Labour Skills Task Force – A response.

I gather there has been some concerned that the proposals I mapped out recently in the Guild programme ‘borrowed’ ideas from the Labour Skills Task-Force. I am afraid I will have to disappoint. It would be wrong for any side to claim a monopoly on common sense.

Some of the things being advocated by the Skills Task Force were also called for by Wolfe, Holt and/or the CBI documents that I did reference. There is common ground amongst all parities, for instance, on the notion that employers must take ownership of the apprenticeship qualifications.

The Government, as far as I know, have not passed comment on Further Education Colleges other than to implement the Wolfe report recommendations on enrolments. The Labour Skills Taskforce , on the other hand, envisaged a very different kind of FE college than we have today. I too would see a change to FE colleges

The model the Taskforce mapped out for FE colleges is quite different to one I have. I would see FE colleges joining with one or more secondary schools in a local area  to form a Tertiary Institution. The Skills Task force would simply see FE Colleges turned into licensed technical colleges with no mention of hooking up with secondary schools or, indeed, ages of enrolment.

I am happy to step through each of the recommendations made across all three reports from the Taskforce to highlight areas of agreement and disagreement.

I’m not sure if the recommendations of the Taskforce are official Labour policy or not.

Skills Task Force – 1st Report

1 – Labour should work towards a system whereby all apprenticeships: are level 3
Qualifications or above; last 2 to 3 years; include a day of off-the-job training a week; and are focused on new job entrants not existing employees.

It did give serious thought to calling for level 2 apprenticeships to be phased out in the light of the raising of the school leaving age. They do now seem to be an illogical legacy of when modern apprenticeships were first established.  However, I ruled against it in the end. These level 2 apprenticeship appear to being used by many who have already passed through the system and may not have the educational standards needed to take up a level 3 apprenticeships. It is an important route to work for long-term unemployed and so I took the view that they should remain. Indeed, I believe the authors acknowledge it would take time to phase them out.

I believe strongly that the length of an apprenticeship must be determined by the relevant trade association or professional body and not shaped by government. Those apprenticeships may or may not last 2 to 3 years.

I agree with a day of off- the-job training being included in each apprenticeship. This suggestion was also made from the Wolfe report so there is a consensus on this.

Restricting training posts to 16-21 years olds was my version on ensuring training was targeted at young people. Apprenticeships, which are different, can remain open to all ages but training posts are restricted.  Wolfe also warned against business-as-usual training masquerading as apprenticeships.

2 – Level 2 apprenticeships should be renamed as traineeships and redesigned to ensure that all young people who want to progress to higher level training are able to do so.

I would retain level 2 apprenticeship for the interim. Traineeships are being set up by Government through the National Apprenticeship Service and I have suggested their use in a Year 11 core vocational curriculum.
3 – Training standards should be set at sector level by employer-led institutions that genuinely represent the interests of employers and young people. Employer
representatives, working with employee representatives, should be able to choose and adapt the vocational qualification underpinning the apprenticeships for their sector

No, training standards will be set by the relevant trade associations or professional bodies. There is scope for a consortia to define core elements for their sector through a Sector Training Board but it this will be a matter for their members.

4 – Employer representatives should create a smaller number of apprenticeship frameworks of higher quality that are trusted and have currency with employers across the sector. These should be broad enough to provide access to an occupation, rather than a large number of entry level jobs, as well as allowing local employers and colleges the flexibility to respond to local economic needs

Government is already working along similar lines with the Employers Ownership Pilot and the Micro-enterprise initiative. I have talked about employers being able to take a sector level framework and adapt it to suit the needs of their business. It seems to me everybody is either already on the same page , or heading that way, with the notion that employers must the ones that define the apprenticeships

5 Responsibility for the £1.5 billion youth and adult apprenticeship budget should be given to employers, working collectively at sector level, to raise training capacity in their sectors and supply chains.

No, all training budgets for apprenticeships would be converted into Teacher-Trainer allowances under my proposals and follow the apprentice as per the Wolfe Report recommendations. Training capacity for each sector will be shaped by profiling the training posts each Guild faculty needs to establish at a local level. I am very dubious about these’ trickle –down’ approaches.
6 In return for more control over funding and standards, these bodies would be required to develop sectorial plans to increase the number of high quality apprenticeships.

