On 18 May the Government published the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, following on from January’s White Paper – Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth.
One of the cornerstones of the Bill, is the setting up of local skills improvement plans (LSIP) as a mechanism for enacting the Government’s plans to embed employers in the heart of the skills system, by making it a legal requirement that employers and colleges collaborate to develop skills plans so that the training on offer meets the need of local areas. These LSIPs require the relevant providers to co-operate with the employer representative body for that area to either draw up a new plan or assist in ensuring the existing plan is kept under review and update it when necessary. Decisions by the provider in relation post-16 technical education or training, must have due regard of the plan to ensure that the skills, capabilities or expertise that are now, or at some point in the future likely to be required, can be sufficiently met. This requirement has been put on a statutory footing in the Bill, which amends the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 by requiring the governing body of a further education institution in England to review, from time to time, how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and, in the light of that review, to consider what action the institution might take in order to meet those needs better. In carrying out its review, the governing body must have regard to any guidance published by the Secretary of State and publish the review on its website. There is however, no detail on what the governance of such LSIPs might be, and therefore currently, there is flexibility to design these to suit each individual area’s requirements.
Quite what constitutes ‘having due regard’ is yet to be seen, but by extending the existing circumstances where the Secretary of State can intervene in colleges to include where they are satisfied that the education or training provided by the institution does not adequately meet local needs, seems to indicate that colleges will likely be required to have significant regard for such plans.
The Bill restates the existing power of the Secretary of State to make a direction requiring the governing body to transfer property, rights or liabilities of a college, a power that to date, has not been used. This, together with the restating of powers around insolvency, demonstrates a possible direction of travel towards a more interventionist regime for the FE sector.