Meeting Local Needs – 16 Pages of Some of the Most important Messages in the Past 20 Years

Last Friday the DFE slipped out 16 pages of draft guidance for providers on the process for the new statutory reviews of provision to meet local needs. 

Whilst I printed it off ready for a good read on Saturday evening – the football became more exciting than picking up the document. However, Sunday arrived and with a clear head, I set about reviewing it. Three reviews later and a glass of Chablis to help digest the contents – I was left with a feeling that this is probably one of the most strategic documents produced for 20 Years – A big claim you might say but let’s review some of the messages:

  • There is not one mention of PTP’s anywhere in the document – not even to them being bodies who should be consulted when undertaking such reviews. Given that many of them are local, meeting the needs of local employers – is this a simple error or something more sinister – read on!
  • The key word in the document is ‘structure’ – you could easily miss it, but it is reference in the definition of terms and briefly in the summary. Why? – because the reviews are designed to influence the structure of provision in a local area to meet the needs of local employers. The document goes on to mention that where changes to structure are required, then Governing Bodies are required to consult with ESFA (page 13).

You could easily play down the importance of what this document in saying and whilst there is much to read into it, there are always positives regarding the potential for collaboration and partnership working. 

However, what is abundantly clear is the line of travel – something I have said for many years, and which is coming to fruition with the new Bill and other activities being undertaken by the ESFA and DFE.

I cannot but conclude that private providers are being side-lined in the strategic direction of travel. Colleges will not even have to consult with providers in their area but could easily conclude there is a surplus of one type of provision in an area which confuses the local employers and the removal of such ‘duplication’ would result in an improved definition of provision – which may so happen be delivered by the College! It fails to mention that some elements of competition actually improve provision – simply by making providers more response because there is someone else competing with them – improving the quality of delivery, relevance of delivery models to employers and reinventing curriculum to meet the needs of industry and employers – removal of competition will potentially leave us with a curriculum which isn’t refreshed and dare I say a complacent attitude to meeting the needs of employers. 

PTP’s have established themselves in the market because they do respond to employer need – the percentage of all Apprenticeship delivered by PTP’s is testimony to that and this hasn’t changed – despite Ministers claiming the PTP’s ‘were stealing your lunch’ and Colleges needed to do something about it.

I have never been an advocate though of full-on competition between Colleges and PTP’s – I have always supported and indeed delivered partnership working when active in the sector. However, I do fear that ‘structural’ change will become the norm in the next 5 years – further weakening the position of many PTP’s in the sector – particularly those that operate locally and regionally and ultimately to the detriment of serving the needs of local employers and learners. 

I hope I am proven wrong, but the writing is on the wall and PTP’s must be able to respond NOW to position themselves to minimise the risks they face. 

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