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Growing support for Government's Post-16 Skills Plan

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Careers, Exams and qualifications, Technical education

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Following the publication of Lord Sainsbury's report into technical education and the Government's response with the Post-16 Skills Plan, on Friday 8 July, a number of organisations have come foward with supportive comments on the next steps in technical education reform.

The 157 Group,  a membership organisation which represents 32 leading UK colleges and college groups, said:

We welcome the vision and the proposals set out in Lord Sainsbury's report and the Post-16 Skills Plan.


A strong, respected and high-quality skills system which meets the needs of both learners and employers is an economic and social imperative and unfortunately the current system does not always deliver.


The Post-16 Skills Plan sets out the need for clear, coherent vocational pathways leading to a consistently-delivered, industry-tested, high-quality qualification. Too often there is no real guidance for learners making some of the most important decisions of their lives- What to study? Where to do so? What type of learning works best for them? Many learners are left confused and without a clear pathway that works best for them, so we are encouraged that this plan sets out the importance of informed choice between two equally valid routes.


We also welcome the mandate for providers and employers to collaborate on standards. These industry-led standards, with professionals advising on the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to excel in a chosen occupation, mean that learners will finish their qualifications ready to work, ready to be productive immediately. Where this type of collaboration is already occurring, the benefits for the employers and the learners are vast and obvious. The potential economic impact of a workforce ready to work from the moment of finishing a qualification is immense both to the country and to the individual.


We welcome a number of important proposals in the plan such as raising the standard of qualification, ensuring this system doesn’t leave anyone behind and the bridging provision for those moving between the academic and technical pathways.


We would like to see these proposals developed further and implemented coherently and encourage the engagement of the FE sector as well as employers in the upcoming development of an implementation plan. The report details the ways the current skills structure is not meeting the country’s needs, it gives a distinct vision of how we can achieve a more productive, more inclusive system and we are encouraged by the boldness in vision. We now urge that the proposals in this plan are collaboratively developed, with the input of providers and employers, into a clear, rational and achievable implementation.

Mike Putnam, president and CEO of employer Skanska UK, said:

The Skills Plan provides an excellent opportunity to position academic and technical qualifications on an equal footing, which can only help to encourage new people into construction.


All technical routes will build in English, maths and digital skills, according to employers’ needs, and will set standards of excellence that are every bit as demanding as A levels.

Karen Spencer, principal at Harlow College, said:

As colleges we are not just about courses, we are about careers – we therefore believe that any reform that brings us closer to employers mean our students gain higher skills and better jobs. The reforms will take some time to bed-in, but we see tremendous opportunity and are ready for the challenge.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said:

Technical education has for too long been regarded as a poor cousin of academic study. The Government’s Post-16 Skills Plan provides a welcome roadmap to redressing this longstanding anomaly.


The Plan rightly sees colleges being at the heart of the reforms with the new qualifications providing them with a cornerstone to build distinctive courses that meet the needs of employers, students and the economy.


There is still much detail to be worked through, however, and we look forward to working with the Government and the new Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to develop the new system most effectively.


A skilled workforce engendered by engaged employers and supported by colleges will be the backbone of this country’s future economic success.

Professor Sir John Holman, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

I welcome this report, which will bring a clear and systematic approach to the complex field of technical education.


It will make the available routes much easier for both students and employers to understand, and will make technical education more responsive to the skills need of employers.


I look forward to discussing how professional bodies like the Royal Society of Chemistry can support well-defined routes to skilled scientific occupations.

Neil Carberry, CBI director of employment and skills, said:

Businesses have long called for a vocational route of equal attraction and prominence to A-levels, so today’s proposals are a real step forward. It will be important to ensure the funding system encourages schools and colleges to co-operate so each young person gets the right provision for them.


Giving young people clarity on where technical routes can lead them and the career opportunities they open up is essential if we are going to meet future skills needs.


It’s also promising to see the employer role in this new system clearly set out – business engagement will be critical to ensuring these options are relevant to companies and lead to great careers.

Sir Frank McCloughlin, principal of City and Islington College and chair of the Commission on Adult and Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL), said:

The work we did through CAVTL helped to raise the profile and importance of technical education. Real progress has been made in recent years but there is still work to do.


This Post-16 Skills Plan will be a driving force in defining routes to higher level technical education and training and building ever stronger partnerships between providers and employers.

Sally Collier, chief regulator at Ofqual, said:

The effective regulation of the vocational qualifications market in England is one of Ofqual’s priorities. I welcome the long-term vision for technical qualifications set out by the Government in the Skills Plan.


