Skills and Post 16 Education Bill – Reading Between the Lines

So, the much-heralded bill was read in the House yesterday. It was disappointing to see the requirement for Year 7 compulsory Career’s education not included – which is much needed, but it will clearly make an appearance as other aspects of the Bill are announced, hopefully in the very near future. 

There has been lots of commentary about the increased powers that will exist for the DFE, particularly in relation to FE Colleges in enforcing mergers, enforcing the removal of Chairs and other control measures. Whilst these powers are new, in reality they have always existed through persuasive management by the FEFC and all of its successor bodies since 1992. In reality, the only thing that has previously stopped closure of Institutions, forced mergers and other forced majeure is through Politics. Do we really honestly believe there has been only two occasions in nearly 30 years where a College should have been closed – but its not good for the Local MP if his local FE Institution is closed down. But we certainly didn’t miss North East Derbyshire since the mid 1990’s and more recently the independence of our Kent closure. It is more about determination to make it happen – in reality the mechanisms already exist and a little enforcement through primary legislation won’t make that much difference in my humble opinion.

So, amongst the negativity there are some strong positive support for Colleges. The requirement to become involved with employers in reviewing what I would summarise as the needs and requirements of their local area is a strong message and most importantly, they will be in a position to influence the outcome of those conclusions and will clearly be at the heart of the solution. Whether Colleges are best placed to establish delivery models, particularly in Apprenticeships alone is debatable and certainly worthy of a separate discussion but it all bodes well for a strengthening of the College role and a more organised approach to planning provision to meet the needs of local and indeed national employers. 

I have written in the past and commented openly to others about the future role of PTP’s in this emerging market. Here, the outlook in my view is not so rosy, especially for the majority of PTP’s who seem to bury their heads in the sand. It never ceases to amaze me about the calls I receive and lack of strategic understanding that exists in the PTP sector or indeed simply them keeping ‘their nose to the ground’ in reading the mood music. It is reminiscent of a very high-profile FE CEO in the mid 1990’s where I advised her in my former role at KPMG. She was extremely vocal on many things, but the lasting message was the one which was about reading the ‘mood music’ in the organisation she led. She always said to me ‘don’t listen to the SMT, go and talk to the junior staff in the organisation and walk the corridors and you will get the real sense of the mood music’. My one tip for owners of PTP’s is indeed to rise above the daily grind once a week and understand what is happening around you!

A Segway into what the impact is for PTP’s in my humble opinion – another register for you to all apply against, this time separate to ROATP covering all other aspects of provision. Not a surprise because it is something we recommended nine months ago but not sure why it needs primary legislation other than to use as a stick to beat people with when needed. Interestingly, the DFE will now be permitted to charge for applications, on the same day they disclose they spent £1.2m on the last ROATP refresh – it’s a pity they didn’t think more about what they were asking for resulting in literally hundreds of new providers with little or no interest in really delivering anything. 

At least the ESFA have learnt – not, because it seems 90% of the questions for the latest ROATP refresh are the same as last time; but I suspect the results will be very different. 

This week we have had numerous providers being told they are in the 1st phase of the refresh – I haven’t heard of any Colleges in those notifications though, we have had providers receiving their letters regarding a lack of enrolments indicating the proposal to remove them from ROATP (even though we have had a pandemic for the past 15 months) and numerous more PTP’s under suspension for issues with eligibility, starving them off cash so they ‘self-select’ and exit the market. 

It doesn’t leave a nice taste in the mouth and the bill doesn’t exactly give encouragement to the PTP sector from my reading of it. 

So, it’s time for the representative organisations to come forward, protest and protect the interests of the PTP sector. When I received a call last Sunday at 3.00pm from a concerned provider who was under suspension – I couldn’t help myself asking them if they had tried to make contact with AELP on the same day to which the response was a resounding no despite them paying significant subscriptions. 

So, my purpose of today’s article – the PTP sector needs to come forward united to expose the manner in which they are being treated. Doing it individually will simply get you picked off one by one, doing it collectively just might get you somewhere because I am sorry to say, the writing is on the wall for many. Such a shame given the valuable role they play supporting many millions of young people and adults across the country. But nothing surprises me anymore in this mad, mad world of education. 

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