeships modelled on the Trailblazer approach complete for delivery by September 2017
  • Changes to the funding of apprenticeships from this year as a transition to the introduction of full employer funding through the new planned HMRC administered Levy from September 2017
  • Major changes on how apprentices are regulated and governed by Government and employers. (A Government paper is due any day)
  • Replacement of the QCF with the RQF by Ofqual from now
  • New EU procurement rules with the AoC initiative already underway
  • Support for the unemployed and those with learning difficulties.

All of this is a very ambitious programme of change for 2016-17; little wonder then that people are saying we cannot do all this to these timescales.

Much of these policy changes lack the necessary detail. There is a complete lack of clarity over how much of this will work, despite the fact that much of the change is due to happen over the next nine to ten months.

People are also questioning how the current Trailblazer process can ramp up from some 400 apprenticeship registrations against the 50 completed Trailblazer Standards, to three million in this Parliament.  The concern is that it will only be achieved by cutting the quality which is in direct conflict  with the objective of the reforms.

And all of this policy change is happening as the Area Reviews and fundamental restructuring of provision is being carried out, leaving the Area Review teams facing some challenge.

They have to first review the present provision against current known demands. Then (using perhaps a crystal ball) they have to decide what will be the impact of all the policy changes in their area, many of which are still not clear.

Finally they will have to decide what provision is needed now and in the near future – and remember the policy environment will be completely different by September 2017.

But that’s almost the easy bit, because they will then face the restructure of all that provision – merge provision, close down provision, manage redundancy programmes and deal with an almost -impossible set of IT changes.

But don’t worry you have a few months to do it before all the funding and curriculum changes!

We’ve all managed change before and we will do it again, but the scale of this is enormous. All the balls are up in the air which means it’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination to see this through – all in all this is going to be some conference!


Graham Hasting-Evans is MD at national awarding body NOCN.