Learning and Skills Policy Newsletter - September 2011

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Learning and Skills Policy Newsletter - September 2011

22 September 2011


This newsletter is intended to keep you abreast of policy developments in learning and skills as well as keeping you up-to-date on a range of union learning initiatives. If you have any suggestions about either the content or the design of the newsletter, please contact Richard Blakeley:[email protected]. The newsletter, along with policy briefings providing more information on specific areas, is available on the unionlearn website (www.unionlearn.org.uk) and also on the main TUC website (www.tuc.org.uk). You can register for email alerts on either or both of these websites.

Please note that the following acronyms are used in this newsletter for the key Government organisations covering skills: BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), DfE (Department for Education), SSCs (Sector Skills Councils), SFA (Skills Funding Agency), and UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills).

New Challenges, New Chances

Last month the government published a consultation document, New Challenges, New Chances: next steps in implementing the further education reform programme (www.bis.gov.uk/newchallenges). The government is consulting on a number of the policy measures set out in the government's skills strategy that was published last year. In brief, the full consultation covers measures designed to:

  • Provide greater freedoms and flexibilities and further reduce the burden of bureaucracy on further education and skills providers;
  • Improve the quality of teaching and learning for adults;
  • Strengthen further education and skills providers' capacity to offer training at higher education level;
  • Review and improve basic literacy and numeracy provision for adults;
  • Refocus Government support for informal adult and community learning; and
  • Introduce loans from the 2013/14 academic year providing access to advanced and higher level courses.

The TUC is submitting a response to the New Challenges, New Chances consultation and a call has gone out in TUC Mail asking affiliated unions to submit their contributions. For further information please contact Richard Blakeley ([email protected]).

The National Careers Service

The Coalition Government has recently introduced a raft of policies and funding decisions that are radically reframing the way in which careers advice and guidance work is delivered. Key elements of the new policy environment include:

  • Guidance from the Department for Education (2011) which indicates that Local Authorities no longer have a responsibility to provide universal careers services.
  • A new statutory duty for schools to 'secure that all registered pupils at school are provided with independent careers guidance during the relevant phase of their education' (though with the clarification that this can be met, minimally, through providing access to web-based or telephone services).
  • The merging of Connexions funding into the Early Intervention Grant, which is to be reduced by 10.9% to £2,212m in 2011/12 and then increased by 3.8% to £2,297m in 2012/13.
  • The development of a National Careers Service, an all-age service mainly focused on adult advice and guidance (supported by funding of £84 million from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), with its directly-funded services for young people confined to telephone and web-based services (supported by funding from the Department for Education of £4.7 million).

Apprenticeships pay survey

Unionlearn commissioned research on apprenticeship pay which revealed that the average salary for apprentices is £12,634 a year. The research was carried out by Incomes Data Services and it provides a comprehensive overview of pay, retention and training, with 289 employers contributing. Key findings included

  • private sector employers paid, on average, 17 per cent more than public sector employers
  • the subjects which attracted the highest pay had the highest rates of retention after training
  • higher-paid apprenticeships tended to have fewer women participants.

A briefing is available on the unionlearn and TUC websites: see web links.

Apprenticeships policy update

The TUC welcomed this year's increase to the apprenticeship rate to £2.60, a 4 per cent increase. And the TUC has responded positively to an announcement in the budget of additional funding for 10,000 higher apprenticeships and 40,000 places aimed at young people not in education, employment or training, and to data released in June showing that there had been over 100,000 additional adult apprenticeship starts in 2010-11.

However the TUC has continued to press the government to ensure that the pressure to achieve numerical targets does not lead to lower standards of quality. The TUC has consistently made the case that apprenticeships should be high quality, holistic career development opportunities that enable an individual to gain skills and experience by learning from experts in the workplace and gives them an opportunity to progress in their chosen field. Challenges include:

  • apprenticeship schemes that are little more than 12 week staff induction programmes
  • gender pay disparity
  • limited access to apprenticeships for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • only 8 per cent of employers currently providing apprenticeships
  • only 30 per cent of companies with 500+ staff have apprenticeship schemes: virtually all companies of that size in Germany run apprenticeship schemes.

Apprenticeship training agencies

The TUC has concerns about practice within Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATA) including

  • low pay
  • poor quality schemes with little progression or career development
  • limitations on collective bargaining, organising and recruitment
  • and the casualisation of apprenticeships as apprentices are employed as agency workers

The TUC and unionlearn have worked with a number of sector skills councils to ensure that their bids to the Growth and Investment Fund have adopted a Group Training Association Model (GTA) rather than setting up an ATA. The TUC is represented on the GTA national council, which has endorsed the TUC's Charter of Apprentices.

