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Second Reading of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

22 June 2021

On Tuesday afternoon (15 June 2021) the Second Reading of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill took place in the House of Lords. The debate lasted six hours, with 53 Peers giving speeches. It’s great to see this level of engagement and so many Peers talking about the importance of further education and skills.

Baroness Berridge opened the debate for the Government, setting out the Government’s ambitions for the Bill and acknowledging that “skills and post-16 education needs its moment in the spotlight, both here in Parliament and around the country”. Baroness Wilcox then spoke for the opposition, and while recognising that these reforms are overdue, she argued that the Bill in its current form was inadequate to tackle the scale of the skills challenges.

Throughout the debate, Peers from all parties sought clarification on the Bill’s proposals and any omissions that they felt needed to be addressed. The main themes that Peers picked up on throughout the debate were:

  • The limited number of courses eligible under the Lifetime Skills Guarantee – we have been calling for this to be put on a statutory footing and extended to include subsequent level 3 courses to unlock retraining for even more people.
  • The lack of maintenance support provisions in the Bill - we have been calling for a maintenance support system that enables everyone to live well whilst studying or training at college across both FE and HE.
  • Ensuring that LSIPs take account of relationships that already exist and the importance of bringing stakeholders other than employers into the fold - we've been speaking to Peers about tabling an amendment that would facilitate this.
  • Limiting Universal Credit Rules on adult learners – we want benefit entitlement rules reformed so that people who would benefit from attending college whilst unemployed don’t lose out.
  • The importance of careers advice and guidance – Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) will need to be a vehicle to coordinate advice and guidance.
  • The need for clarity on the role and accountabilities of employer representative bodies (ERBs) in developing their LSIPs – we’ve been talking to parliamentarians about the need to affirm the role of colleges in co-constructing LSIPs and ensuring that the views and priorities of the wider community are reflected within them.
  • The lack of sustainability and net-zero carbon economy opportunities in the Bill – we want these to be embedded in the Bill and the wider reform agenda.

Overall, all our 12 key amendments were covered during the hour debate, sometimes multiple times, which is very encouraging. It was also great to hear a number of Peers mention the important work done by individual colleges including City Lit, Lancaster & Morecambe College, Loughborough College, Sheffield College, Barnsley College, Northern College, Coleg Cambria and Bridgewater and Taunton College.

It is clear that collectively we are having a real impact, and we wanted to thank everyone who has passed on our briefings and amendments document and discussed these issues with their parliamentarians - it really does make a difference. We have been working with Lords over the last few weeks to brief them on these amendments and will continue to do so as the Bill goes through its Committee Stage.

The next stage of the Bill is the Committee Stage - this is open to all members of the House of Lords, and it involves a detailed line by line examination of the Bill. The first date of the Committee Stage is set for Tuesday 6 July, and we expect this stage to continue until after the summer Parliamentary recess.