Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Association of Colleges


  1.  The Association of Colleges is the representative body for further education colleges, established by colleges themselves to provide a voice for the FE sector at national level. The membership includes colleges of all types—general further education, sixth form, agricultural and horticultural, art design and performing arts, and other specialist colleges. Membership covers colleges in England, Wales (through affiliation arrangements with Fforwm) and Northern Ireland (through the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges). Some 99 per cent of colleges in the three countries are in membership.

  2.  The Association welcomes the decision of the Committee to conduct an inquiry into the New Deal for Young People. While it shares the view that overall the New Deal has been a considerable success, and that the Government's decision to make it permanent is fully justified, it believes that some two years after the national roll-out it is timely to undertake a critical review of experience to date, and in particular to consider whether design changes are needed to take account of that experience. It believes also that the reforms now being undertaken in the structure of post-16 education and training—notably the unification of most post-16 learning programmes under the auspices of the Learning and Skills Council, and the associated transfer of responsibility for work-based training for adults to the Employment Service—create a new environment in which some fresh questions arise.

  3.  Accordingly, this memorandum:

    —  Outlines some of the experience of colleges in providing opportunities under New Deal for Young People;

    —  Identifies some issues about the operation of NDYP which have emerged from that experience;

    —  Offers some views about aspects of the design of NDYP which might require further consideration; and

    —  Comments upon some of the wider questions which arise in relation to the structural changes now in train.

  It does not seek to comment upon the wider economic questions about the contribution of New Deal to improving the skills and employability of young people.


  4.  Further education colleges have a long history of involvement in Government training programmes for the unemployed and in providing learning opportunities for those who have seen the acquisition of new skills, knowledge and qualifications as a key to moving out of unemployment, with or without direct Government support. Thus the FE sector made a major contribution to programmes such as youth training and work-based training for adults, and provided for substantial numbers of those studying while on unemployment or related benefits (under the 16-hour rule or its predecessor), alongside their commitment to widening participation for all. The limitations and constraints of those arrangements were widely seen as inhibiting a full contribution from the FE sector towards tackling the scourge of unemployment. Colleges consequently welcomed the initiative taken by the present government to launch a new approach towards tackling those problems and enthusiastically committed themselves to participation in the New Deal programmes.

College Involvement in NDYP

  5.  The extent of that commitment has been well demonstrated since the launch of NDYP in early 1998. A considerable number of colleges joined the consortia which bid for the initial New Deal contracts, in many cases as a full partner, and many of those were successful. Colleges were well-placed to add considerable value to those consortia, offering as they could access to a wide range of learning programmes, as well as considerable experience of providing for the unemployed and the disadvantaged. Even where colleges were not partners in a successful consortium, they have in many instances contributed to the scheme as sub-contractors providing of education and training to a consortium, typically alongside private training providers. The primary contribution of colleges has been to the full-time education and training option, but colleges have also provided an off-the-job training component to other options, such as the Employment, Environment Task Force or Voluntary options. In a few instances colleges have taken lead responsibility for the delivery of other options (such as Self Employment) or have been involved in delivering the Gateway. Many colleges have appointed dedicated staff to manage their involvement in NDYP programmes.


  6.  Detailed data on the volume of college-based activity does not appear to be available, but it would be reasonable to assume that a significant proportion of the 80,000 or so young people who have entered the FTET option since its inception have been provided for in colleges, together with a smaller proportion of the 100,000 or so entering other options. This should be seen in the context of an enrolment of close to four million students per annum within the FE sector. New Deal thus accounts for only a very small proportion of college activity, and the number involved are probably substantially less than those studying while claiming JSA under the 16-hour rule, prior to the introduction of New Deal (significant numbers of whom are now within the New Deal cohort). With the exception of some colleges in London and other inner city areas, most colleges have had only a relatively small number of NDYP clients, usually spread over a range of learning programmes.


