FE & Skills System

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinmail

Consequences of policy decisions; lessons for policymakers and stakeholders

This report is based on a survey conducted in conjunction with TES in 2017, which addressed the question:

Are the Further Education and Skills policymakers and stakeholders creating the conditions for success or failure?

A flipbook version of the report is available here: http://resources.ccqi.org.uk/flipbook/PCStudy/index.html

A pdf version is available here: The FE & Skills System – a study by The Policy Consortium.._

Reaction

In Education Journal- article in Education Journal by Ian Nash on page 10.

In AoCjobsa Secret Lecturer article 

 

Discussion event

The report, based on a recent survey of professionals working in the sector, was discussed at an event on 26th April 2018 at the Campaign for Learning offices in Westminster.  Speakers included the report author Tony Davis, Gordon Marsden MP (shadow minister for F&HE and Skills) and Catherine Haddon of the Institute for Government. If you would like to join with the Policy Consortium in taking forward the messages of this report, please contact Tony Davis at tony@ccqi.org.uk

 

 

        Tony Davis                      Gordon Marsden MP  

     Catherine Haddon

 

Expert Comments

Comments from experts who have reviewed the report are given below.

Headlines

Professor Anne-Marie Bathmaker, University of Birmingham

The report makes for salutary reading, but the overall message of a long-term sustainable relationship between policy and practice is vital. There is a clear message that robust, constructive and enabling structures are imperative, but that those working in the sector experience the opposite.

Alison Birkinshaw, Principal, York College

This is a well-researched report with very clear messages for all involved in the FE and Skills landscape. Two themes emerge for me:  the need for policy initiatives to be evidence based and properly tested before implementation, and the difficulties caused by the underfunding of the sector when introducing any new policies.

Mark Dawe, CEO, Association of Employment and Learning Providers 

This report is right to point to the dangers to sustainable quality improvement that unintended consequences of reform can bring.  A longer term strategic approach would assist providers in making their investment decisions for improving quality

Baroness Sue Garden, Liberal Democrat spokesperson, House of Lords 

This report is very important. The churn in government policy makers/ministers who arrive with their own agendas has been very damaging.  I felt this as a teacher, long before I was involved with politics. You will be doing teaching a great service if you can persuade incoming Ministers to listen and learn!

Mike Hopkins, Principal, Sussex Downs College

This study of the FE and Skills System conducted by The Policy Consortium, should be required reading for Ministers, politicians, officials, policy makers, practitioners and those interested in the FE system.

Professor Ewart Keep, Director, Centre on Skills, Knowledge & Organisational Performance, Department of Education, Oxford University.

This is an excellent piece of work, which provides a view of the problems identified in the Institute for Government’s All Change report from the other end of the telescope, demonstrating how the policy process fails practitioners and the learners they are working with.

Oliver Newton, Director of Policy and Research, Edge Foundation

This study continues the excellent work of City & Guilds’ Sense & Instability reports in highlighting the challenges that a state of perpetual revolution brings to the skills landscape.

Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary, TUC

As this new report highlights, the FE and skills system in England has to endure an endless cycle of reform and this volatility is not in the interests of learners or providers. We need long-term funding commitments, and a collaborative approach by employers and unions to addressing the skills needs of young people and adult learners

Professor Kevin Orr, University of Huddersfield

The report is excellent and chilling. I was left bitter at the utter waste of time and effort identified, time and again in relation to policy and inspection. The report identifies specific root causes for negative impact. A persistent theme is how the volatility of government policy for the FE sector has had unintended but persistently damaging consequences.

Michael Osbaldeston, Special Adviser and Skills Ambassador, City & Guilds Group

Our Sense and Instability report showed the constant flux in the skills world, the lack of consistency, initiative overload (just one more!) – all of which is borne out by this report too.  The evidence is compelling.  We don’t have to create new institutions: we just have to provide the ones we have with enough stability to get on with the job!”

Dame Ruth Silver, President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership

This report engages the sector in a way that is constructive and highly revealing. It explores the negative impact constant change has on the management and delivery of provision and offers a vision for how that context can be improved to be more conducive to successful, long-term policymaking for the sector.

Geoff Stanton, Commentator on FE and Skills

This is an important report.  It contains accounts from the front line of more than one badly judged government initiative being forced on colleges without sufficient notice to the detriment of the learners. To add insult to this injury, colleges are then penalised by Ofsted and the funding agency for not making it work in time, to the wider detriment of the service colleges provide. It requires “action this day”!

 

Full comments

Professor Anne-Marie Bathmaker, University of Birmingham

What is very apparent in the report is that the policies, structures and organisations that are in place for the FE and Skills sector in England are hugely problematic for those who work in the sector. There is a clear message that robust, constructive and enabling structures are imperative, but that those working in the sector experience the opposite. They report inspection systems that are based on questionable snapshot judgements, using criteria that have been imported from school practices and often bear no relation to conditions in the FE and Skills sector; regular changes of focus for teaching and learning, requiring all subjects to focus on ever-changing priorities, that have tenuous links to the substantive subject matter and skills of particular learning pathways; policymakers, inspectors, consultants and others who have no deep or robust understanding of the sector and its work; endemic policy change for no obvious purpose, including the recent area reviews, introduction of the new technical education reforms, and removal of requirement for a teaching qualification.