We will use our assessment expertise, understanding of the qualifications market and authority as the independent qualifications regulator to help deliver these goals. Awarding organisations affected by our changes will hear from us by the end of July.

Lisa O'Loughlin, principal at Manchester College, said:

Here at Manchester College we work to give all our learners the best pathway for their career ambitions and that’s why the Skills Plan fits in with our ethos.


National standards for technical education will bring greater clarity across the system for learners, employers, and for career guidance which will benefit young people across the country. It’s great to see an emphasis on high-quality work placements while students are still studying.

Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills, and special adviser on education policy to the secretary general at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said:

Modernising apprenticeships has been on the policy agenda for some time already, but now the UK has a promising plan to advance technical education from a last resort to a first choice. Bringing training in line with the needs of the economy will be key to drive up productivity and prosperity.

Stephen Tetlow MBE, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

The report is right to point out that for decades technical-based education has been unfit for purpose and many people have been denied the opportunity to make informed choices, due to poor careers advice and a confusing multitude of courses and qualifications.


The focus on academic routes into industry over the last 20 years has disenfranchised and stigmatised many people who have wanted to undertake more vocational, technical-based option to learning and skills development.


So I welcome this ground-breaking and radical initiative to modernise and simplify our outdated system. Recognition of the need to align advanced apprenticeships and college-based training with existing professional registration standards, such as for the engineering technicians we so badly need, is especially welcome. This will help give trainees and employers confidence in the quality of training and invigorate our skills supply.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said:

It is excellent news that a coherent strategy is being developed.  AELP is really keen that the implementation is undertaken in a way that achieves the goals of a nation wanting to lead on technical skills. This may require time, so we would welcome the proposals receiving cross-party support.


It is important that the reforms lead to a young person benefiting from easy transition from classroom-based to work-based learning during the 16-18 phase.


The proposal for a ‘transition year’ looks positive because it recognises the value that traineeships are already producing in being more than just a pre-apprenticeship programme. The proposed extension of the maximum duration to a year is worth exploring but one of the strengths of the programme is its flexibility and we mustn’t lose this.


We need to consider carefully whether there should be only 15 apprenticeship standards for ages 16 to 18.  The review team acknowledges the work of the employer-led trailblazers and in an employer-driven skills system, reassurance will be needed that all sectors will now get the staff they need, even if it is only at level 2 or 3.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said:

This is an important report that reflects the views in sixth-form colleges that young people need different pathways and a structured direction to follow, and that society’s needs are for a workforce with a range of backgrounds, experiences, skills and aptitudes.

Vicky Purtill, director of education at Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), said:

This is a bold and exciting move towards rationalising the provision of technical education, and I’d like to thank the Panel for their diligence and openness to contributions.
For more than 50 years CILEx has been the leader in qualifying specialist legal professionals through vocational education, which we are expanding with the imminent launch of Trailblazer Apprenticeships, and our new Tech level diploma in Law and Legal Skills.


As these proposals are implemented, our focus will be on ensuring employers remain confident in the competence and capability of CILEx-qualified staff, and that learners have accessible opportunities to pursue meaningful and fulfilling legal careers.

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills at the Institute of Directors, said:

The UK is experiencing a severe skills shortage but the current system of technical education is far too complex and outdated. There are currently over 13,000 qualifications available for 16-18 year olds yet most are not fit to meet the needs of modern employers.


At a time when technology, demographic change and globalisation are transforming the nature of our economy, Government needs to take urgent action to better prepare young people for the world of work or this country risks being left behind by our competitors.


By putting employers at the heart of the education system, the proposals in this report mark an important step in the right direction that will benefit learners, employers and our economy.

David Russell, chief executive at Education & Training Federation (ETF), said: 

There is a great deal to like about the review. It is realistic in its assessment of the challenges facing our country. It is serious about setting a reform timescale that can be delivered. And it is unambiguous that our FE and training system is the solution, not the problem.


But most of all, it has at its heart of vision of high aspiration and technical excellence for our country. It explicitly rejects a model where vocational education is a route of second-choice, the aim of which is to provide purposeful activity for those who will not succeed academically. Instead it envisages a technical education route of choice which is rigorous, relevant and demanding, with a clear line of sight to the occupational areas needed in our society and economy.


Achieving the Sainsbury vision will require an excellently-skilled and highly qualified teaching workforce of ‘dual professionals’. The ETF will work with other key partners to help ensure the Government’s investment in this vision translates into excellent sustained outcomes on the ground.