Apprenticeship diversity

Access to apprenticeships by people from BME communities continues to be an area of concern with the latest statistics showing that only 8 per cent of apprenticeship starts went to this group compared with a school cohort of 22 per cent. With almost half of black and minority ethnic young people out of work, education or training, it is vital that special measures are taken to help them be included in apprenticeship schemes. This is why unionlearn is working with a number of the National Apprenticeships Service's 'Diversity Pilots' which have been set up to tackle this issue.

Tom Wilson, director of unionlearn said at the Apprenticeships for All conference held on 5th September 2011 at Congress House that 'Many of the areas hit by the recent riots are also areas of high unemployment among BME youth. Too many of these young people are being shut out of the labour market. That is why we are here today to see how unions, employers, government agencies and local communities can make a special effort to get BME young people interested in quality apprenticeships.'

Young people in NEET category

The past year has witnessed a dramatic increase in youth unemployment and the number of young people that are classified as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) remains stubbornly high. Compared with the same period last year, there are now 119,000 more 19-24 year olds out of education, work and training, representing a rise of 18%. This is the biggest rise since records began in 2000.

The TUC has repeatedly highlighted the barriers to education and training faced by young people in the current economic context and the negative impact of this on their ability to achieve sustainable employment over the longer term.

The coalition government has to some extent protected pathways for young people by the continuing expansion of apprenticeships, the priority given to people under 24 in the new skills funding framework and the decision to implement the previous government's policy of raising the age of participation in education or training to 18 by 2015.

However, the TUC has criticised the government's decision to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance and to replace it with a scheme comprising a third of the funding of the EMA. An inquiry by the House of Commons Education Select Committee concluded that

  • the changes left young people unable to make informed choices about their future education and training
  • and the government's claim that 88 per cent of the money spent on EMA was a "deadweight cost" is questionable

Wolf Report

The Secretary of State for Education commissioned Professor Alison Wolf to undertake a review of vocational education for young people. The TUC welcomed the recommendation in the report that the government should prioritise the expansion of high quality apprenticeships that offer genuine career progression for young people and that policy makers should learn from best practice on apprenticeships from other European countries.

The TUC also noted that many of the recommendations in the report pose a huge challenge for many businesses, in particular the focus on quality apprenticeships and the need for employers to ensure that young apprentices are engaged in training that supports acquisition of a wider skill set and not just occupation-specific training. The government's full response to the Wolf Report, published in May, endorsed the broad thrust of her recommendations. A seminar with Alison Wolf will be held in Congress House in the Autumn of 2011.

A briefing is available on the unionlearn and TUC websites: see web links.

Green skills

The coalition government's approach to low carbon skills as part of its 'Green Economy Roadmap' has been disappointing. The TUC continues to press government for cross departmental commitment, ministerial leadership, comprehensive planning and structure, urgency, resources and a willingness to intervene where there is market failure. There are particular concerns regarding the loss of the Regional Development Agencies, the destabilised funding of Sector Skills Councils and the reduced role of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. The TUC has pressed for a skills subcommittee to the cross departmental Green Economy Council to prioritise green skills issues in government.

The Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) and unionlearn are developing a distinct agenda for trade unions as the call for green jobs and 'low carbon skills' gets louder in response to the twin challenges of economic revival and arresting climate change. Key themes for trade unions include environmental literacy, green workplaces, models of green employment (eg green apprenticeships), just transition and equality and strategic skills for the low carbon economy. Unionlearn is working to mainstream 'green skills' through its main programmes, including partnership working on green apprenticeships, awareness raising through regional ULR networks and facilitating ULF project bids from affiliates.

Unionlearn Midlands Region and Stephenson College are running the 'Skills for Greener Industries' Conference on 21st October. This conference has been organised to promote understanding of the skills implications and the job opportunities that will come through the development of a green or 'low carbon' economy. It will be suitable for people with minimal or extensive knowledge on this subject and for people living in the Midlands or wider afield. We are targeting trade unions, academic, private and public sector employers, government agencies and voluntary sector organisations. Key speakers include Tim Balcon (Chief Executive of E&U Skills and Chair of Skills for Green Economy Group), Tom Wilson (Director of Unionlearn) and Keith Marshall, OBE (Chief Executive of Summit Skills).

For further information on green skills, please contact Richard Blakeley on[email protected].

Right to request time to train

In February 2011, the government announced that the legislation would not be extended to employees working for employers of 249 and under, as had been intended in the original legislation, but the right would be retained for employees working for employers of 250 and more. This followed the results of a government review on the future of the right to request time to train which found that evidence was in short supply but highlighted that opinions on the policy were 'polarised'.

The TUC responded with the view that the government's decision was a setback for skills-driven growth strategy and a loss of an important lever needed to get more people learning at work. The government announced in July 2011 that the future of the right will be reviewed again before April 2015. Unionlearn will be consulting with affiliates regarding re-energising promotion of the right to request and conducting further research on ULR experience and attitudes towards the right.

A revised version of the guidance for ULRs concerning the right can be found at the unionlearn and TUC websites: see web links.