Underlying all this is chronic underfunding, along with the requirement to constantly bid for additional short-term funding to have any chance of survival, that is time-consuming and serves no helpful purpose except causing distraction and uncertainty.

The mismatch between the fields of policy and practice evidenced in the report suggests a huge divide, that is enormously difficult to address, not least because the people and organisations overseeing and controlling the sector from outside change and move on so regularly that every attempt has to start afresh, often after only months. The policy busyness that brings in yet more reforms, which are only new because the same solution implemented previously has been conveniently forgotten, avoids getting down to the crucial work required, that is emphasised in the report, of establishing and maintaining long-term committed relationships that can work to improve the sector. The evidence in this report emphasises the scale and effects of what has been happening for many, many years, and points to almost wilful practices at policy level, turning the FE and Skills sector into a convenient scapegoat, that policymakers do not care to really engage with. I am reminded of Ewart Keep’s words from 2006, where he described state control of the English education and training system as ‘playing with the biggest train set in the world’. It’s time to stop playing, and to start taking an interest in a sector that plays a crucial role in the education and training of the population, not least the overlooked 50%, who are under-served by school and university provision.

 

 

Alison Birkinshaw, Principal, York College

This is a well-researched report with very clear messages for all involved in the FE and Skills landscape. Two themes emerge for me:  the need for policy initiatives to be evidence based and properly tested before implementation, and the difficulties caused by the underfunding of the sector when introducing any new policies. The key messages around the English and maths funding condition are clear, and there is a comprehensive set of recommendations which deserves careful consideration by all interested parties

 

Mark Dawe, CEO, Association of Employment and Learning Providers 

While we wouldn’t necessarily throw our weight behind the creation of a new body, AELP strongly supports a cross sector approach to formulating a long term strategy for FE and skills, although the government is genuinely trying, for example, to construct a framework for T Levels which won’t conflict with the apprenticeship reforms.  We have actually been calling for such an approach for two years. ‘Despite all the recent changes to apprenticeships, the Chief Inspector has confirmed that 80% of new apprentices are receiving good or outstanding training but this report is right to point to the dangers to sustainable quality improvement that unintended consequences of reform can bring.  A longer term strategic approach would assist providers in making their investment decisions for improving quality

 

Baroness Sue Garden, Liberal Democrat spokesperson, House of Lords

This report is very important – congratulations on your work. It reflects very many of the issues which we Liberal Democrats have been promoting.

I entirely agree that ‘It appears that the single biggest barrier to creating the conditions needed for wholehearted investment by staff is policy makers continually changing their minds.’  The churn in government policy makers/ministers who arrive with their own agendas has been very damaging.  I felt this as a teacher, long before I was involved with politics.  In Michael Gove’s team during coalition. I regularly asked him to consult teachers.  You will be doing teaching a great service if you can persuade incoming Ministers to listen and learn!

Anti FE prejudice of previous Head of Ofsted [ Sir Michael Wilshaw]. Using Poor English and maths results as a stick to beat FE despite the national scandal of secondary school learners leaving school without D or above in GCSE in English and maths.’  There are hopes that Ofsted is now in more FE-friendly hands.

‘Insistence that GCSEs are the only qualifications that are suitable as a passport to vocational and higher qualifications instead of investing in the rigour and effectiveness of functional skills.’  For work-based skills, maths and English should always be functional rather than academic.  It is pointless cruelty to insist on all young people passing GCSE subjects when their skills and talents may lie elsewhere.  Some of our most brilliant craft and technical people may be useless at GCSE.

‘By far the biggest concern with ESFA, expressed by nearly two-thirds of respondents, is the inability to provide learners with high-quality learning programmes as a result of the reduction in funding. In addition, some respondents report that they can no longer recruit learners to the programme of study most suitable to their needs and abilities due to the complete removal of funding from the course components they need. Similarly, policy changes around the funding of low-level provision and high-needs learners is preventing providers from creating the scaffolding structures needed for these learners to progress.’  Funding is currently not fit for purpose.  Hopefully the government’s intention to review post 18 will be an opportunity for real changes to funding.

‘League tables are not in the best interests of learners and work actively against creating the conditions providers need for providing high-quality learning experiences for all.’  Our party policy is to abolish league tables, which diminish the wonderful work of teachers in low-achieving areas.  There are other ways in which parents can find out the ethos and success of schools – and of course, league tables lead schools to focus on GCSE and A level, ignoring apprenticeships and the work skills the country desperately needs.

 

Mike Hopkins, Principal, Sussex Downs College

This study of the FE and Skills System conducted by The Policy Consortium, should be required reading for Ministers, politicians, officials, policy makers, practitioners and those interested in the FE system. I’d suggest that whatever your role in the system, you read it and contribute to the post launch debate and discussion.

