Government’s focus on numbers puts skills reform at risk

A new report from the City & Guilds Group advises Whitehall to focus on quality rather than quantity

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Government reforms aimed at boosting the number of skilled workers are in jeopardy due to fundamental flaws around flagship policies including the apprenticeship levy, warns a report released today by the City & Guilds Group.

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There needs to be a focus on “quality rather than quantity” and “greater ownership and engagement from employers,” it says.

Within Whitehall there needs to be more continuity over FE and skills policy, with lead responsibility – which currently sits with the Department for Education – having changed 11 times since the 1980s.

When it comes to the skills agenda, progress is “two steps forward, one step back,” and unless the Government “hits the ‘pause’ button and takes the time to reflect and consult, it could be setting its skills initiatives up to fail,” according to the report.

In terms of apprenticeships, ministers should focus on “increasing the quality” of places offered “as opposed to just achieving numerical targets,” and Area Based Reviews of FE, launched last year, threatens access to learning with one in three colleges at risk of closing.

As for the Post-16 Skills Plan, published earlier this year, a lack of dialogue with the sector could mean it “is doomed to fail” and a formal consultation is needed before the plan is put into practice, says the report.

Among its recommendations is the creation of an independent body responsible for evaluating the Government’s policies, along the lines of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, as part of a consolidated and consultative approach which needs to be taken by ministers.

There also need to be more apprenticeships made available for young people under the age of 24 and adults who are out of work, as well as protection of funding for FE places.

In a statement to TJ, Chris Jones, chief executive, City & Guilds Group, said: “The problem is that changes are being rushed through without sufficient consultation with HR, business or education experts.”

He is concerned that the way reforms are currently structured “will place those at the frontline of training under undue pressure, and possibly end up making training less accessible or less aligned to business needs.”

Responding to the report’s findings, Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “With businesses facing increased difficulties in accessing the skills they need to grow, it is essential that we learn from past successes and failures, and take the time to build a skills systems that is both sustainable and fit for purpose.”

In a statement, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are building a further and higher education system that works for everyone.”

They added: “We have reformed technical qualifications, ensuring they meet the demands of employers and help boost our economy. And our apprenticeship funding and Skills Plan will ensure that more young people are equipped with the skills that employers are asking for.”​


Debbie Carter

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