How can Levelling Up help tackle the UK’s skills shortage?

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK hard – in London alone, unemployment rose to 7% in 2021. Through Levelling up and the skills agenda, the Government have announced a range of initiatives to help the UK recover, supporting people to up-skill and re-skill in the changing job market.

In light of the cost-of-living crisis, the talent-drain that has resulted from the UK’s departure from the EU’s single market and the after-effects on labour markets of the COVID-19 pandemic, boosting Britain’s skills is more important now than ever before. According to research by the accountancy firm BDO, some 26% of businesses say that finding staff with the right skills will be their biggest challenge over the coming months.

Levelling up can play a useful role in this process. Although it’s often categorised as a regional, ‘not in London or the south east’ issue, our experience as London’s largest group of further education colleges tells us that it doesn’t matter where ‘under-skilled’ people live – their needs, and the challenges that they face, are similar. Without key skills (be they, for example, basic literacy and numeracy; digital skills; or even more advanced technical skills to gain work in high-tech industries or the green economy), thousands of people face being left behind, excluded from the workforce and with only a lifetime of poorly paid and insecure work to look forward to.

What is Levelling up?

The Levelling up White Paper, released in February 2022, sets out how the Government plan to spread opportunity throughout the UK. While it is important to challenge geographical inequality in tackling the imbalance we see within the UK, the Government’s Levelling up plans do not take into account the fact that poverty and lack of opportunity is found even in wealthy areas.

The White Paper promises a “moral, social and economic” programme for the Government to follow, to improve opportunities and productivity for many parts of the country, but it does not address the needs of Londoners. London is used in the White Paper as a place of comparison – one with high levels of economic and social standards. Although this is true to a degree, many Londoners live (and learn) in some of the country’s most deprived areas – and this cannot be ignored. So, as well as improving regional inequality, levelling up must also help the most disadvantaged communities within our major cities and towns.

Cost-of-living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis, like Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic before it, highlights again just how important skills are for the people of this country and, if anything, makes the need and demand for new skills even more urgent. With rises in the cost-of-living and a predicted recession on the horizon, more people will lose their jobs and will need to re-skill or up-skill to gain sustainable employment. No community will go untouched.

So what’s to be done?

As well as their Levelling up White Paper, the Government have launched a range of ideas and initiatives in the last 18 months, including Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). Enshrined in law in the 2022 Skills and Post-16 Education Act, LSIPs are coalitions of education providers, local/mayoral authorities, local businesses and business groups, and other local stakeholders, which will set out the key priorities and changes needed in a local area to allow local post-16 technical education and training provision to be more responsive to the changing needs of the local labour market.

The Government are expecting the roll out of LSIPs to have concluded by 2023 and have set aside £20.9 million for 38 areas including 10 mayoral combined authorities, the Greater London Authority and 27 local enterprise partnership areas. We will see in the next year how these developments progress and if they succeed in helping local businesses fill their skills gaps.

Supporting Further Education colleges to plug the nation’s skills gaps

As London’s largest further education college group, Capital City College Group know the vital role that colleges play in re-skilling and up-skilling their students and the positive impact that this has on their communities, as well as the key role that employers play in our students’ success. We already have strong partnerships with well over 900 employers every year, both through our delivery of apprenticeships and through work placements, paid internships and other activities. We fully intend to work in, or with, London’s Local Skills Improvement Plan, to ensure that the skills we teach are in tune with the needs of London’s labour market – and so that our, and our students’, voices can be heard.

While these recent initiatives are welcome, further education colleges have long been an after-thought for Governments, falling behind schools and Higher Education, both in respect and funding. If the Government is committed in their pledge to level-up the country and improve skills, they must acknowledge further education colleges as a key partner in the delivery of these vital skills and fund the sector accordingly.

Stay-tuned: Party Conferences

In September and October, we will be hosting breakfast events at both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences, where we will continue these discussions, as well as exploring the role of apprenticeships in Levelling up. In partnership with BusinessLDN (previously London First), we have invited key political and sector stakeholders to join us, to share their views on Levelling up and the skills agenda. Keep updated with developments and discussions here, and on our Twitter and LinkedIn feeds.