  7.  The results of inspections undertaken to date by the Training Standards Council suggests that quality of provision within NDYP is in most areas only satisfactory, with most having at least one unsatisfactory component. Only rarely is provision good or outstanding. Provision in the FTET option is generally graded lower than the average for other options. However, it is not possible to isolate data on the quality of the college contribution, given the multiplicity of providers for this option in most areas. Inspection data suggests moreover that in many areas a disappointingly small proportion of clients undertaking this option achieve a full qualification. Typically too, a lower proportion of levers from FTET enter employment either before or on completion of the programme. Moreover, although NDYP has shown considerable success in overall placing young people into employment, longer-term sustainability of employment among those who have pursued an option is more questionable. For example, some over 240,000 have entered jobs overall, of which 76 per cent persisted for at least 13 weeks. However, a more detailed study of those entering subsidised employment showed only 62 per cent remaining at the end of the employment subsidy period of six months, falling to 51 per cent after nine months.

Client Characteristics

  8.  However, while success rates are noticeably lower than those for many other full-time education and training programmes, they need to be seen in the context of the characteristics of NDYP entrants. Entry data for clients with known qualifications suggests that some 31 per cent of entrants have no qualifications and a further 22 per cent at Foundation or Level 1. Many clients also possess a multiplicity of social and personal problems, with disproportionate numbers having health problems or disabilities, criminal records, drug or alcohol abuse problems, housing problems, or relationship difficulties, and often display poor attitudes and lack of motivation. The FTET option is well-focused to deal with such clients, providing as it does opportunities for more extended diagnosis and intensive support. Such support is often vital to maintaining clients on NDYP and in effecting the changes in outlook and behaviour which will improve employability. Colleges typically will offer a very wide range of learning programmes and will accept any client referred by a personal adviser, and frequently find it necessary to offer intensive support to deal with such problems.

  9.  The following case study illustrates some of these issues. Darren is 23 years old. Prior to joining New Deal he had a number of temporary, low skilled jobs—mainly in the food processing industry. At school he only managed to achieve one GCSE and since then had not completed any work-related qualifications. On a personal level he had severe financial problems and was living a fairly lonely existence in a high rise tower block in a provincial city. On joining the college, staff became aware of the extent of his personal problems. Working closely with him staff were able to help him confront and solve many of the difficulties he faced, which at that time were threatening to overwhelm him. With their support, Darren gradually began to get his life back on track. For the first time in many years he was able to prove to himself he could be a success and this new found spirit helped him to achieve a GNVQ Intermediate Award in Retail and Distribution and Information Technology. Although not currently employed, Darren has joined a local Territorial Army unit which has helped to give him a new found sense of purpose and discipline as well as helping him to develop the personal skills which will hold him in good stead for the future.

Liaison between ES and the FE Sector

  10.  To assist in liaison between the FE sector and the Employment service the Association arranged, in conjunction with ES and FEFC, the appointment of a secondee to work with ES. That appointment ran from summer 1999 until summer 2000 and proved to be of considerable value in making ES aware of emerging practice and issues in FE colleges, and in familiarising colleges with New Deal requirements, resolving issues, and disseminating good practice. An important outcome of that work has been a good practice guide, drawing upon the experiences of four colleges, which has now been circulated within the sector. A copy is enclosed with this memorandum for the information of the Committee.



  11.  The encouragement given by ES in the initial stages of launching NDYP to the formation of consortia or partnerships for delivery has undoubtedly had considerable benefits in bringing together a variety of bodies both public and private. In doing so it has been able to tap into a rich seam of concern to help tackle the problems of unemployment and to mobilise a wide range of expertise. However, many partnerships draw on a considerable number of providers, which creates problems of management and co-ordination, and it has been a common experience of many participants that client numbers are low. For many providers this has raised questions about continued participation, and some colleges have found it necessary to reconsider involvement in parts of the programme at least.

