The Forgotten Half

by Paul Steer, 27 June 2015

Alison Wolf’s think piece on adult education warns of a system on the brink of collapse through underfunding and political neglect. 

In Heading for the Precipice: Can Further and Higher Education Funding Policies Be Sustained?, she argues that current arrangements for educating and training adults are deeply inegalitarian and unlikely to deliver the high level technical and professional qualifications needed to boost the UK’s notoriously poor levels of productivity. She argues that adult education in FE has long been overlooked because it lacks the power and influence of those who lobby for schools and Higher Education. 

Skills System Report front cover - imageMany of these arguments apply more broadly to FE and the skills system as described in the Skills Commission’s Guide to the Skills System which describes the importance, scale and interconnectedness of the system with great clarity, supported by a string of impressive statistics and helpful infographics. 

Amongst other things, the guide makes clear the contribution Further Education and training providers make to developing the skills of those young people, sometimes described as ‘the forgotten half’, who don’t follow a traditional A Level route. For example, it states that: 51 percent of 16-18 year olds in education and training follow vocational and technical training programmes; and that each year colleges educate and train over 3.1 million people. Interestingly, of all 16-18 year olds, currently around 6 percent of them start apprenticeships. 

All this needs to be understood and taken into account when drawing up plans to attain the target of 3 million apprenticeships within the lifetime of this parliament. We have to be sure that plans for a digital levy on employers to fund apprenticeships will cut through some of the complexity of the skills system rather than add new and conflicting incentives and bureaucracy. 

We also have to recognise that many young people simply aren’t ready to embark on apprenticeships and that there must be programmes available that develop their skills and widen their appreciation of the future career choices available to them. This is partly about taking care to have a ‘pipeline’ that will feed into a growing number of apprenticeships but it is also about securing alternatives to apprenticeships - alternatives that will lead to those higher level technical qualifications that Alison Wolf has identified as being so crucial. 

Paul Steer 
Head of Policy and Public Affairs, OCR

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