No. We do not have business sectors in this country that are organised enough to deliver on such plans. BIS should advise Guild faculties on the profiling for local training posts based on intelligence provided by UKCES on future labour force requirements. This has to be built up from ground up and not from the top down.
7 Employer-led sector bodies should have the freedom to invest as they see fit, but must be required to work through the relevant local and regional authorities to prevent duplication and ensure a joined up approach with wider skills funding.

This sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare with plenty of scope for government quango’s to top-slice the training budgets. I am not a fan of these trickle down approaches. Sector Skills Councils were supposed to be ‘employer led’ and turned out not to be.
8 Labour should give employer-led sector bodies the powers they think they need to increase the quantity of high quality apprenticeships in their sectors and supply chains.

This is veering towards more regulation in business The quantity of apprenticeships needs to be built from local level using , in my view, Guild faculties.

9 It would be up to employer-led sector bodies to decide which powers they use to
increase apprenticeships in their sectors and supply chain

Not a fan of investing these kind of powers in sector level bodies . This is leaning itself to more business regulation in which small local employers will find themselves powerless.
10 The institutions governing the skills system should: be based on existing institutions; be employer-led; involve other stakeholders that represent employees’ interests, including  trade unions and professional bodies; and represent sectors with high levels of low skill, low wage employment as well as those that already require high levels of trained staff

Employers, national trade associations and professional bodies should determine the skills systems for their business, trade or professions. They are the ones doing the employing.

11 As an industry-led body, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills should be tasked with building the capacity of employer-led sector bodies to drive up training in their sectors. They should also be given responsibility for the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England.

No. Guild faculties will drive up training at local level and across all sectors. The specification of an apprenticeship standard rests with the relevant national trade association, professional bodies or employer consortia. One size does not fit all.

12 Sector Skills Councils should be reformed as powerful employer-led partnership bodies, with guaranteed board-level representation of the trade associations, small employers, trade unions and professional bodies operating in the sector. SSCs should have a remit to increase skills demand and utilisation in their sectors and supply chains, rather than simply articulate or meet existing skills demand as is currently the case.

I don’t believe they can be reformed. I believe they should be scrapped and replaced . I put forward the notion of Sector Training Boards and I don’t understand the necessity of involving trade unions. They have their role in employee rights but that is not the remit of the Sector Training Boards .

13 These national sector bodies would identify regional clusters where employers in their sectors operate and, working through their regional branches, work with relevant authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and local employer representatives to improve the quality of training provision. The regional tier of SSCs should also be responsible for quality assurance and assessment procedures.

There’s no regional anything in my proposals. I see this as unnecessary bureaucracy with plenty of scope to waste money. Quality assurance and assessment procedures should be a matter for the relevant trade association or professional body through self-regulation or a national network of external assessors. They ‘own’ the apprenticeship then they ‘own’ the regulation.

Skills Task Force – Report 2

1 The Taskforce recommends that FE colleges should be transformed into new Institutes of Technical Education with a core mission to provide gold-standard delivery of Labour’s proposed Tech Bacc and the off-the-job training component of apprenticeships.

So I take it from that Runeshaw College, for instance, would no longer have a Sixth Form as it is ‘transformed’ into a technical college? I note from the small print that FE Colleges under Labour would continue to offer A-levels but only as an integrated part of a Technical or General Baccalaureate. This is not a vision of Further Education College that I can share.

I would see FE colleges’ transformed’ into Tertiary Institutions that consist of various faculties to suit local need. The Guild Faculties would deliver the off-the-job training of apprenticeships and the Academic Faculty would deliver GCSE/A-level education to 14-18 year olds.

2 We propose that the way to do this is through a licensing system, using vocational funding streams as incentives for colleges to develop specialist expertise. Any FE college that wishes to deliver the Tech Bacc or apprenticeship qualifications would require a licence.

No. and , quite frankly, I find the notion of FE college requiring a licence to offer apprenticeships insulting. I am reserving comment on baccalaureates for another time.

3 To apply for a license colleges would need to demonstrate that they have specialist vocational teaching and expertise; high quality English and maths provision; and strong employer and labour market links. One option is to give UKCES responsibility for determining the process and criteria for the licences as part of a more simplified approach to funding and quality assurance.

