ECA response to document

BIS has released its strategy document in response to the Skills for Sustainable Growth consultation. It sets out the Government’s vision for reform of the further education and skills system to improve the skills of the workforce, the performance of the economy and engagement in learning.

The ECA are pleased to note that ideas they put forward in their consultation response have been included within the new strategy.

In the introduction to its document the Association pointed out that the consultation did not seem to address the need for learning around and raising levels of environmental awareness, both the raising of skills needed in a ‘green technology’ job market and those needed to face the enduring challenges of resource depletion and environmental change by all the population. The Government document stressed the need for deficit reduction and the need to focus on the greatest social and economic benefits for employers and individuals but without addressing the wider contexts for and meanings of ‘sustainability’.

Contained in the released strategy document are the following statements: -

“Skills have the potential to transform lives by transforming life chances and driving social mobility. Having higher skills also enables people to play a fuller part in society, making it more cohesive, more environmentally friendly, more tolerant and more engaged”

When talking about apprenticeships it says, “they bring together individuals, motivated and working hard to develop themselves; employers, investing in their own success but supporting a programme with wider social, environmental and economic value”

The Association is glad to see that environmental awareness, the ‘green agenda’, is now located within the strategy but would like to have seen it addressed in more detail.

Another point raised within the introduction to ECA’s submission was that while acknowledging that government departments other than BIS have been innovative and supportive of adult community learning, they often lack infrastructure and support. It raised the need for Government to combat the silo effect of this piecemeal funding which, if better connected, could undoubtedly be more supportive of the overtly economic skills agenda.

For instance the Department’s own Foresight project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing showed that critical to the success of the National Health Service is the integration of health care with other public services including adult learning.

These points have been acknowledged within the strategy, which states “we will encourage providers to make links with the adult learning on health, environment, culture and with the Opening Up Spaces Movement”

The ECA is pleased to hear that funding for adult and community learning will be protected but await further news on the intended ‘reinvigoration and reform’ of this type of learning which is not discussed in any detail within the document.

When responding to a question concerning the development of productive partnerships with third sector organisations, the ECA stated that -

”Third sector organisations will be critical to the success of the ‘Big Society’ as many work at grassroots level within communities and often with hard to reach groups. To form productive partnerships with third sector organisations it is essential that the skills and knowledge that they bring with them are fully recognised and that they are treated as an equal player in all partnerships.”

”It should be recognised that there are real costs to third sector organisations in maintaining an active role in such partnerships and that these costs should be factored in to any planned developments. In particular the staff development needs in both third sector and learning provider organisations will need close attention if the aspirations that we share with government are to be realised.”

The ECA is glad to see that the strategy recognises the knowledge and skills present within the third sector –

“The other important issue is to ensure that organisations who can provide expert brokerage and facilitation, as well as skills provision, often the voluntary and community sector or social enterprises, have the capability and capacity to work with these groups. There is strong evidence that supports the economic arguments for this approach too. We will encourage local consortia arrangements so that resources can be shared and large and small providers can work collaboratively. We will lighten the regulatory burden for all providers, including voluntary organisations that are best placed to reach people who are furthest away from learning and employment”

“Informal adult and community learning-funded programmes will provide a wide range of learning opportunities, ranging from arts, culture and health to digital skills, employability skills, family learning, civic engagement and community development. Public funding will be prioritised for the people who need the most help and have had the fewest opportunities. This is an area where forming appropriate social partnerships can be very effective and we will encourage providers to work with appropriate specialists in the voluntary and social enterprise sectors.”

In response to the Strategy ECA Chair and CEO Bernard Godding, MBE says ”We are glad to see that evidence that we have put forward, based on 90 years of experience supporting community based learning, has been so immediately picked up and incorporated in the Government’s thinking. We shall continue to work with our partners locally and nationally to give effect to this shared agenda that is fundamental to the future welfare of individuals and families in urban and rural areas alike.”

Other reforms of the skills system in the document include:

The ECA will continue to press for robust and equitable mechanisms to ensure that adult learners do not suffer disproportionately during this period of financial difficulty. Equally that, in an aging population, the education of adults is recognised as an essential ingredient in social cohesion and the springboard for economic recovery.

To read the full strategy document click here

To read an executive summary of the document click here.

Date Added: November 19th 2010