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Sector news, 1 - 7 December 2013

Shadow minister sets out his vision for the future of FE FE Week, 2 December 2013

The Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, chose the Association of Colleges conference as the venue for his first speech since taking on the role in early October. He used to opportunity to outline policies laid down by his party’s Skills Taskforce in its second report, entitled Transforming further education: A new mission to deliver excellence in technical education. He said it would be an “early and vital” priority of a Labour government to rebuild the careers service for young people, and raise the status and standards of vocational education. He aimed to transform apprenticeship provision in terms of quality and quantity, giving employers more control over skills standards and funding. Colleges which could demonstrate a strong performance in vocational teaching, good links with employers and high quality English and maths provision would be recognised as specialist Institutes of Technical Education, and would then be licensed to deliver the gold-standard Tech Bacc and off-the-job component of apprenticeships. Labour would require all FE lecturers to hold a teaching qualification, and ensure they held a teaching qualification at level two or above in English and maths, would allow the Education and Training Foundation to set tough minimum standards on qualification and CPD requirements for FE college teachers, and ensure teachers spent a period of time in their industry each year, developing their specialist area.

Quarter of FE loans are waiting to be processed FE Week, 2 December 2013

Just over a quarter of applications for FE loans had not been successfully processed by the end of October, new figures have revealed. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) confirmed that 52, 468 applications had been lodged seven months after 24+ advanced learning loans were first introduced, but 26 per cent, or 13,425 were not ready for payment. A further 1,212 applications had been processed, but deemed “ineligible” by the Student Loans Company (SLC). The Association of Colleges (AoC) has raised concerns with the SLC that the application system was not working as efficiently for FE learner as for higher education students. There is still a low take-up of apprenticeship loans, with just 404 applications lodged, against the forecast of 25,000. Apprentices did not have to pay anything towards their training costs before the system was introduced in April for courses starting from August, and Stewart Segal, chief executive for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, and David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, have expressed fears that the fear of paying off loans which could run into several thousand pounds was putting young people off apprenticeships. A BiS spokesperson said a close eye was being kept on the data and implications for the apprenticeship programme.

Only 404 people have applied for an apprenticeship loan: what's wrong? Guardian, 4 December 2013

In this article Stewart Segal, chief executive of AELP, looks at the fact that only 404 people aged 24 and over have applied for an apprenticeship loan since they were introduced in April, and what can be done about this. He says that the government's loan scheme now only funds up to 50 per cent of an apprenticeship programme, with the employer or learner having to fund the rest. If the same individual qualifications are taken outside of an apprenticeship programme, a loan will fund 100 per cent of the costs, so this differential is acting as a deterrent. Independent training providers also have to pay VAT at 20 per cent on funds allocated through a loan, which they did not when the programme was funded by the SFA, which is a significant factor. Functional skills also has to be paid for by the learner and employer if studied within an apprenticeship framework, but are fully funded if done outside an apprenticeship. He said the AELP wanted to ensure older learners are encouraged to progress and hope the government will act quickly.

Bottom of the class: UK literacy and numeracy standards slip down international rankings Independent, 3 December 2013

Half a million 15 year olds were tested in 65 countries, and the UK was 26th in maths and 23rd in reading. Literacy and numeracy standards in the UK have shown no improvement at all in the last three years with the result that UK 15-year-olds are now three years behind those in the world’s best education system - Shanghai in China - in maths. The results come from the 2012 PISA tests. Reasons for the failure to improve cited in the report include not targeting spending effectively. It also points out that those countries which head the league tables target getting the best qualified teachers into deprived areas more strongly. The report also echoes earlier OECD findings that the current generation of young people in the UK are not so skilled in maths and reading as their grandparents’ generation.

Employers failing the Ofsted challenge — are they fit to take over skills agenda? FE Week, 6 December 2013

This article by Chris Henwood looks at the move towards greater employer involvement in FE and skills and the fact that as employer providers have had “less than inspiring” Ofsted grades whether the wisdom of the move should be questioned. He says it might be better for companies to do their core business well, rather than thinking about developing apprenticeship frameworks or working out how to teach apprentices maths and English. At the recent Association of Colleges conference president Michele Sutton also questioned “the fitness for purpose of some large employers to be in a lead position in the new employer-led landscape” Alexander Jackman, head of policy at the Forum of Private Business, said some of the smaller employers would be able to offer something more bespoke, and that employers know best what skills gaps they have in their organisations.