Working Better Together
Colleges collaborating to succeed
Author: Rosalind KennyBirch |
Working better together
Colleges collaborating to succeed
Skills reform is a political priority, a point acknowledged in the emphasis placed on it in the Government’s Industrial Strategy, which vowed to “put technical education on the same footing as our academic system, with apprenticeships and qualifications such as T-levels”.
A critical component of skills reform is developing a robust further education (FE) sector. The government rightly says the qualification landscape is confusing, not always meeting the needs of learners and employers. The government also notes the regional disparities in skills levels. Local institutions, namely FE colleges, can take on a greater role to addressing these issues.
In partnership with the West Midlands Further Education Skills and Productivity Group, we have explored how recent policy changes have created new opportunities for colleges to take on a more pioneering role in an evolving government framework.
These include opportunities for FE colleges to seize on devolution deals to collaborate with mayoral combined authorities and chances to influence the new T-levels qualifications system. With so much policy change happening at once, now is an opportune moment for individual colleges and the FE sector to think again how best to improve and reform. Devolution, localism, the industrial strategy, even the new apprenticeship levy, all point to greater local discretion and control over the economy and public services.
This report identifies a number of examples which suggest how colleges could, through more and better collaboration, become even stronger players locally. And the central message we draw from the research is that collaboration is overwhelmingly positive and is something colleges and principals want to do more.
Our research suggests an enhanced consortium model needs to be flexible, but any consolidation of the current level of collaboration must be premised on trust, a long term strategic vision, mutual desire for sectoral improvement and commitment to improving the overall sustainability and credibility of the FE sector.
Recommendation one: As announced in government’s Modern Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future document, seven Skills Advisory Panels (SAPs) are being piloted to provide strategic leadership around local skills planning. We recommend, subject to positive evaluation, government encourage and incentivise further Skills Advisory Panels in non-pilot areas.
Recommendation two: A number of places, either through a local authority, local enterprise partnership (LEP), university or other public agency/collaborative body, have for some time been operating advisory boards which provide advice and guidance on skills and employability which have proven useful forums for the discussion of strategic skills needs. We recommend those areas which do not have a Skills Advisory Board or similar (or currently operate a Skills Advisory Panel pilot) set up either Skills Advisory Board to operate as shadow Skills Advisory Panel in advance of a wider roll out.
Recommendation three: Colleges individually produce detailed strategy documents which inform medium to long term planning. However in the context of devolution (through LEPs, combined authorities and the future trend of skills funding devolution) there is a need for colleges to more efficiently influence the local political and policy making process. We recommend that colleges work in collaboration, based upon a voluntary functional geography which aligns with the relevant decision making body be that a LEP or combined authority, to craft an independent FE Strategy.
This strategy should be a collective articulation of the local FE sector’s demography, financial strength and specialisms, amongst other key information. This strategy can then be fed into the strategic economic decision making of the LEP, combined authority or other empowered local agency. Specifically, such a strategy should seek to influence the crafting of the impending Local Industrial Strategies.
Recommendation four: Collaboration at a basic level can be achieved through improved communication and coordination. Fundamental reform, however, will require a resource commitment. Based on the available evidence gathered in this report and the best practice identified we recommend collaborating colleges consider the following approaches (these are by no means the limit);
- a) A shared planning fund, in which each participating college would allot money to resource enhanced collaboration;
- b) A nominated lead college which will provide the necessary resource to manage and implement enhanced collaboration activity.
Recommendation five: We recommend the government’s Flexible Learning Fund is extended into 2018/19 (it is currently due to be reviewed before April 2018). As part of the extension, we recommend government change the specification to prioritise consortium bids and judge the allocation of funds accordingly. For any subsequent similar funds created, we recommend the principle be applied too.
Recommendation six: Where there is an identifiable skills shortfall, such as in the automotive and constructions sectors, we recommend government makes explicitly clear in any sector deals agreed how the number of apprentices will be increased. Specifically highlighting the sub-regional targets needed and the role of FE sector locally in supporting this delivery.
Recommendation seven: Evidence suggests that as of July 2017, 11,000 employers (out of 19,150 companies eligible to register) have yet to sign up with the online service which enables them to spend their levy funds. Government currently plans to allow Apprenticeship Levy contributors the option to passport 10% of their levy account along their supply chain. We recommend government extend this principle further and, if apprenticeship levy funds are dormant after two years, mandate employers to passport funds to a Combined Authority, LEP or a nominated Strategic Authority (for example a County Council).
Recommendation eight: Many of the college principals and FE sector experts interviewed for this report cited concerns about data management and sharing. In particular there was a concern that Whitehall departments were holding data that were either not shared with local areas or, when shared, did not release raw numbers but rather composite data which has proven unhelpful when it comes to strategic planning locally. We recommend government establish a working group comprising FE college principals, the Association of Colleges, sub-regional college groupings and technical experts to agree a new approach to data sharing between central government and local agencies. Specifically in light of the need to assess the impact of the apprenticeship levy and the roll out of the new T-Levels in order to make timely improvements.
Recommendation nine: The government is currently set to devolve the Adult Education Budget (AEB) to seven mayoral combined authorities by 2019/20. In order to encourage further collaboration amongst colleges, we recommend the government publish a green paper on its future plans to devolve the AEB to non-mayoral combined authority areas.