The SEND Review: Why can’t the Government get it right?

The Government’s SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper and subsequent consultation, published in March 2022, are a missed opportunity for improving SEND and Alternative Provision.

The proposals are quite vague, but the fundamental problem with them is that they are more focused on changing the current system for children, young people and their families.

On the face of it, that may seem like a good idea, but as we see it, the current system is not the problem – it’s how it is implemented that is our main concern.

For example, the Green Paper makes proposals for developing new national standards to ensure improved outcomes and experience for children and young people. However, there is already a clear national SEND framework in place. The problem is local authorities do not fulfil their legal duties in providing the adequate support and assistance required of them. What difference will a new national standard structure make, where many local authorities already struggle to deliver the current one? How will they be held accountable for their failures to prevent thousands of families who are forced to go to tribunal every year?

We have 3,239 (10.8%) students aged 16 plus with SEND, with 600 learners with an education health and care plan (EHCP), and we’re proud of our provision. We work with 35 local authorities, which refer young people with SEND to us. The quality of the EHCPs that we get from local authorities – which are a vital component of their referrals – varies. Some of them are great, while others are less so. So, we know that accountability is key to improving the SEND system. What we need is an accountability framework which will force a change in local authorities. The Green Paper’s acknowledgment of accountability is poor at best – of the 22 questions in the consultation, not one addresses accountability. It also fails to offer ideas for what additional measures need to be put in place to ensure the accountability procedure is sound.

There are a range of ways that local authorities can be measured and held accountable for how they support children and young people with SEND in their areas, but the Government are looking to providers for ideas. Will Quince MP, Minister for Children and Families, has admitted that the Government must improve accountability but urged responders of the consultation to push him further on this and suggest additional approaches.

Clarity and consistency are essential – the SEND system will never work unless all local authorities deliver their legal duty. What we need is a cultural change; from teachers and local authorities to the general public, and that starts with the Government. Attitudes to SEND must change to ensure that there is a universal understanding of the lived experience of people with SEND so that their needs can be properly met.

The Green Paper also proposes a national banding system to education provision and its funding, but the proposal is incomplete and doesn’t go far enough. What about those students with the most complex and multiple needs, how will their requirements fit within a banding system? Care needs to be taken to ensure that any national banding and tariff system is flexible and does not cap support for children and young people with the most complex needs. The name says it all – ‘special educational needs’ – it is special. It is unique. It is individualised. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

The Green Paper discusses supported internships. These help SEND students into work and we think they are really valuable, as long as they are properly run and managed. We run fully-funded supported internships with good quality employers (read about supported intern Otis Smith here.), where SEND students get support from a job coach – this is a very good model for employers to follow and would help more SEND students make a successful transition from college to work.

However, not enough people with SEND benefit from a supported internship. Employers can claim £1,000 for taking on an apprentice, but nothing for a supported intern, so, to make supported internships more popular, we think that employers should be similarly rewarded.

The purpose of the SEND system is to ensure that children and young people with SEND are prepared for adulthood, – the Green Paper is too school-centric and as a further education college group this raises significant concern. In the 100-plus page document, only 2 pages mention further education and the preparation of children and young people for adulthood. This is disappointing as the country’s colleges play an important role supporting 16-25-year-olds with SEND and helping many get ready for the world of work.

Further education has long struggled with a lack of funding relative to schools, but they must be given the same backing and investment as schools to ensure they can best meet the needs of all their students, especially those with SEND.

Many further education colleges also run alternative provision, educating school-age children who would otherwise be excluded from school or be in a pupil referral unit. We feel that its focus should be on attempting to understand why a child cannot stay in a mainstream school, rather than managing behaviour which may have been as a result of their SEND needs not being met. We strongly feel that no child should be excluded or moved to alterative provision without first having a full education health and care assessment of their needs and the right provision made for them.

