Education Committee’s report: A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution, House of Commons, Thursday 15 April 2021

We welcome the recommendation of an ambitious, long-term strategy for adult skills and lifelong learning and that local authorities are awarded powers and funding to take on an enhanced statutory role for mapping, commissioning and delivery.


Key messages

  • The Education Committee’s report ‘A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution’ rightly recognised providers of adult and community learning as ‘the jewel in the crown of the nation’s adult education landscape’. 

  • We welcome the recommendation of an ambitious, long-term strategy for adult skills and lifelong learning and that local authorities are awarded powers and funding to take on an enhanced statutory role for mapping, commissioning and delivery. 

  • Even before COVID-19, the LGA was concerned about the decline in national participation in adult learning. Across England, nine million adults lack functional literacy and numeracy skills, and over the last decade, adult learner numbers fell by 3.8 million. The poorest adults are often the least likely to access training.  

  • COVID-19 has significantly changed the economy and job market and once furlough ends in September 2021, we will have a clearer picture of unemployment levels. It is critical that good careers advice and guidance, with strong local labour market intelligence, is available for people of all ages. Steps should be taken to join up support at the national and local level and target skills investment to meet the needs of communities and local economies. 

  • There are around thirteen million adults without a Level 2 qualification (equivalent to GCSE). Previous research for the LGA suggests that the less qualified someone is, the more vulnerable they will be to job loss, and the harder they will find it to secure work.  

  • As leaders of place, local government understands the needs of businesses and communities, and is best placed to identify, engage with and incentivise adults to learn and retrain, and coordinate an integrated, comprehensive skills and training offer tailored to communities’ needs. 

  • The LGA’s Work Local model provides a framework for an integrated and devolved employment and skills system that is fit for the future. This should be used as a blueprint for skills and employment devolution that works for all people and places. We are calling on the Government to back and fund the trialling of the Work Local model.  

  • To date the Adult Education Budget (AEB) has been vital in funding adult skills support and should, as a minimum, be restored to its 2010 levels (from £1.5 to £3 billion) and fully devolved to local government to create a skills service that is fit to meet current challenges. 

Work Local

  • There is a need for an integrated skills system that can quickly and easily align job creation and employability measures, and identify and address skills gaps and shortages. Work Local, the LGA’s vision for a devolved and integrated skills service, sets out a blueprint to bring together information, advice and guidance services alongside the delivery of employment, skills, apprenticeships and training to meet the needs of individuals and employers.  

  • At present, central government departments and their agencies are directly responsible for employment and skills policy, design, funding and oversight. 20 employment and skills funding streams are managed by eight departments and agencies, spending more than £10 billion a year on services, including Jobcentre Plus, the National Careers Service, and the Education and Skills Funding Agency. There is no unifying plan for their work or a duty to discuss with councils how services will operate in their local areas. Equally, local areas have little ability to influence their priorities, funding or delivery to adapt national policies to the needs of communities.  

  • There are clear benefits from national and local government combining resources and expertise to deliver the recovery our people and places deserve. Work Local could for a medium sized combined authority lead to an additional 8,500 people leaving benefits, and 5,700 people increasing their qualifications. This would be associated with additional fiscal benefits for a local area of £280 million per year, with a benefit to the economy of £420 million.  

  • The LGA welcomes the Education Committee report which said that whilst ‘it is too early to assess the long-term impact of devolution on adult skills and lifelong learning outcomes, the evidence we received sets out an encouraging picture of Mayoral Combined Authorities swiftly devising and implementing evidence-led strategies for boosting skills and lifelong learning’. 

  • As democratically elected leaders and place shapers, local government has shown extraordinary capability to lead our communities through the COVID-19 crisis and has been trusted to support businesses and residents, for example, through local redundancy taskforces. To support people displaced from the labour market and needing to find work and reskill, we need all hands to the pump to align job creation and employability measures, so no community is left behind. 

  • As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, and looking ahead to the Devolution White Paper, the Government should back and fund the trialling of the LGA’s Work Local’ model. Further devolution of powers and funding is crucial in order for places to truly ‘level up’ and ensure no one is left behind.  

Funding for adult skills

  • The Education Select Committee rightly recognised in its adult skills and lifelong learning inquiry that Adult Community Learning (ACL) providers are ‘the jewel in the crown of the nation’s adult education landscape,’ recommending there should be a community learning centre in every town.  The LGA guide Learning for Life further sets out the role of adult community education in creating thriving communities. 

  • The Education Committee’s inquiry recognised that funding for ACL services is outdated, that funding should be reviewed and that a longer-term funding settlement is needed. This is consistent with our own discussions with council ACL providers. More funding is needed to support adults to achieve a Level 2 qualification, as the least qualified someone is, the more likely they are to experience job loss, and the harder they will find it to secure work. Local adult community settings are well placed to support this.  