  12.  In addition, TECs play an important role in many consortia. With the dissolution of TECs next year and the transfer of TEC functions in the adult training field to ES itself, consortia will need to be restructured if separation between contractor and providers is to be maintained for NDYP provision. In addition, the importance of co-ordination between New Deal provision and other post-16 education and training programmes will become more evident as the new local LSCs structures become established. For example, the assessment of local employment needs and planning a provision to meet these needs will be functions which span programmes both for the unemployed, those already in employment and those preparing to enter the labour market. There are moreover already a considerable number of partnership arrangements in existence both for planning and delivery purposes, which from the point of view of participants require a considerable investment of management time and resources. In the view of the Association, there will be a pressing need to address these issues if partnership mechanisms are not to become unwieldy and counterproductive.

Objectives of New Deal

  13.  The ultimate objective of NDYP and other New Deal programmes is to seek to establish or re-establish clients in sustained employment. It is the experience of colleges that the need to secure placement in employment can in some instances override the need to equip individual clients with the skills and knowledge which will secure longer-term employability. The case study quoted above illustrates the extent of the personal support required by many individual clients, and it is clear from the growing numbers on follow-through that the current limits on participation in NDYP does not allow clients to progress to the point where employability is established. The data on persistence likewise shows that sustainability of employment remains a problem even in a period of high economic activity—as the Committee recognised in its recommendations and in an earlier report (New Deal for Young People: Two Years On, HC 510 Session 1999-2000). There is an overwhelming evidence to show that the possession of qualifications which demonstrate the possession of personal attributes required for success in employment, as well as of skills and knowledge relevant to particular jobs, is an important consideration for employers in assessing suitability for employment. It needs also to be recognised that there are many qualifications outside the present Schedule 2 list which may be important in securing employment—such as a driving licence or some dedicated computing qualifications. For the more disadvantages, a much greater initial emphasis of the development of social skills can be equally important. It would be the belief of the Association that while the ultimate objective of a job should remain, there should be greater flexibility in the length, content and range of the programme to reflect these factors, and a greater emphasis on the development of attributes which will secure long term employability. It believes that this would be consistent with the Government's wider policy objectives for lifelong learning, in improving individual opportunity, enhancing skill supply and supporting national competitiveness.

Relationship with ES

  14.  Involvement in NDYP has brought much closer working relationships between colleges and ES than existed previously, and in doing so broken down some of the barriers which previously existed. But there remain tensions on occasions, especially when regulations do not seem to work in the best interests of clients—for example, when a client recovering from drug dependency may be showing measurable improvement in attendance, but not within the timetable allowed in the absence regulations. A number of colleges have reported disputes over payment for components of an agreed FTET programme, and inconsistencies between Units of Delivery in the application of the regulations. For example, some areas will permit alteration to a client's training plan to reflect changing needs, others will not. Another example would be where the drive to achieve job placement targets overrides the desire of clients and colleges to complete an agreed learning programme. Although many clients who are job-ready are eager to accept a job if a suitable vacancy occurs, some perceive that their own longer term interest is best served by completing the Initial Training Plan and achieving a qualification: in such circumstances a college may face a dilemma if pressure is brought to bear on clients to leave FTET in order to accept a job offer where there is no opportunity to progress study. These tensions are further illustrated in the job entry targets set at local level for FTET provision, which are not always fully discussed in advance and are not always sensitive to local circumstances. These create pressure on providers not merely to move clients on more quickly than they might wish, but also to become more selective in the admission of clients—ultimately to the detriment of clients. In the view of the Association efforts need to be made between ES and colleges to develop a range of measures, and related targets, which can reflect the progress made.

Role of New Deal Personal Adviser

  15.  The creation of personal advisers has undoubtedly been a strength of NDYP, and the emphasis on assessment of individual client needs has been a considerable improvement on previous training programmes for the unemployed. However, college experience has been that the quality of the initial assessment and advice can vary considerably, or that communication has been poor, with the result that colleges find it necessary to carry out their own assessment of clients capabilities and needs in areas such as basic skills, before they can determine an appropriate learning programme. Clients understandably can find that demotivating. Evaluation of the outcome of the Gateway process against clear criteria for outcomes might help to improve retention and achievement. It might also be valuable for the Gateway process to be subject to inspection. Understanding of the nature of training programmes and qualifications such as NVQs is also often lacking on the part of personal advisers and inappropriate guidance given on the nature of the programme which needs to be followed. Further training of NDPAs would be of assistance in overcoming these problems.


