Nuclear Skills Strategy Group

21 Jan 2021

Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity & Growth


The Further Education White Paper January 2021

The Government has published a White Paper setting out plans and reforms to Further Education, Technical Education, Apprenticeships and related programmes in England.

The stated aim of the plans is to rebalance technical and academic education, on the basis that reforms over the past few decades have favoured the latter at the expense of skills gaps across sectors of the economy. Evidence shows that the current funding system disincentivises providers away from high value qualifications that employers need. The paper recognises particular gaps in technicians, engineers and healthcare workers. Employer leadership remains at the centre of the system, and there is a recognition that the quality of labour market information needs to be improved.

The paper’s priorities include:

  • Putting employers at the heart of the system so that education and training leads to jobs that can improve productivity and fill skills gaps.
  • Investing in higher-level technical qualifications that provide a valuable alternative to a university degree.
  • Making sure people can access training and learning flexibly throughout their lives and are well-informed about what is on offer through great careers support.
  • Reforming funding and accountability for providers to simplify how funds are allocated, give providers more autonomy, and ensure an effective accountability regime which delivers value for money.
  • Supporting excellent teaching in further education.

A number of the reforms build upon previous consultations and announcements, including the funding system and qualification approval proposals where the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group and the Standards Advisory Group have already contributed to consultations.

1. National Skills Fund and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee

The paper starts to put some flesh on the bones of last year’s announcement. Further detail on how the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund will be subject to consultation at a later date.

From April 2021, all adults will be entitled to fully-funded provision for their first technical Level 3 qualification.

From 2025, everyone will be entitled to 4 years of post-18 education – with the intention that loans for higher technical education will be as easy as for university students. This will be funded from the National Skills Fund.

2. Labour Market Intelligence

All elements of the system will rely on information under the auspices of the Skills & Productivity Board set up in November last year. Employers, providers and Local Skills Improvement Plans will all be able to draw upon this to inform their plans.

3. Local Skills Improvement Plans

Employers, colleges, providers and other local stakeholders will set out the key changes needed to make technical skills training more responsive to employers’ skills needs in a particular area. These will build on the work of existing Skills Advisory Panels. Where appropriate, these will be led by Chambers of Commerce along similar lines to German and Dutch systems.

4. Employer-led Standards

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will expand its plans to align all technical education to employer-led occupational Standards. This approach uses Apprenticeship Standards as the template, and intends to apply to almost all technical provision at Level 3 and above by 2030.

5. Funding and governance reform

The system will improve incentives to match technical education to employer needs, including:

Reforming technical education at Levels 4&5 to align with employer-led Standards as already proposed at Level 3.

Simplified, outcome-based funding, potentially on multi-year allocations to allow longer term provider planning

Strengthened rules on governance, subcontracting and government intervention powers

Implementing value for money reforms to apprenticeship funding, as per previous consultation.

6. Apprenticeship funding

The reforms include some issues explored and suggested by NSSG, and include:

  • Retention of the 95% funding for non-Levy employers
  • Testing sectoral multi-employer apprenticeship schemes where employment patterns are not stable
  • A national Apprenticeship Levy transfer matching service
  • More flexibility for front-loaded training in apprenticeships
  • Clearer systems for recognising prior learning from work experience, T Levels, and the Bootcamps initiative, to shorten apprenticeship duration where appropriate
  • Enhanced Apprenticeship certificates and graduation ceremonies, to improve their status along the lines of academic qualifications

7. Quality of provision

There will be new quality assurance arrangements for Higher Technical Education from 2025, aligning the work of the Office for Students and Ofsted.

A new national recruitment campaign for teaching staff in technical education is announced, as well as plans to strengthen their professional development and align it to employer-led Standards. There will be a new Workforce Industry Exchange Programme to improve the industry relevance of teachers’ knowledge.

8. Progression

There will be a specific focus on progression routes, including a requirement to address these specifically in all Standards, Apprenticeships and qualifications design.

The Careers Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service will be more closely aligned, included revamped information to young people through their websites.

Further details of the implementation of these plans will be subject to consultation later, and there should be further clarity when the multi-year Comprehensive Spending Review is published later in the year.

Read the full document.

Highlights