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Adult Vocational Education

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2015

The Government are today launching the consultation document––“A Dual Mandate for Adult Vocational Education”. A copy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This builds on our reform programme to date and explores some of the key issues that will ensure our vocational education system is able to meet the major skills challenges that will face this country over the next five years and beyond.

The issues raised in the document imply important changes for how we think about further education for adults. The further education sector covers a wider range of learners than either schools or higher education. It ranges from basic literacy, numeracy and elementary social skills at a level that would be taught in a primary reception class or even pre-school through to degree level technical education.

The primary focus of the document is on how we can strengthen higher level vocational education in this country. This is defined as education which goes above what should be achieved in compulsory education, but will often not involve a full-time academic degree. This is an area where England has had a historic weakness and where we continue to lag behind the performance of other developed countries.

The Government have started work to reverse these long-term issues: notably by supporting National Colleges as specialist institutions for areas including digital skills, the nuclear industry, high speed rail, and advanced manufacturing techniques; and by introducing high level apprenticeships as a parallel route to full-time higher education in order to provide more choice for learners and increase business engagement. But there is more to do, and sustained action by Government, businesses, and educational institutions will be necessary if we are to succeed.

This second part of the mandate is also important. Further education provides a vital lifeline to those, often in the most disadvantaged circumstances, who reached adulthood without the basic skills they need for the workplace or for modern life. We have set out how we improved the delivery of basic skills and community learning by allowing greater flexibility for providers to tailor services to the needs of users and to innovate by encouraging the development of a more diverse supplier base.

The final section of the document looks at the implications for providers of adult further education, particularly further education colleges. It sets out two key trends that the Government forecast will continue over the rest of this decade and beyond. First, reductions in public funds for skills are unlikely to be reversed, and resource allocation will increasingly be contestable. Secondly, effective delivery will increasingly require greater specialisation.

The Government have supported a shift to greater influence and control over skills at the local level. The logic for such an approach is strong: adult further education essentially serves local labour market needs. The document therefore explores how greater influence at the local level, as signalled by city deals and the devolution agreements with Manchester and Sheffield may be further strengthened and extended in future years.

The consultation period runs until 16 June 2015.