No. Under my proposals FE colleges would be invited to reform as Adult & Tertiary Institutions which are modular to suit the needs of a local community and compartmentalised to suit the needs of different stake-holders and paymaster. The DfE, for instance, would retain jurisdiction over the Academic Faculty whereas the Department of Business Innovation and Skills holds sway over the Guild Faculties

4 All FE lecturers teaching young people should hold a teaching qualification and Level 2 or above in English and maths. Teaching qualifications should incorporate expertise in curricula design and pedagogy to ensure vocational teachers are able to work with employers to tailor courses to local economic needs.

My only comment was a response to the Wolfe criticism that ‘experts’ from industry were barred from teaching . I agree that they do need some form of teacher qualification.

5 Lecturers not actively working in their specialist area should also be required to
spend a period of time in industry every year.

Agreed. Not something I’ve commented on

6 Qualification and CPD requirements should be set by the Education and Training

No objection. Not something I’ve comment on.

7 Skills competitions should be mainstreamed to motivate excellence in vocational
teaching and learning by enabling students to compete regionally and nationally
on the basis of their vocational skills across different sectors.

Not something I’ve commented on. No problem with the recommendation.

8 The establishment of new Institutes of Technical Education provides opportunities for colleges to unlock employer engagement and co-investment. As colleges develop strong curricula design expertise, they should seek to offer employers more tailored training programmes. These approaches should be encouraged through the licensing and reform processes.

This is very reminiscent of the principles behind University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools which both have curricula tailored to their sponsoring employers. This was also something called for by the Holt Review and acknowledged by the Wolfe Report when discussing Group Training Associations. I have allowed for the Guild Faculties to develop tailored training programmes for those employers that commission it.

There is a broad consensus on the notion of colleges offering training programmes tailored to the needs of employers.

9 In return for more tailored training and services, colleges should seek to establish something-for-something deals with employers – asking that they contribute through participation on governing boards, capital expenditure, contributions to course costs, or by providing opportunities for work experience, on-the-job training, staff secondments and industry placements.

I think it stands to reason if an employer has commissioned training programmes and services then they are going to providing opportunities for on-the-job training ? I envisaged Guild Faculties governed by local employers in line with the Wolfe and Holt recommendations calling for local employers to be more engaged in running of local training hubs.

There is consensus that employers need to be more involved in the supporting and running local training hubs

10 To promote a more integrated approach with local growth strategies, Licensed
Institutes of Technical Education should be guaranteed a place on the LEP board.

I don’t see the value . I can see another set of meeting expenses for those ‘lucky’ enough to attend.

11 Over time, colleges should play a far more dynamic and active role in providing research and consultancy to support innovation, growth and new ways of working in their local economies, as is the case in many northern European countries. This will support wider efforts to drive a more innovative, productive and higher skill economy, and in doing so provide more opportunities for the forgotten 50 per cent of young people

Not something I’ve commented on nor have I seen it mentioned anywhere-else to their credit. It is something that could be taken on by either a Guild or Technical faculty under the model I am proposing.

Skills TaskForce – 3rd Report

(1) An exit qualification for all learners from upper secondary education be developed as a National Baccalaureate available as either a technical baccalaureate or a general baccalaureate.

I’ve not looked at the issue of Baccalaureates at the time of writing. I like to see evidence of demand for this type of qualification from parents, employers and teachers.

(2) The National Baccalaureate be based on four learning domains: core learning (qualifications such as A’ levels or accredited vocational qualifications), Mathematics and English, a personal skills development programme and an extended project

Generally I reserve comment but I wonder how employers will deal with students offering the same qualification that was nonetheless constructed from very different components? Holt commented that employers are already finding it difficult to compare the similar sounding qualifications from different parts of the UK.

(3) All schools and colleges should be required to offer a National Baccalaureate which conforms to agreed design principles

So this will apply to University Technical Colleges, Studio Schools and Academies ?

(4) The National Baccalaureate should be a formal award at level 3 for young people to take on to universities, an apprenticeship or into employment. It will not simply be a performance or league table measure

Reserved comment. What’s was wrong with A-levels or existing level 3 qualifications from City Guilds or BTEC?

(5) An intermediate level baccalaureate will be available for young people achieving at level 2 which will demonstrate skills and learning to employers and allow for later progression to level 3

Reserved comment.

(6) A responsibility on schools to track the destinations of all students, and an element funding conditional on passing learners onto the next stage of their education or training post-16

Would not be an issue under my proposals as Tertiary institutions would offer continuity of education and training for 14-18 year olds.