  16.  Although providers were invited to propose prices for provision as part of the original bidding process for NDYP provision, indicative price bands were determined in advance by ES for FTET provision, and it has been evident in operation that only limited flexibility has been allowed. The price levels now operative are significantly below those used by FEFC for the same full-time course provision, apparently on the basis of a view that it should only be necessary for ES to pay for the marginal costs of provision. Nor has any account been taken of either the extra contractual demands for NDYP programmes (for example, the requirement to provide supervision for 30 hours per week, or the need to provide an on-going learning programme during periods of course closure), the additional support which many individual clients require, or the extra costs involved in administration, travel, equipment and other activities needed to deliver programmes. Coupled with the low numbers recruited this has meant that most college provision has operated at a financial loss. As an example, one college has estimated that involvement in NDYP has cost it around £70,000. While there are important differences between ND FTET and what will shortly become LSC-funded provision, in terms for example of their ultimate objectives, it is difficult to see any fundamental case for different public funding levels for similar provision in different sectors. The need to harmonise ES and LSC prices has been recognised in the DfEE Learning to Succeed: Post-16 Funding and allocations, First and Second Technical Consultation Papers on the new funding methodology, but as yet the details of pricing levels and the specific differences have not been published. In the view of the Association it will be important that funding arrangements between LSC an ES are as closely aligned as possible.

Individual incentives

  17.  Clients pursuing FTET courses continue to receive JSA at the standard rate, while those attending work-based training for adults for example, receive an incentive of £10 pr week on top of their JSA. In college experience, this difference in treatment is felt acutely by ND clients, which is reinforced by the administrative requirements placed on trainees (for example the requirement for signing timesheets). The lack of any obvious incentive can also affect adversely the motivation to pursue training. Moreover, many clients are living in poverty, and college staff frequently spend considerable amounts of time assisting clients in obtaining help. At the same time, clients attending FTET undoubtedly face additional costs associated with study which are not recognised in current arrangements. In the view of the Association, it would be desirable for ND clients to receive some additional payment—which could be linked to attendance and academic progress—to provide an incentive to pursue study.

Roll-on Roll-off

  18.  NDYP regulations require that clients should be placed on learning programmes within two weeks of determination that entry to an FTET programme is appropriate. For colleges, the low numbers of clients and the commitment to offer a wide range of course has meant that clients have almost exclusively been in-filled to existing learning programmes, rather than being placed on dedicated provision. This has however presented colleges with a number of challenges. Although courses are increasingly being offered on a roll-on roll-off basis, this is by no means universal and it is not always possible to admit an additional student to an existing course without intensive preparatory work, which the client may find it difficult to cope with. Even where this can be accomplished quickly, there may be constraints in terms of the capacity of the accommodation available, or constraints imposed by health and safety considerations (for example, in workshop situations).

  19.  At the same time, the continuous nature of NDYP programmes requires colleges to provide ongoing learning and support, even at times when other learners are not in attendance—such as holiday periods. Many colleges found this a problem in the early stages of NDYP, but good practice has now been widely developed (although this is often expensive). Even where these organisational obstacles can be overcome, the social integration of an additional student in an existing group can present problems, both for teachers, for the client and for other learners. While recognising the importance of ensuring no undue delay in transferring a client from Gateway into FTET, if motivation is to be maintained, in the view of the Association, greater flexibility is required in managing that transition if the needs of clients are to be adequately met.