Skills utilisation

There is increasing interest amongst policy makers in how skills are most effectively utilised in the workplace. And increasing recognition that raising productivity and living standards is inextricably linked to the need to improve the use of skills by persuading more employers to adopt 'high involvement working practices' and incorporating a dual commitment to skills utilisation and employee engagement.

Professor Francis Green of the Institute of Education has reported on the role that unions could play in supporting better application of skills in the workplace. And unionlearn have commissioned the IPA to undertake an extensive capacity-building project to support union representatives to develop their role in this important aspect of workforce development.

For further information, please contact Iain Murray on [email protected].

UK Commission for Employment and Skills

The new focus of the Commission is increasingly to secure a much greater commitment from employers to invest in skills to drive enterprise, jobs and growth and it has established four priorities to support this overall aim:

(i) making and winning the economic case for a greater investment in skills;

(ii) enhancing the value and accessibility of vocational training, especially apprenticeships;

(iii) galvanising industries and sectors to improve the skills of their workforces; and

(iv) working with employers to maximise opportunities for unemployed and disadvantaged people.

The TUC welcomed the government's commitment to UKCES becoming 'a true vehicle for sustainable economic growth and social partnership'. There are however concerns regarding the reduced funding allocation for the Commission and sector skills councils.

The trade union members of the Commission are the TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis and STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith.

Regulation debate

In its 2011 Budget Submission the TUC called on the government to extend the use of regulatory levers to influence employer investment in skills. In order to give these policies some traction, the TUC recommended that employer and union representatives on sector skills councils should be required by government to come together to draw up a number of skills targets (e.g. the growth in the number of apprentices in sub-sectors).

If these targets were not achieved, there should be a process to trigger the introduction of regulatory measures (e.g. occupational licensing and training levies) to tackle employer under-investment in skills in a particular sub-sector or occupation.

Unionlearn is holding a conference on December 1 2011 on the subject of regulation of training, considering union experience and views on licence to practice, sectoral levies and tax relief for training. For further information and to secure your place, please contact Zoe Molyneaux ([email protected]).

Sector skills councils update

An update on sector skills councils including the relicensing process, mergers and collaborative bids for public funds is available on the unionlearn website: see web links. The Research Team will also shortly be releasing an bulletin updating unions on unionlearn's research programme.

Skills for Life

The Government announced that literacy and numeracy learning up to Level 2 would continue to be fully funded and free to learners for the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

However, the funding of literacy and numeracy will be reduced from August 2011 with the removal of the previous funding uplift for all provision (with the exception of Entry Level numeracy which has been given a higher priority). As a result of these changes one challenge for unions is that it may prove more difficult to source flexible provision with regard to literacy and the higher levels of numeracy learning.

BIS have set up a high level project board to review and reform literacy and numeracy provision and unionlearn is represented on this Board.


The coalition government announced that there will be no public funding for workplace ESOL from August 2011 and the government's expectation is that employers will now pay for this.

Fully funded ESOL provision is being directed to people in 'settled' communities who are in receipt of 'active benefits' - Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance (Work Related Activity Group). However, due to lobbying by a range of stakeholders, the government has given some concessions and agreed that colleges will now have 'some local discretion to provide fully subsidised courses for people on a wider range of benefits - provided the training is to help them enter employment' (BIS Press Release, 9/8/11).

BIS published an equality impact assessment of the ESOL changes in July of this year and this stated that they 'may have a disproportionate impact on some groups or sub-groups of learners.' At the same time DBIS announced that the planned policy approach on ESOL would remain in place, but that it would work in partnership with the Department for Communities and Local Government 'on developing new forms of support for those who need informal, community-based learning of English.'

The TUC is campaigning with unions, particularly UCU, and other organisations against the cuts to ESOL.

Informal Adult Community Learning

The coalition government have preserved the level of funding for Informal and Adult Community Learning (IACL) throughout the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review. This amounts to £210 million per annum under the Safeguarded Learning Budget.

The government asked NIACE to lead a consultation exercise on how effectively this £210 million reaches those who need this kind of learning the most and also to make recommendations in the context of the aims of the 'Big Society' policy picture. Unionlearn are seen as a trusted partner and have been closely involved in the consultation, emphasising the crucial role of union learning reps and their understanding of where IACL is most needed.

Pathways to higher learning

Since funding for organisations like fdf, Aimhigher and Lifelong Learning Networks has come to an end, unionlearn has now become a major organisation for working people looking for advice on getting access to higher level skills.

Unionlearn has a strategic agreement with the Open University who offer discounts on their fees for union members to take this forward. Regional projects have also been set up to work with universities to make local opportunities more accessible for union members.

Unionlearn is developing a Higher Learning at Work microsite, a one-stop shop for working adults wanting to find out about higher learning. And a new Progression pathways guide for union reps has also been produced. This new publication is an additional resource for reps about their own development and progression through their work in supporting union learners.

Please refer to the unionlearn website for further information: see web links.

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