Kirstie Donnelly, managing director at City & Guilds, said:

We are thoroughly supportive of the Skills Plan which is finally putting high-quality technical education on a level footing with academic pathways. For too long, young people have been denied a choice when it comes to their education and talented individuals have been lost to a narrow, one-size-fits-all approach to education.


We have long recognised this and two years ago we launched the City & Guilds TechBac, a technical curriculum that provides young people with earlier exposure to deep and specialist industry knowledge alongside the workplace skills and attributes that employers really need. There is clearly still detail to be worked through but my hope is that for the first time, this plan will enable high-quality technical pathways through to employment, apprenticeships and higher education, and make it much easier for young people to see their end destination and plot how to get there.

Mike Cherry, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said:

Small businesses will welcome the move to streamline and standardise the immensely messy landscape of technical education. In the past many employers have struggled to understand the mindboggling number of different qualifications on offer, making it hard to tell which have value and which do not.


We support the idea of a clear and equal pathway for young people into more vocational occupations. For too long the academic pathway has been held up as the most desirable route to learning, leaving the UK under-skilled in technical knowledge and practical skills valued by industry.


Business will support the focus on giving all students transferable skills, particularly new focus on digital skills training which has become even more important to all parts of the economy.


We now want to see the Government press ahead with this plan, fully committing to delivering the changes by 2019, ensuring the new skills system meets the needs of small businesses. While we understand the need to keep to budget, the long-term health of the UK economy is dependent on giving our young people the skills needed to get on and contribute.

David Hughes, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

The Skills Plan provides a clear way forward for technical education and a welcome sense of commitment and direction from the Government. I congratulate Lord Sainsbury and his team on what is a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve the coherence of technical education alongside apprenticeships.


Although clearly focused on 16-19 year olds, learning and skills can, as the Skills Plan says, provide security for working people as labour markets evolve, jobs change and our interests and talents develop. I welcome this further demonstration of the Government’s commitment to lifetime learning.


With the employment rate at an all-time high, the Skills Plan rightly acknowledges that a key task for a functioning technical education system is to help people to boost their earnings through progression in work and be accessible to people who need extra support on to the career ladder. That’s why I particularly welcome clear progression pathways for adults, mid-career as well as for 16-18 year olds.


Learning and Work Institute is keen to engage in the reform process. In particular, we want to see more flexible education and training provision made eligible for advanced learning loans and are keen to see traineeships play a key role as part of the transition year proposals. Our STEM traineeship work in the Humber shows how powerful a combination of learning well-structured work experience can be in opening doors to employment and further learning for young people.


This is, rightly, an ambition plan which rests on timely and successful implementation of other reforms, such as the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and completion of area review recommendations, over the next six years. We look forward to supporting providers and Government make the most of the opportunities these reforms can provide to learners, employers and the economy.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomes this seminal review of technical education undertaken by Lord Sainsbury and the panel. We have argued for many years that the qualifications system in England is too complex and difficult to navigate for students and employers. The Academy fully supports the proposed ‘routes-based’ system as a mechanism to substantially simplify the current qualifications on offer through the public purse.


The engineering profession faces a well-documented skills shortage, which improved technical education will help in part to address. Working with industry partners, we have recently instigated a coordinated programme of activity to tackle the shortage – the Engineering Talent Project - and we stand ready to support Government in identifying the necessary knowledge, practical skills and behaviours required across the engineering, construction and IT sectors to inform the new technical education landscape.

Rachel Lambert-Forsyth, director of education and training at the Royal Society of Biology, said:

Coherence and clarity in technical qualifications is important to provide the skills required to secure the country’s future in the life sciences and in general. The bioscience sector provides the UK economy with more than £36 billion a year which relies on technical training in agriculture, environment, animal care and the health sectors amongst many others.


“It is important that the standards for technical qualifications leading to employment meet the needs of employers. The RSB’s Employer Advisory Group, which includes members from across the life sciences industry, is keen to advise wherever possible. It is important that the new standards set the bar high enough to ensure that these routes are highly valued.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation, said:

We welcome the Sainsbury report on technical education, which should enable young people to have improved apprenticeship and college options. It is particularly welcome that the panel wants to see a more coherent framework for technical qualifications, developed with employers.


Good careers advice is essential and we need more advanced and higher level apprenticeship courses for young people. It is not good enough that only a third of young people are on apprenticeships leading to A-level qualifications and above, and that only a quarter of the new higher apprenticeships have been taken by young people.


