Government needs to go further in plans to tackle skills crisis, report warns

17 Sep 2021

Tackling the skills crisis will require a greater focus on both the economic and social outcomes of learning, like finding work and improved health and wellbeing, argues a new Learning and Work Institute report. The report says this focus should be underpinned by higher and longer-term funding and push to streamline the system.

The report, supported by Association of Colleges, comes as the Government consults on new approaches to funding and accountability for skills funding in England. The Government proposes new Accountability Agreements with colleges setting out how they will meet local and national skills needs; a new Skills Measure looking at how many learners are in employment after their course ends; and looks for views on whether funding should last more than one year.

Learning and Work Institute’s new research argues that the Government’s proposals head in the right direction, but must go further. Drawing on examples from Australia, Canada, Ireland and US, it proposes:

  • Outcomes. We should focus on the impact of learning on earnings and health and wellbeing, not just employment. We should also focus on levelling up outcomes for groups like disabled people and lone parents.
  • Accountability Agreements. The proposed agreements should be broader than planned, covering more funding streams like the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
  • Simplify. We need to be more ambitious in limiting the number of funding streams and rules so colleges and providers can focus on the best way to deliver outcomes for learners.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute said:

“Increasing participation in learning is crucial for recovery from the pandemic and building a prosperous and inclusive society. That requires greater investment but also a different approach to how we invest. We need longer-term planning and greater focus on the outcomes we want to achieve.

The Government’s proposals head in the right direction but we need to go further. We want to see social outcomes included alongside economic outcomes, a more joined-up approach across learning, skills and employment funding, and greater ambitious for devolution where that will improve results.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

“Colleges work hard to achieve the best outcomes for every learner – whether that be progression in learning, moving into work or wider outcomes – so it is appropriate to design an accountability system which addresses those outcomes. However, we know that achieving a fair system for colleges in different labour markets, with different subject mixes and with different cohorts of students is far from easy.

That’s exactly why this report is so important. It helps us to learn from other countries, looking at how they have approached this and how it has worked. The fundamental pitfall that I hope the Government avoids is to look solely at wage outcomes, as if that does anything to measure the impact of colleges. Working with colleges and other stakeholders in developing a new approach is essential to get this right.

Colleges deliver significant social outcomes including health and wellbeing, citizen participation, community cohesion and tolerance. A system which looked across these and the learning and economic outcomes and which recognised the different context for each college combined with simplified, multi-year spending and joined-up policy making would lead to high quality opportunities for all, stronger communities and better economic growth.

We urge the government to be ambitious with the funding and accountability reforms, ensuring that simpler funding and accountability are delivered hand in glove. Doing that will maximise the impact of public investment in learning.”

You can read the full report here