National College Chairs Strategy Group, are a rapidly growing independent group of further education college chairs and governors who believe that the expertise of non-executive leadership in the college sector needs to be harnessed and given a stronger voice in contributing to the debate on major issues impacting on the sector. This report is the first of its kind which seeks to do this and has been prepared by chairs and governors themselves with no external support.
The report can be downloaded here.
- Why Have We Produced this Report Now?
We are entering the run up to a General Election which will almost certainly take place by autumn 2024. During this period some of the critical issues facing the country will be fiercely debated and this provides the further education sector with the opportunity to place vocational education and skills development firmly in the centre of this debate as critical to the country’s future prosperity.
- Making the Economic Case for Further Education
In recent weeks leading up to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement we have heard a lot about the need for economic growth and we are likely to hear a lot more over the coming year. In this context we need to make the case that investment in skills development is a key prerequisite to sustainable economic growth. The report analyses the growing skills crisis and shortages in key economic sectors and presents extensive evidence of the main short and longer term factors driving them and the direct correlation between these skills shortages and consistently low levels of labour productivity and economic growth. Based on the evidence it concludes that a major contributor to skills shortages and low productivity in the UK economy is the long-term underinvestment in skills development and vocational education.
- Historical Under Investment and the Failure to Prioritise Vocational Education
The report presents evidence of historical underinvestment in further education and substantial cuts in recent years which have resulted in the number of learners in colleges being almost halved from 4 million in 2006 to 2.2 million now. It argues that this has partly been due to low priority given to further education in the allocation of resources compared to other parts of the education system and the low status accorded to it compared to traditional academic pathways .The Auger Report on Post 18 Education and Funding (2019) stated that “ In 1989 the former Secretary of State Kenneth Baker described Further Education as the ‘Cinderella sector’ but successive governments have failed to deliver the glass slipper” and that “Despite widespread acknowledgement that the sector is crucial to the country’s economic success, nothing much has happened except for a steep, steady decline in funding”. The relatively low status of technical and vocational education is identified as a distinctive feature of the UK educational system compared to other leading OECD countries where relative funding is significantly higher.
- What is to be Done? Towards a New Agenda for Post 16 Education
In response to these challenges, the report calls for a major change to shift the vocational education and skills paradigm to enable the country to address the educational and economic challenges of the future.
Key strategic recommendations include;
• Development of an integrated national post 16 education and skills strategy which covers all parts of the system, vocational and academic, designed to enable every young person and adult to achieve and maintain the skills they need throughout their working lives and employers to access the labour they need to improve productivity, innovate and maximise competitiveness. This should be developed through partnership between key stakeholders alongside a more ‘bottom up’ approach to develop strategies responsive to regional and local needs.
• Development of a qualifications system that brings together technical and academic learning opportunities for young people and adults. This should include a more integrated approach to remove the status differential between technical and academic qualifications as well as maximising flexibility and progression opportunities for learners.
• A major increase in investment in post 16 education and skills from government and employers including a focus on;
Explicitly recognising at policy level the lead role of further education as the key driver in tackling the country’s vocational skills needs.
Ensuring that further and vocational education should achieve at least a parity of funding with other parts of the education system.
Seeking to achieve parity of funding on technical education with the OECD average and / or with spending in comparable OECD economics.
Establishing equality of staff pay between college teaching staff and staff in schools and universities.
Establishing a simpler, more dynamic and flexible funding and regulatory structure for further education with fewer funding and regulatory bodies.
• Shorter term proposals include;
An immediate review of the apprenticeship programme to reverse the dramatic decline in the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships.
A suspension of the proposed defunding of existing level 3 and below VTQs in the absence of evidence the T levels are providing equivalent accessibility and progression opportunities for learners particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The introduction of a universal entitlement to a full level 3 qualification building the Lifetime Skills Guarantee.