Strong technical and vocational options are vital in providing opportunities for young people. It is to be hoped that the implementation of today’s report will allow young people to take advantage of these opportunities.

Jez Brooks, apprentice scheme leader with IBM, said:

The Sainsbury panel report is a valuable insight into how we can begin to address the UK’s growing need to support technical routes into careers. At IBM, we have a long history of encouraging opportunities for young people, which help meet our business needs and bridge the academic and work-based approaches to a technical career.

Ian Fairclough, vice president of global delivery at Capgemini said:

Capgemini welcomes the recommendations in this report, it’s very important that we work together to enable young people to build the academic and practical skills they require for success in digital professions, but they also help create the talent that is vital in boosting the UK’s digital economy.


Standards should provide new entrants with the foundation they need for a productive career in their chosen technical profession as well as meet the requirements of the business community.

Tim Thomas, director of employment and skills policy at EEF The Manufacturers’ Organisation, said:

Lord Sainsbury’s report is an important contribution to the ongoing debate on how to radically improve technical education.


Manufacturers have been extremely vocal about their challenges in finding the right people with the right skills in the right numbers. Collective action must now be taken by employers and education and training institutions, together with Government, to produce the next generation of people demanded by industry.


The report rightly highlights the need for technical education to meet the needs of employers. Manufacturers want a skills system that is as responsive to their needs as they are to their customers, yet this has failed to be delivered to date. The current system is overcrowded with qualifications, many of which remain unused. This needs immediate de-cluttering with any new qualifications or standards designed and developed with industry.


Manufacturers will also support the call to focus on work placements and career advice. Industry experience is fast-becoming as important as qualifications, if not more so. Despite much talk about strengthening careers advice, employers have seen little positive change and want to see Government pick up the pace.


Underlying all of these hurdles is the need for the elusive long-term stability in the UK’s skills and education system. The education and skills system has gone round in continuous circles – whether it’s radical interventions or tinkering around the edges. Now is the time to get it right, and keep it that way.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment, said:

The Sainsbury review is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of achieving a good level in maths and English before beginning technical education, as is already the case for apprentices.


But hundreds of thousands of young people each year are leaving formal education without these skills, seriously affecting their chances of success later in life. The Education Endowment Foundation is determined to support the post-16 sector to ensure these students can fulfil their potential.


We are working in partnership with JP Morgan to invest £5m investigating ways to improve maths and English GCSE results for those who leave school at age 16 without a C in these subjects.

Jeremy Barlow, director of standards at British Computer Society (BCS), said: 

As the Chartered Institute for IT, we welcome the Sainsbury panel report. We believe that by providing a set of clearly defined routes and standards for technical careers, we will be able to encourage and support more young people into digital careers, which is vital if we’re going to close the skills gap the UK currently faces. As an organisation with strong links to both employers and academia, we are ideally placed to play a key role with the next steps.

Seán Harris, director of membership at the Institution of Civil Engineering, said:

This report, commissioned from Lord Sainsbury by the Government, is a welcome contribution to the ongoing drive for a more highly skilled workforce. Importantly, it proposes to simplify technical education routes and improve careers guidance, which will help prospective students to identify a path that is right for them. Clearly, there will be much detail to iron out before any implementation.


It is vital that construction and engineering courses lead to professional, work-based qualifications – any plans to reform the provision of college-taught technical engineering qualifications must guarantee this. We are committed to working with Government and other stakeholders, to continue to ensure that engineers receive the professional training and skills that businesses need to grow the economy and deliver a better quality of life.

Paul Jackson, chief executive at Engineering UK, said:

It’s vital for the future health of the UK economy that young people in sufficient numbers develop the engineering skills that employers need. And it’s equally vital that the routes to developing these skills are student-centred, offering every young person the best possible opportunity to thrive in his or her chosen industry.


The report’s emphasis on the need for clarity and support for young people in choosing the route to their future career is long overdue. The proposed introduction of a ‘transition year’ to give young people the opportunity to focus on bringing their skills in key areas up to the required standard is particularly welcome. Indeed, we would welcome such an approach on a broader scale underpinned by Government funding.


Putting employers front and centre of the development of the routes and providing more structured work placements as part of a technical education programme will have a positive impact on the work-readiness of those entering employment, with new recruits and employers both reaping the benefits.


The Government’s response in accepting Lord Sainsbury’s recommendations is reassuring and has to be backed with the practical and financial support their implementation will require.


Read the Post-16 Skills Plan here.

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