(7) LEPS to broker high quality and independent Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) locally, working with schools and employers, supported by funding withheld from schools who fail to secure a next step in education or training for their pupils

I don’t understand how LEP’s have suddenly acquired powers to ‘fine’ colleges and schools???

(8) A new statutory responsibility for schools and colleges to collaborate with one another to share resources, build opportunities for young people and deliver a comprehensive upper secondary framework, including a Tech Bacc for vocational learners.

Bureaucratic nightmare and how on earth is that going to be policed/enforced. Define collaboration? Which resources? Define and quantify opportunities?

(9) We should expect all learners to continue to study English and Mathematics throughout their education participation, up to 18, as one of the four components of our National Baccalaureate. This will make significant contributions to progression opportunities as these skills are needed in all careers and in further study and training.

I fundamentally disagree with the notion that the national focus should be on mathematics and not numeracy. It is numeracy skills that are often cited by employers as being lacking. This insistence on academic Maths is pandering to the University model of education and training.

I have set out proposals for an ordinary GCSE paper on Maths and English with the syllabi controlled by employers. Sector Training Boards could also sponsor additional Maths papers that their apprentices need to take as part of the off-the job training and education. That’s a matter for their sector and not government. I do not support this carte blanche requirement to study academic Maths and English to age 18. Those interested in taking Maths to a higher level can study it at A-level if they wish.

You cannot force A-level education onto people who don’t want it.

(10) Government should commission alternative Mathematics programmes at Levels 2 and 3 which focus on using and applying Mathematics, so that students are extending their learning in Mathematics but in contextual and real world of work settings.

No they shouldn’t. Government should butt out and leave this to employers working through their Sector Training Boards. They can develop further maths papers with City & Guilds, OCR or BTEC.

(11) All learners should have an entitlement to an appropriately planned and designed personal skills development programme. The quality of these programmes should be inspected by Ofsted.

I have set out that all students would have a careers interview at key stages in their 14-18 education and training. OFSTEAD would not have any jurisdiction in this matter under my proposals. They cause enough paperwork as it is.

(12) Workplace learning should be an integral component of such a programme

This is counter to the recommendations of the Wolfe Report. The CBI, on the other hand support the retention of work experience. I have allowed work experience in the shape of a traineeships in Year 11 subject to availability of places. Work experience is fine as long as you can guarantee the quality and quantity.

(13) Labour should seek to avoid further changes to accountability measures at KS4/KS5 for the next five years.

Not looked at this issue in depth enough to comment at this moment in time.

(14) Labour should withhold some funding to support schools and colleges collaboration maintain specialist post-16 provision for high achievers. This should be provide efficiently by sharing resources between education providers at the local level.

Would not be an issue under my proposals. Post 16 students effectively have individual timetables which are met by the one or more faculties in a Tertiary institution. Funding follows the student.

(15) If the current machinery of government is retained, a single cabinet level appointment for skills and qualifications reform should be made

This recommendation came from a discussion as to where jurisdiction over vocational skills and training sits. I have a view that it needs to be removed from the DfE regime in order to ensure it is closely aligned with industry and commerce. It sits with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills

In conclusion:

There is common ground. Everybody is agreed that employers must take more responsibility for defining the content of apprenticeship. I see a different role for FE Colleges as does Labour although we differ on what that is and how it would be organised.There are also areas of omission and sharp differences.

It would appear that I am at logger heads with the rest of the world regarding how much Maths needs to be taught to 16-18 year olds. Labour’s position is supported by the CBI and the Government. I believe making the focus mathematics rather than numeracy is putting the cart before the horse. I have severe doubts as to whether the attainment levels of foundation-tier students can be raised to level 3 mathematics even if you had enough teachers to go round.

I have reserved comment on Baccalaureates other than to say that people know where they are with A-levels, City & Guilds or BTEC so why confuse matters?

The Skills task force has set out a number of recommendations that they feel will drive up the quantity and quality of apprenticeships across the various sectors. I don’t like these trickle-down approaches. Too much money fails to make it to the front-line, red-tape an=d bureaucracy increase with each committee and sector level initiatives fail to take into account local characteristics. It would be easy for some local areas to be poorly served by sector level initiatives.

I believe the only way to build up the number of training posts is to establish an institution at local level dedicated to responding to the needs of local young people and employers in a forward looking fashion.

That is the primary purpose of the Guild programme.


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