  • Action to create a comprehensive, integrated accessible adult skills offer must be matched with adequate funding. Funding for adult skills mainly comes from the £1.5 billion annual Adult Education Budget (AEB). Following the gradual devolution of the AEB to Mayoral Combined Authorities beginning in 2019, around half of the AEB is now devolved, and the other half administered by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). AEB should as a minimum be restored to its 2010 levels (from £1.5 to £3 billion) and fully devolved to local government to provide services that are tailored to communities’ needs. 

  • It is vital that adults can access training to help them change job or sector. We previously welcomed National Skills Fund support for adults to achieve their first full advanced (level 3) qualification in certain sectors with high demand for skills. We recommend that local flexibility is applied so that it can be extended for those already qualified to Level 3 but who have been furloughed, need to retrain or are out of work. We would also like to see this expanded to support people who lack a Level 2 qualification.  

  • As access to the European Social Fund will soon cease, continuation of this funding will be vital in upskilling and reskilling adults across the UK. We welcome that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) will be localised, as will Community Renewal Fund pilots that precede it, and that employability will be a key strand of both, but we need to see the detailed criteria for this funding. 

Plan for Jobs

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the job market, and the introduction of recent schemes to support people to upskill, retrain and find work are important, including the Government’s Plan’s for Jobs initiatives such as the Kickstart and Restart Schemes, Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the introduction of additional traineeships and flexi-apprenticeships.  

  • With adequate resourcing and powers, and an opportunity to work in partnership with national government and others at the earliest stage of these national schemes, councils would work to ensure these initiatives are joined-up and meet the needs of communities.  

Apprenticeships

  • Last month’s Budget included increases in existing employer incentives to take on more apprentices of all ages, and a six-month additional extension of these incentives until September 2021. As some ‘lockdown’ restrictions are expected to remain in place until at least June, the Government should extend employer incentives to at least March 2022 so that employers can take full advantage once restrictions are lifted. 
     
  • The flexi-apprenticeship approach enabling people to move between employers in specific sectors will have a positive impact on broadening adult training opportunities and we believe this should have wider application beyond a few target sectors. Local government, with the right resources, could take responsibility for effectively co-ordinating placements across a local area.  

  • A more strategic, place-based approach to apprenticeship policy is needed to allow local government to help businesses take on local people and maximise recovery efforts. We are recommending the Government: 

    • Empower local government to align apprenticeship activity to local skills strategies to target sectors; address local supply and demand side issues, and widen participation to disadvantaged groups and specific cohorts; 

    • Enable employers to collaborate more easily to transfer and pool funds, and offer a levy payment holiday (up to six months) for employers who are struggling with cashflow; 

    • Allow a proportion of the Levy funding to be used to subsidise apprentices’ wages and administration costs; 

    • Extend the two-year expiry date for levy funds to support employers that have been unable to create as many apprenticeships as planned during the pandemic to create new placements; 

    • Work with local government to co-design unspent Levy and non-Levy funding. 

Further Education White Paper

  • The ‘Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth’ White Paper aims to put employers at the heart of post-16 skills. It proposes the establishment of new Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs), to be developed between employers, Further Education (FE) colleges, other providers and local stakeholders to shape technical skill provision to local labour market needs. Trailblazer areas, due to be announced in Spring 2021, will pilot how LSIPs can be put into action and will be led by accredited Chambers of Commerce and others 

  • Further education will play a vital role in our path to local and national recovery, and help level up communities across the country. There is a clear need for a focus on developing the skills required for existing and new jobs. However, the benefits of gaining skills for life are also vital to the social and economic outcomes of individuals and communities, which has limited reference within the White Paper.  

  • Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach to the structure of LSIPs, a flexible approach should be taken, working with existing local partnerships that work best for the needs of different local areas. There must be a strong role for local government in providing a local strategic and democratic link to planning, delivery and accountability of post 16 skills provision and outcomes through the LSIPs.

  • The scope of the LSIP – both the ‘local’ spatial level of it, and the funding streams covered by it – are still to be determined. Mayoral Combined Authorities should be afforded a clear and strong role in developing the Further Education offer across their local area. In areas not covered by devolution, Chambers of Commerce and local government should work across functional economic areas to pilot new ways of working.  

  • The LGA has called for a more place-based strategy to education, employment and skills that brings together employers, Further Education (FE) and training providers, democratic local government (councils and Mayoral Combined Authorities) and other sector representatives to ensure provision genuinely meets local needs. Local government is the only constant in these partnerships, and it would be an opportunity missed not to involve them in LSIP development.  

  • The Government has also announced a £1.5 billion Further Education Capital Transformation Fund to address under-investment in the FE estate, improve its condition, and allow providers to meet employers’ skills needs. Local government, as place shapers, conveners of local partners, and with statutory duties for post 16 planning, should be the Government’s natural partner in supporting Department for Education (DfE) target this capital investment locally. Future allocations of capital funding should be opened out to all FE providers including adult and community learning providers (ACL) including those directly run or commissioned by councils, plus Independent Training Providers (ITPs).