12 July 2012
Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Colleges in England provide work-related education and training for more than 220,000 unemployed people a year, working closely with local employers and Jobcentre Plus to ensure they are providing them with the skills essential to find work. In one of the deepest and most sustained recessions in decades, the work our members do in this area is crucial to getting both individuals and the UK economy back on track.
“Ofsted’s ‘Skills for Employment’ report addresses a number of issues that our member colleges have been concerned about for some time, namely the difficulties they face in being able to arrange work experience for students, the barriers jobseekers sometimes face in getting the training they need and colleges being funded to deliver national programmes of study that do not always meet local employment needs.
“One of the biggest challenge for colleges in moving jobseekers from training into employment is this issue of generic training, the format of which is determined by awarding organisations; as Ofsted points out, the most successful programmes are bespoke ones that were set up in collaboration with Jobcentre Plus on a local level. Colleges need the freedom to be able to fund and deliver this kind of training, and awarding organisations need to make their general employment programmes more flexible.
“It’s also worth pointing out that Ofsted has admitted that implementation of this strategy is already improving and had been since the study began and that much of this provision involved (very) short courses on a trial basis; moreover the sample size includes only a small number of colleges. Ofsted also criticises ‘effective systems to track job outcomes’ – colleges would be pleased to enter into a data sharing protocol through which the Department of Work and Pensions kept colleges informed of the progress of jobseekers in order for more effective tracking. Ultimately tracking should be the responsibility of the Department and agencies that have access to the employment records of the population.
“Most colleges would welcome the chance to make initial assessment (IA) more robust and AoC believes this would perhaps benefit from being liked to any assessment undertaken by Jobcentre Plus, but this would require additional funding. Our members would also appreciate having a greater say in the design of the subsequent training programmes with a heavy emphasis on developing English and maths skills linked to employment goals. There is also criticism within the Ofsted report relating to too much focus on qualifications and insufficient attention to ‘challenge’ – however this fails to recognise that Colleges and other providers often need to address (and test) low levels of numeracy and literacy before they move on to other course content.
“A significant number of recommendations in the Ofsted report chime well with the findings and content of our own report into colleges working with unemployed people. Many of our members have forged good working relationships with Jobcentre Plus and have strong links with employers in their region and are collaborating with them to develop vocational courses appropriate to the employers needs.
“Colleges are rooted within their communities that serve and are responsive to local need and many of our members are delivering bespoke courses that have been developed in partnership with employers and other relevant stakeholders. They are rightly commended for this work. Back in January, AoC published our own report, ‘Back to Work: Colleges Supporting Sustainable Jobs’*, which identified areas where this system could be streamlined and improved to remove barriers to training, such as perverse rulings which saw colleges penalised when students dropped out of a course in order to take up a job offer. It also included a number of best practice case studies where colleges have developed bespoke training, such as Hull College’s Enterprise Gateway, which supports people wanting to work for themselves; Swindon College’s Customer Service and Contact Centre courses developed with local employers, and West Cheshire College’s provision of onsite courses in growth areas like retail. The challenge is how the further education sector can learn from these successful local schemes, adapt them for wider use and disseminate this best practice nationally."