We feel that this would significantly reduce the number of exclusions from school, because those students – with an EHC assessment of their needs – would instead be able to receive the funding and support they need to remain in a mainstream setting. This is a stated aim of the Green Paper.

But as with many elements of current SEND provision, the primary challenge to alternative provision is that the frameworks in place are not being consistently monitored and adhered to. Any new frameworks must be rolled out nationally and supported by a monitoring and measurement regime which holds local authorities and providers to account.

It’s this measurement, monitoring and accountability – and how it is implemented – which hold the key to SEND success. Rather than the Government attempting to cover the cracks of the system, they need to address the root causes of the issues – particularly better monitoring and accountability, and the need for better and earlier intervention. These will only be achieved if local authorities and health care professionals and schools have the necessary knowledge and resources.

Ultimately the Green Paper leaves more questions unanswered than answered. We hope the Government listen to children and young people with SEND and their families, to understand what they need from the system, and not just use these reforms as a way to cut costs and continue to let down those who need it most.

See Capital City College Group’s response to the SEND and Alternative Provisions Green Paper here.

CCCT and CONEL highly commended in Women into Construction awards

Capital City College Training (CCCT) and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) have been highly commended in three Women into Construction awards.

Both education providers were named runners up in the Partners with Purpose Award, for their work running a five-week programme to help women find on and offsite jobs in the industry.

Jasmine Anthony, 39, from Islington, who undertook the Women into Construction programme with CCCT in August 2020 was also highly commended in the Women’s Champion of the Year Award.

Rutuba Zala, Delivery Manager for Adult Education, and Shiv Emmimath, Head of Employability and Trade Union Education, collected the awards on behalf of CCCT and CONEL respectively.

Rutuba said: “We always look to go the extra mile to help people realise their dreams regardless of their background, race or gender. Women into Construction is a perfect example of this, which has helped give many women the opportunity to enter the industry and start new careers.

“This programme enables women, who otherwise would not get the opportunity, to pursue and acquire skill that  set them up for success in an industry where women are still under-represented.

“Women make up just 11 per cent of the construction workforce in the UK, but this number is only set to rise with more women gaining the skills they need to progress in the industry.

“CCCT is a very proud partner of Women into Construction, to help bring about this change.”

Shiv added: “We’re delighted to be highly commended by Women into Construction. At CONEL we’re committed to working with developers and contractors to support women from our communities to get the skills and support they need and help change the face of construction by getting more women into the sector.

“The programmes we’ve delivered for Women into Construction are a fantastic way to help improve women’s job prospects and for employers to find new workers with each programme, aligned to actual job vacancies.

“Women on these programmes are fully supported with skills training and given the opportunity to spend valuable work experience on sites with different employers with a range of vacancies.

“In this way, we have been able to shape our programmes to deliver a positive impact on women going into this sector. We’re very pleased to be recognised for the work we have done.”

The Women into Construction programme includes 15 days’ work-focused training followed by two weeks’ work experience.

This includes five days’ construction-related training leading to a Level 1 Health and Safety Level 1 Diploma and a CSCS card test which they need to pass to work on site. The women also receive support with overcoming barriers to employment, writing CVs and interview skills.

Jasmine began working as an electrician for BW Electrical Contractors after impressing on her placement at a 1,000-home development in Bromley-by-Bow being built by Henry Construction.

At the time, she said: “Working as an electrician was always something I had a passion to do, but I never saw it through until now. I didn’t think I would be able to do it, but the programme gave me the confidence I needed. When I was told I’d got a job, I couldn’t stop smiling. I didn’t think it would happen so quicky.”

Jasmine added that she had been “treated with a lot of respect” by her male colleagues and urged women not to hold back and to join the programme.

The awards were presented at Women into Construction’s Celebration Event attended by 200 guests at Carpenters’ Hall in the City on 15 June.

Women into Construction has now supported more than 1,000 women into jobs.

Find out more about the Women into Construction here.

Apply for Construction and Plumbing courses at CONEL here.