Westminster Education Forum

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The future of the FE sector and priorities for the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

Morning, Tuesday, 21st September 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference is examining the future for the Further Education sector.

It will be an opportunity to discuss the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which will legislate for policies announced in the Skills for Jobs white paper on priorities for the FE sector and its role in the national economic recovery.

It also coincides with a range of further developments such as the recent publication of the Workplace Training and Development Commission Report, commissioned by the British Chambers of Commerce which calls for the national skills system to be overhauled, as well as the ongoing government review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in England.

The agenda will bring out latest thinking on:

  • developing the FE sector, and its role in post-pandemic recovery
  • improving governance and standards
  • the future for funding
  • supporting flexibility - looking at modular provision, online learning, widening access, and supporting upskilling and retraining
  • priorities for the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

The conference will be an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who are due to attend from the DfE, DWP, the Department for the Economy, NI, the Ministry of Justice, and the Valuation Office Agency.

The agenda

  • Next steps for developing the FE sector
  • Improving governance and standards in the FE sector - accountability, the future for funding, and developing a responsive approach
  • Supporting flexibility in further education - the future for modular provision, facilitating online learning, funding support and widening access, and supporting upskilling and retraining
  • Ensuring high standards within the FE sector
  • The FE sector and post-pandemic recovery - opportunities in the White Paper, meeting employer needs, plugging skills deficits, and driving local growth
  • Implementing the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill - policy priorities

Key areas for discussion:

Implementing the Skills for Jobs white paper - looking at sector priorities, stakeholder concerns, and key issues for the recently introduced Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

Improving governance and standards in the sector:

  • oversight - assessing the proposed reduction in intervention timeframes, and increased powers of intervention afforded to the Secretary of State, as well as the potential impact on raising standards
  • accountability:
    • opportunities regarding strategic college-government engagement on an annual basis
    • priorities for college leadership expectations, the board level skills and competencies framework, and discussion of self-assessment requirements
  • funding:
    • funding models and increased autonomy, including outcome-based and multi-year funding
    • the impact of increased flexibility on providers’ capacity to help meet local skills needs
    • options for increased discretionary and flexible spending

Flexibility in further education:

  • modular provision - discussion of the challenges in high-quality modular provision of FE, and creating a framework to allow the build-up of credits across multiple institutions
  • online learning - the outlook for the use of technology and online learning in FE post-pandemic, and implications for accessibility and inclusion
  • support:
    • the potential for flexible loan frameworks to widen access to FE, and allow a rapid response to changing skill requirements
    • the economic impact of flexible upskilling and retraining opportunities

The white paper, the FE sector and post-pandemic recovery:

  • provider-employer co-operation:
    • the potential for Local Skills Plans to help meet post-pandemic skills needs and drive local growth, and evaluating the proposed college-business centre model
    • the practicalities of collaborative working and best practice in knowledge exchange, developing partnerships and engaging with Chambers of Commerce
  • skills shortages:
    • assessing key skills shortages and areas of concern in the wake of the pandemic, and priorities for plugging skills deficits
    • options for involvement in long-term priorities, such as green skills needed for transitioning to net-zero, and preparing the nation for a changing economy

A scan of relevant developments:

  • the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill - recently announced in the Queen’s Speech, the bill is set to legislate the measures laid out in the earlier Further Education white paper
  • the Skills for Jobs White Paper - setting out reforms to the FE sector with the aim of providing for national skills shortages and creating greater flexibility and responsiveness, including:
    • Local Skill Improvement Plans - to be developed locally and to act as frameworks for ensuring local skills needs are being met, set to be piloted in trailblazer areas this year
    • strengthened oversight - proposed powers enabling the Government to swiftly intervene in areas with continuing problems delivering for skills needs, and with oversight to be maintained through lengthened post-intervention support
    • funding reforms - a new outcomes-based approach to funding and accountability:
      • designed to give providers more spending autonomy and flexibility
      • with a consultation on assessing provider performance expected this year
  • the National Skills Fund - the DfE scheme, backed by £2.5bn, which aims to:
    • support adult learners to adapt to changing skills needs and labour market conditions
    • free access for adults who have not completed a level 3 qualification access to fully-funded courses, aimed at helping to plug national skills shortages
  • Workplace Training And Development Commission Report - commissioned by the British Chambers of Commerce, calling for an overhaul of the national skills system, including through:
    • extensive business engagement at local levels
    • improving the ability of adults to retrain and upskill
    • shifting the educational focus from full qualifications to flexible, bite-sized learning
  • Lifelong Education Commission - the launch, at ResPublica, of a commission which will:
    • focus on meeting national skills needs and improving the design of post-18 education
    • come forward with recommendations on how barriers to lifelong learning can be lifted, and where investment should be targeted
  • Review of post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in England - including recent second stage consultations on level 3 and level 2 qualifications, with the DfE currently assessing how to:
    • simplify the qualifications system to provide young people clear choices and progression routes
    • reassure employers on the quality of level 3 qualifications
    • improve the use of public funding for level 3 qualifications by designating some as ‘gold standard’ options

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for the Economy, NI; the Department for Education; the DWP; the Ministry of Justice; and the Valuation Office Agency.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from schools, colleges, multi-academy trusts, businesses, careers advisors, universities, academics, industry bodies and business groups, Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities, think tanks, recruitment firms, qualification and training providers, sector skills councils, education suppliers, awarding bodies, exam boards, pupil referral units, learned societies, law firms, education consultancies, publishers, charities, teaching unions, parents groups, SEND groups, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Senior speaker confirmed from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

Sally Dicketts

President, Association of Colleges


Peter Aldous MP

Chair of APPG for Further Education and Lifelong Learning, and former Vice Chair of APPG for Sixth Form Education


Professor Kevin Orr

Professor of Work and Learning, and Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, University of Huddersfield

Robin Ghurbhurun

Managing Director, Further Education and Skills, Jisc

Tom Bewick

CEO, Federation of Awarding Bodies

Paul Warner

Director of Research and Development, Association of Employment and Learning Providers

Rebecca Garrod-Waters

Chief Executive, Ufi VocTech Trust

David Russell

Chief Executive Officer, The Education and Training Foundation

Professor Helen Higson

Professor of Higher Education, Learning and Management, Aston Business School

Michael Lemin

Head of Policy, NCFE

Graham Guest

Principal and CEO, Telford College

Alun Francis

Principal and Chief Executive, Oldham College