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Devolved skills in London: an opportunity for innovation

The devolution of the adult education budget could bring about real opportunities for adults in London. From September of this year, combined authority areas across England will take direct control of adult skills funding. London will see £310 million transferred from the Education and Skills funding agency to the Greater London Authority.

The Mayor is taking the issues of skills seriously as it will be a key factor for London’s future success. But the scale of the challenges facing the capital are considerable. We are seeing the impacts of technological innovation, automation and Brexit which all threaten to profoundly disrupt London’s labour market and productivity.

Collab Group London Colleges are thinking about these issues and how we can ensure that the devolution of the adult education budget is a success. We have recently published a paper setting out our views on how we can make skills devolution work across the Capital. In this paper, we outline some of the key policy positions put forward in the Mayors “Skills for Londoners” strategy and share the views of our London Principals on the proposed arrangements.

We believe that colleges are uniquely positioned to help facilitate the transition from central to local government funding of adult skills. Colleges are civically driven, and deeply entrenched in their communities. Overall, we are supportive of the vision put forward by the Mayor, but further refinement is needed in key areas. Listening to the colleges’ expertise will be crucial to achieve optimal post-devolution arrangements because they have the front-line delivery experience to know what works.

The important part about AEB devolution is that it must be used to do something different. If devolution results in the same types of courses being delivered, just funded through alternative means, then we have wasted a great opportunity. Instead, devolution needs to be a catalyst to spurn innovation. It needs to provide the mechanism to allow employers, providers and government to work together and strategically plan for the long-term. No doubt this is happening on some level now, but devolution could provide the framework to increase collaboration between employers and providers. This innovation could be facilitated by the move to an outcomes-based model. But it will be important that these outcomes are developed in close collaboration with colleges and recognise that success can take different forms.

We also need to be clear who devolved funding is going to help. The mayor identifies eight priority areas for devolved funding which includes funding eligibility for those in low-paid work, support for disadvantaged learners and addressing London’s sectoral and occupational skills needs. Overall, we support the priority areas proposed by the Mayor, but further work is needed to understand the specific interventions that will best support these groups. Current eligibility rules for national AEB funding are restrictive and the mayor should look to loosen the criteria and expand training opportunities to more adults. A specific example might be to look at introducing flexibilities is in relation to level 2 qualifications which so often lead a returning adult student to employment or an Access course resulting in a place at University. Current rules only provide funding for full Diplomas which, for the most part, necessitate intense, full-time study over a full year. Smaller modules or Awards and Certificates which can be more tailored to individual student or employer needs do not attract funding.

The expansion of the AEB needs to have a scalable impact both at the local and regional level. This is where we support a local approach to training at the lower levels (L1-3) but a pan London approach to skills training at higher level (L4+). Providers will need to work in collaboration with the GLA to develop regional partnerships which will allow for this cross London collaboration that extends beyond the borough boundary. If this can be achieved, then devolution can represent a real opportunity for colleges to innovate and deliver provision that is better aligned with the skills needs of the capital. By working together, we can create a skills system that serves to benefit all Londoners.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of London Businness Matters.

Check out our our position paper “The devolution of the adult education budget to the GLA”:

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