‘A Revolution for Skills’ – A Different View of the White Paper

We saw the publication of the much anticipated White Paper last week, apparently the ESFA ‘A’ Team transferred to the DFE to put it together, some of the best brains in the industry involved and 73 pages. 

People were genuinely expecting something exciting – a White Paper that sets the scene for 2030 and beyond, re-establishing our Skills System to help the Economy rebuild and to revolutionise skills – Not my words ! At its heart. 

Now COVID and BREXIT can be blamed for many things, but lacking ambition is not one of them, nor is it that the spending review may only provide for a one year settlement. Challenging that itself would be a good starting point to plan for the importance of reskilling the workforce and preparing our young people for work.

Whilst there have been words of welcome support for the limited proposals in the document – and you could argue there is not much to argue about – is this the best we could do?

For me, I don’t think so. I can read between the lines – put simply Colleges will become significantly more powerful and I welcome that – but that doesn’t mean they have to deliver everything themselves, something they have never been good at determining what their core mission is all about. Recent and emerging tenders tell you that the direction of travel will be in favour of Colleges and the u – turn on sub-contracting so apparent in the paper is a further indication along this pathway. So PARTNERSHIP working will be key to realise the vision but expect control over who can deliver what in each City, County or Conurbation and the implications for that. 

Putting employers at the heart of the agenda is nothing new. However, policy makers fail to remember that employers have their own core businesses to run – more so than ever before and the private sector gets frustrated with the pace of change or lack of it. There are some obvious names within employers who appear regularly but none of them sit on the main boards, lack any real strategic influence and therefore their impact, however well-intentioned is limited. The levy is a classic example of this – nearly five years on and still not embedded into the heart of L&D strategies for many businesses – because it is not discussed at the Top Table in Boardrooms across the Country.

But whilst, for me lack of ambition or ‘cut and paste’ has been commented on about the White Paper, there is one area where my eyes opened and my attention was turned. Nine Paragraphs over three pages on Careers Advice and Support was welcome news, particularly the ambition to expand careers advice from Year 7 of a child’s education journey. Recognising careers advice needs to start earlier is something I have been talking about for over 30 years and hopefully my Grandchildren will benefit, if not my own Children. Unfortunately, omitting the important role of parents in this decision making process was lost. 

Finally, I have spent the past 12 months involved in Ed Tech – one of the fastest growing Global Investment areas with Amazon, Google and many others investing £100bn’s into the opportunities that arise. 

The White Paper seriously neglects the pace of change that is happening right now and will be with us all in the next 3 years, not just for Adults but for every educator, Institution, Pupil, Apprentice and Provider in the sector. Whilst acknowledging the critical role that Colleges must play within their local economies, and that employers must be at the heart of the agenda – remember that time does not wait and a lack of ambition often leaves you left on the substitute’s bench – Remember Debenhams!

It’s time for us to have some real ambition, develop effective partnerships between Colleges and other providers and embrace fully what is about to hit us!

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