One of the final pieces of legislation to pass as the current Parliamentary session ended last week (April 2022) was the Skills and Post-16 Education bill.
The bill gives a statutory footing to a number of ideas introduced by the White Paper published by former Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, in January 2021, and as has been taken on by his successor, Nadim Zahawi.
The government believes that the Act will “transform the skills, training and post-16 education landscape and level up opportunities across the country”, although the passage of the bill through Parliament was far from smooth. In particular, the government was forced to agree a 12 month extension to funding for BTECs, whose withdrawal and replacement by T-Levels remains contentious for the sector.
The flagship policy of the White Paper, and as had previously been trailed by the government, is their “lifelong loan entitlement”, providing access to funding for up to four years of post-18 training, designed to enhance and “level-up” skills education. However, while there is now a statutory basis to the policy, the detail remains out for consultation, and the ability to access loans is unlikely to take effect before 2025.
The White Paper had a focus on skills education meeting local employment needs, and this is reflected in the new Act both through the development of the concept of “local skills improvement plans” and the requirement on college governing bodies to review and publish how their education and training offer is meeting local skills needs.
However, while the passing of the Act, and the government’s increased focus on the FE sector as part of the “levelling up” agenda, will be welcomed, the question of funding remains, with the sector still facing a significant gap in real terms funding as compared to 2010.
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