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Sector news, 10 - 23 May 2015

'Rapid' decline in staff well-being, poll finds TES, 15 May 2015

Stress levels among further education staff have risen dramatically in the past two years, a survey published today revealed. Frequent institutional change and unacceptable working demands are being blamed for the shift. The poll of 2,250 members of the University and College Union (UCU) found that stressful working environments were taking their toll on staff in the FE sector, with many reporting high levels of psychological distress and exhaustion. Some 62 per cent of respondents to the online survey say they often or always experience unacceptable levels of stress. This compares with 45 per cent in 2012 and 40 per cent in 2008.

Nick Boles reappointed as skills minister TES, 11 May 2015

Nick Boles was reappointed as minister for FE and skills, with additional responsibilities for trade union and employment law. The former planning minister took over the brief, split between the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, last year. The news came as trade unionists claimed that the futures of many colleges were threatened by further and adult education funding cuts planned by the incoming Tory government. In an open letter sent to TES, leading members of the University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students say they are “fearful for the future of post-16 education” after the Conservative victory in last week’s general election. The department’s new secretary of state – Sajid Javid, former Conservative culture secretary – was also announced today.

Improve prison education to cut crime, government urged TES, 18 May 2015

Improving prison education will help to cut crime and reduce the cost of reoffending, according to campaigners. The Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA), which represents 23 organisations including the Association of Colleges, the Open University and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, has urged ministers to give education a greater priority in prisons to help reduce the cost of repeat offending, which is estimated to be between £9 billion to £13 billion a year. The group wants the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) contracts, which are due for renewal this summer, to be extended for another year to avoid the cost and disruption of re-procurement. It also says the contracts should include more flexibility so that prisons can meet a wider range of learning needs. People with qualifications are 15 per cent less likely to commit crime after leaving prison, according to data from the Ministry of Justice.

Fall in number of young people not in education, employment or training FE Week, 21 May 2015

Latest official figures have shown the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet) in the UK during the first three months of this year was the lowest of any quarter in the last five years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) report said that there were 943,000 16 to 24-year-old Neets during this period — down 20,000 (2 per cent) from October to December 2014 and 45,000 (5 per cent) from January to March last year. It meant that 13 per cent of the total number of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK were Neet, which was the lowest figure in any quarter-period over the last five years, according to the ONS. Skills Minister Nick Boles said the figures showed the Conservatives’ economic plan was working. Chris Jones, chief executive of City & Guilds, said there was a long way to go to stop people slipping through the cracks, and one of the best ways to do that was by improving careers advice.

Race is on for 3m apprenticeships FE Week, 15 May 2015

The creation of three million apprenticeships by 2020 is a “significant challenge” that can only be achieved with more funding and employer engagement, sector leaders have said. The Conservatives made the target a central plank of their General Election manifesto. However, it would require a huge increase on the 2,208,100 apprenticeship starts over the five academic years from 2009/10 to 2013/14. FE Week said there were still concerns over whether there would be sufficient funding, improvements to schools’ careers guidance on apprenticeships, and interest among small and medium-sized enterprises to produce the extra starts. Dr Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “Securing such an increase will rely on gaining much more buy-in from the employer community and that, in turn, is about making sure employers can see the value of engaging with skills training.” Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said there would need to be “improved careers guidance in schools and for adults, a streamlined system of contracting and funding that gives providers and employers greater certainty over planning, and a more considered approach to apprenticeship reform”.

FE leaders welcome new Business Secretary Javid’s ‘experience’ of sector FE Week, 11 May 2015

Sector leaders have welcomed Sajid Javid’s “experience” of FE after David Cameron announced he would take over as Business Secretary. The Bromsgrove MP is a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to ex-Skills Minister John Hayes who has served in two Treasury positions and as Culture Secretary since his election in 2010. His appointment was welcomed by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and Association of Colleges (AoC).