 

Professor Ewart Keep, Director, Centre on Skills, Knowledge & Organisational Performance, Department of Education, Oxford University.

This is an excellent piece of work, which provides a view of the problems identified in the IFG’s All Change report from the other end of the telescope (i.e. it demonstrates how the policy process fails practitioners and the learners they are working with).  The remorseless politicisation of education and training policy has been a major problem, and it is being compounded by the mistaken belief on the part of ministers that they are there to act as hands-on micro-managers of policy design and implementation within institutions they have little knowledge or understanding of.   The results of these developments have been predictably dire.  In essence, FE finds itself trapped in an endless  policy loop, whereby the consequences of failed government ‘reforms’ and poor funding decisions create an air of crisis within the sector, that then justifies further government intervention and ‘reform’ to address this crisis.  Unless policy makers can learn to step back, reflect, slow down, and listen to practitioners, this loop cannot be broken.

 

Oliver Newton, Director of Policy and Research, Edge Foundation

This study continues the excellent work of City & Guilds’ Sense & Instability reports in highlighting the challenges that a state of perpetual revolution brings to the skills landscape. With growing skills shortages and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution, there has never been a more important time for skills policy. In the best systems, this vital area of work is not a political football but an area for long-term decision making between politicians, businesses and educators, with a high degree of autonomy for successful local leaders and practitioners.

 

Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary, TUC

As this new report highlights, the FE and skills system in England has to endure an endless cycle of reform and this volatility is not in the interests of learners or providers. We need to learn from the successful skill systems in other countries where systemic stability, long-term funding commitments, and a collaborative approach by employers and unions to addressing the skills needs of young people and adult learners makes a real positive impact.

 

Professor Kevin Orr, University of Huddersfield

The Policy Consortium has carried out a forensic examination of FE and their conclusion, in this bold report, that the conditions for success in the sector are not present, is both alarming and well-supported in their evidence. The report identifies specific root causes for negative impact in specific areas but a persistent theme is how the volatility of government policy for the FE sector has had unintended but persistently damaging consequences. The pithy and detailed descriptions of systemic failures, such as the implementation of compulsory resitting of GCSE English and maths, may shock even those aware of the sector’s situation. Each issue raised in the report has, however, a corresponding recommendation and these could be the basis for a fresh approach to policy, inspection and governance. These recommendations look beyond funding but the report is clear, “If you can’t afford the solution, you haven’t got a solution.” At a time when the T levels are being introduced and when many colleges are merging into huge organisations, this report is uncomfortable but necessary reading for anyone who cares about FE and the millions of students the sector serves.

The report is excellent and I think it is chilling. I was left bitter at the utter waste of time and effort that you identify time and again in relation to policy and inspection and I was also left with the burning hope that no one could write such a report in ten years’ time.

 

Michael Osbaldeston, Special Adviser and Skills Ambassador, City & Guilds Group

“FE is a crucial part of the skills world and has a fine tradition of delivering both technical and life skills to the widest age range of any part of the educational system.  Our Sense and Instability report showed the constant flux in the skills world, the lack of consistency, initiative overload (just one more!) – all of which is borne out by this report too.  The evidence is compelling.

If we want a skilled workforce, and if we want young people prepared for the world of work, we have to provide a stable long-term approach.  Further education, skills and training have to be taken out of the political arena: there is enough common ground to build a system fit for purpose, and with Brexit on the horizon this has to happen sooner rather than later.  Those countries that are upheld as best in class – Germany, Austria, Switzerland – may not have perfect systems, but have had long-term stability with all interested parties – political, educational, employers, unions – working in harmony.  We don’t have to create new institutions: we just have to provide the ones we have with enough stability to get on with the job!”

 

Dame Ruth Silver, President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership

This report is important for a number of reasons. First, it engages the sector in a way that is constructive and highly revealing. Second, it explores the context in which further education and skills policy is made, and the negative impact constant change has on the management and delivery of provision. And third, it offers a vision for how that context can be improved to be more conducive to successful, long-term policymaking for the sector. For the Further Education Trust for Leadership, this is critical and close to or mission and work.

For far too long, policy has been in an environment that is extremely volatile and subject to kneejerk reform from ministers who often come and go without ever really coming to terms with what this important sector is about. The sector needs to be proactive and involved in driving the change FE and skills and the country more widely needs, but this will only be possible when its leaders and teachers are freed from the shackles of constant and often ill-considered change.

This is an important report.  It contains accounts from the front line of more than one badly judged government initiative being forced on colleges without sufficient notice to the detriment of the learners. To add insult to this injury, colleges are then penalised by Ofsted and the funding agency for not making it work in time, to the wider detriment of the service colleges provide. It requires “action this day”!

 

Geoff Stanton, Commentator on FE and Skills

This is an important report.  It contains accounts from the front line of more than one badly judged government initiative being forced on colleges without sufficient notice to the detriment of the learners. To add insult to this injury, colleges are then penalised by Ofsted and the funding agency for not making it work in time, to the wider detriment of the service colleges provide. It requires “action this day”!

twittertwitter  The Policy Consortium on Twitter

Leave a Reply