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Skills Plan - how will the new plans for technical education impact on you as providers of technical education?

20 October 2017

Employability and technical or vocational skills are on the agenda to help support the nation's productivity. At the Association of Colleges, we are broadly supportive of the overall intention of the Skills Plan. Investing in and raising the profile of skills is welcome. Ensuring that key stakeholders; students, parents/carers and employers are aware of the best route to a specific occupation can only be a good thing though comprehensive, impartial careers guidance will be essential. But what lies beneath the Skills Plan headlines of additional funding of £500 million per year from 2022? At its heart, the Skills Plan aims to provide 16-plus students with a clear line of sight to work. It divides the technical occupations into 15 routes, 11 of which will be predominantly college or provider based and four which will be delivered through work-based learning. Each route will have a common core followed by a specialisation year with an extended work placement of up to three months leading to a T Level equivalent, we believe, to a Level 3. When students complete their route, they will be able to progress to work, a higher apprenticeship or higher education depending on the occupation they wish to pursue. Higher level skills will be delivered at Institutes of Technology. In the Skills Plan, these were aimed at Levels 4 and 5 and centred on colleges working in partnership with universities and employers. Students who are not ready to embark upon a T Level can enrol on a transition year programme to help them work towards the required entry requirements. For some students, it is acknowledged that this may take longer than a year and that the most appropriate destination may be a supported internship, traineeship or independent living. On paper, it all seems very feasible; students working towards clear occupational outcomes. But how is it different from Study Programmes? How will it work in practice? After all students continuing to study English and maths sounds a good idea in theory, but as with English and maths, does the strategy meet the needs of students and employers? How will the Government sell the concept of technical education? There needs to be a huge cultural shift for technical education to be seen as prestigious as the academic route. One way the Government has started to do this is by announcing additional funding for delivery of T Levels, but is this enough? Much of the additional funding will have to be ploughed into finding and monitoring work placements. Colleges currently struggle to access two-week work experience for all students. Occupation specific placements will require far more employers to offer placements. Extended placements will also require a great deal of planning to ensure that they are meaningful for employers and students alike while taking into consideration how they fit into the wider curriculum including GCSE English and maths retakes. There are a lot of questions about T Level curriculum. We do know each route will be offered by only one or a consortium of awarding organisations. It will be important that the offer is attractive both to current technical students and students who might be interested in T Levels rather than taking A Levels. Will there be Level 2 and three T Levels aimed at different occupations? We await too further details on transition year, but it does appear that it won't be funded for 900 hours like the T Levels themselves. Yet these students are the most vulnerable and the furthest away from work. Apprenticeship standards have just been introduced. Will T Levels mirror apprenticeship standards? How easy will it be to move from one to the other? It is tempting to be sceptical. We all remember the work put into the 14-19 Diplomas for example. But 'this time' the Government intends that the Skills Plan will be a system change on a huge scale. Are those of us in the system ready for it? Catherine Sezen is the Senior Policy Manager for the Association of Colleges. DfE T Level Awareness Raising Events Come and find out more about Skills Plan implementation and kick-start planning at your organisation. These half-day events will outline the Government's vision for technical education from 2020 and show how this builds on current study programme principles. These events are free to attend and open to all post-16 providers who have yet to engage with the post-16 Skills Plan. In particular, they will be relevant for heads of curriculum and curriculum managers from colleges, independent training providers, local enterprise partnership and employers. There are limited places available in each location and are on a first-come, first-served basis with a maximum of two places per provider/organisation. The events will take place in seven locations around the country from 30 October – 9 November. For more details and to book your place at one of the events, please visit the AoC Create website.