David Gallagher
Image Source: Simon Williams
David Gallagher, Chief Executive at NCFE.

Member Article

“No time to lose” to address impact of COVID-19 on Post-16 Education, Training and Jobs

The Government must develop a post-16 education, training and jobs plan by June which is ready to be rolled-out at the start of the new academic year in September, according to a new discussion paper.

The paper, commissioned jointly by NCFE and the Campaign for Learning (CfL), warns of a “very different September” to the one the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions planned for way back in January, requiring a “different mix of provision and financial support”.

The paper warns that by September, the economy could be 15% smaller and unemployment 1.5 million higher, reaching 2.75 million. Despite the welcome and generous wage subsidy programmes introduced by the government, we can expect there to be fewer businesses as some go bust including levy and non-levy payers funding apprenticeships.

It also notes that, as seen in previous downturns, young people will be most significantly impacted, with an extra 54,000 16 and 17 year olds from September who will need to meet the duty to participate in education and training. Nearly 450,000 18-24 year olds will also be leaving full-time further and higher education flooding the labour market in search of jobs in September.

But the paper highlights the fact that adults aged 25 and over will suffer too, noting that there will be more who are unemployed and looking for work to support them and their families from September. And many adults who retain their jobs during the summer will put earning before training and retraining by working longer hours and taking extra jobs to protect household incomes.

Act Now

This discussion paper published by the Campaign for Learning and NCFE looks at the likely impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy, labour market and post-16 education and outlines an action plan to address the consequences for jobs, apprenticeships, youth unemployment and adult retraining.

Dr Susan Pember OBE, director of policy for HOLEX one of the paper’s authors says “there is no time to lose”. Mark Corney, policy consultant who co-authored the paper, notes that the Government must put “a plan in place by June, ready for September”. He argues that waiting for the Spending Review planned for the Autumn would be “too late” to implement the meaningful changes needed to ensure suitable provision.

Pivoting Policy

The paper agrees that measures are needed to safeguard businesses, protect employment and maintain jobs with apprenticeships where possible. However, it argues that the economic impact of COVID-19 is so great that policy must pivot to towards full-time further and higher education, programme-led apprenticeships, job search and training for unemployed adults and maintenance support for adults still in work but worried about their long-term finances who want to train and retrain.

A Plan for September

The central recommendation of the paper is that the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions should develop a joint post-16 education, skills and employment plan for England.

For 16-17 year olds, the plan should:

• maximise participation in full-time further education, expand traineeships and introduce programme-led training to offset the loss of jobs for this age group including an inevitable fall in apprenticeship starts;

• create a single, flexible, 16-18 education and apprenticeship participation budget – which accommodates growth in real time rather than on a lagged basis – and can respond to speedily to learner choice, and

• reintroduce high-value means-tested Education Maintenance Allowances to boost incomes of full-time FE students living in households suffering from the impact of COVID-19.

For 18-24 year olds, the plan should:

• enable as many as possible enter full-time higher education from (if they achieve the appropriate academic and vocational Level 3 qualifications) and resist any national cap on student numbers;

• extend eligibility for means-tested maintenance loans for 19-24 year olds seeking to achieve a first full Level 3 qualifications;

• extend jobs search provision and increase the number of back to work coaches to help unemployed jobseekers;

• permit participation on one year training and retraining courses in return for Universal Credit, with the cost of training met by the Department for Education;

• fully fund Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships for non-levy payers from the new Adult Apprenticeship Programme Budget, and

• introduce wage subsidies of £1,000 to employers recruiting 19-24 year olds for Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships.

For older adults, the plan should:

• extend the entitlement to free adult education for first full Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications from 19-24 year olds to adults of any age;

• end co-funding for adult further education courses, and

• remove the ELQ rule in higher education and bring forward to this year the £600m National Skills Fund to promote up-skilling and re-skilling at all levels in these difficult times.

Commenting on the paper’s findings, Dr Susan Pember OBE one of the authors said: “This paper underlines the fact that there is no time to lose in addressing the challenges that the further education sector will face at the start of the new academic year. It isn’t designed to scare people, but by considering the worst-case scenario and potential remedies, we hope to spark further debate, get sector leaders, policymakers and influencers thinking about what comes next and frame priorities as we look to the future.”

David Gallagher, Chief Executive, NCFE said:

“The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on every aspect of life and every area of policy. The Government has rightly prioritised managing the immediate consequences in its response so far. However, as things begin to return to a new normal, the whole of the FE sector will have a hugely important role to play in helping people to move forward successfully. Without a shift in how FE and training is delivered and funded, the sector will struggle to do so effectively.

“We are clear that business as usual will not be a viable option at the start of the next academic year. If we are to effectively support the needs of learners, providers and employers, we need a cross-departmental, holistic approach to policy making and this process must start now. If not, thousands of people will suffer through a lack of a clear route to gain the skills that are needed for a rapidly changing labour market.”

Julia Wright, National Director, Campaign for Learning said:

“We are delighted to be able to support this timely and important piece of work. CfL, NCFE and our sector partners are committed to keeping England learning and training at this difficult time and we want to work with policy makers to ensure that we are well-placed to do so.

“The crisis has underlined inherent weaknesses in the current employer-led system of training, particularly the apprenticeship system, with businesses operating in a challenging climate and having to make hard choices, often choosing not to invest in training and skills development. We need to address this urgently if we are to provide adequate opportunities and support for learners and ensure that over the longer-term businesses have access to skilled workers they need.”

Last week, education and skills charity NCFE, announced that it had acquired independent learning charity Campaign for Learning. Campaign for Learning is now part of the NCFE family, which also includes education, childcare and health qualifications brand CACHE and End Point Assessment Provider EPA Plus.

Campaign for Learning retains its own identity and independence, but the organisations will now work more closely together to continue to promote, advance and engage more people in learning. Both organisations are committed to collaborating and sharing their insight and expertise where they can for the good of the sector, economy, families and communities.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Leanne Tonks .

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