Job Search and Work Experience

  20.  Under current NDYP regulations, continuing job search is a requirement of FTET programmes—interpreted in some areas as a requirement to timetable three hours of job search activity as part of the learning programme. Inspection reports suggest that this is an element of FTET programmes which receives insufficient attention. However, it is the experience of many colleges that clients resent the emphasis on job search, as being a distraction from the main qualification objective. Moreover, the skills development component of job search is often covered in intensive Gateway programmes, and repeated coverage can be counterproductive. In many areas too, there are a limited number of employer contacts which individual clients can pursue, and repeated contacts may be counterproductive. In the view of the Association, while the development of job search skills must remain an important component of FTET programmes, the timing and emphasis should be tailored to match the actual progression needs of individual clients. Similar issues have arisen for some colleges in relation to the insistence on work experience as a component of FTET programmes, where placement into an employers premises of a client who is not job-ready and who may present health and safety risks.

Programme Duration

  21.  As noted above, many NDYP clients have few, if any, qualifications and their experience of learning is often negative. Study skills are lacking and many find it difficult to focus on learning for 30 hours per week (exclusive of lunch breaks) over five days each week, as required under ND regulations. In contrast, those attending work-based training for adults are only required to attend for 21 hours per week. Similarly, JSA regulations ensure ND clients are only permitted 10 days holiday, even on learning programmes extending over 52 weeks. While building up an appreciation of the importance of time-keeping and maintaining focus over an extended period is an important part of developing the disciplines required for working life, college experience suggests some greater flexibility might be desirable—at least in the early stages of FTET programmes—as these habits are developed in clients. In addition, while for many occupational areas the current limit of 52 weeks is sufficient to complete an appropriate learning programme, experience suggests that for some clients—especially those pursuing technical training—this limit does not permit completion of training to recognised industry levels. It would be invidious if individuals were denied the opportunity to achieve a qualification for which they are well suited and to which they are committed, and are forced to choose a less satisfactory alternative. The Association believes that additional flexibility to extend programmes should be available where necessary.

Quality Assurance, Audit and Accountability

  22.  The operation of separate quality assurance, audit and accountability arrangements for NDYP has also imposed additional burdens on colleges. Colleges within the FE sector are required to operate within a framework laid down by FEFC, but in addition are required to provide monitoring information to other funding providers such as TECs or ESF in respect of particular programmes. They re also subject to inspection by TSC in respect of New Deal and TEC-funded programmes, even where these overlap with FEFC-funded work, and may also be audited separately in respect of that work. The Association strongly believe it would be desirable for these arrangements to be streamlined within the new framework being created for post-16 learning and skills programmes, and in particular for ES requirements to be aligned with, and as far as possible rely on, those of LSC. These issues have been recognised in Government thinking (in for example the consultation paper Raising Standards in Post-16 learning published last summer) but as yet it is unclear how far a single approach will be achieved in practice.


  23.  In the experience of the FE sector, NDYP has had considerable success in achieving its objectives of moving unemployed young people into jobs. Colleges have been pleased to make a contribution to that success. The design of the scheme introduced a number of innovations—such as the personal adviser and the extensive initial assessment and preparation process in the form of the Gateway—which have clearly brought strength to the programme. But in the experience of colleges there are a number of areas where from a college perspective weaknesses have been identified in operation, which in the view of the Association need to be addressed now that the scheme is to be made permanent. In particular it recommends:

    —  the issues surrounding partnership structures need to be addressed if these are not to become unwieldy and counterproductive;

    —  that while the ultimate objective of NDYP of successful transition into sustained employment should remain, there should be greater flexibility in the length and content of the programme to reflect the needs of individual clients, and a greater emphasis on the development of attributes which will secure long term employability;

    —  efforts need to be made between ES and colleges to achieve a common understanding of what is in the best interests of clients and to shape individual programmes accordingly;

    —  further training of NDPAs would be of assistance in overcoming some of the problems which have been encountered when clients move from the Gateway into options;

    —  that funding arrangements between LSC and ES are as closely aligned as possible;

    —  it would be desirable for ND clients to receive some additional payment—which could be linked to attendance and academic progress—to provide an incentive to pursue study;

    —  while the importance of maintaining momentum through early access to FTET opportunities is acknowledged, greater flexibility is required in managing that transition from Gateway into FTET if the needs of clients are to be adequately met;

    —  while the development of job search skills must remain an important component of FTET programmes, the timing and emphasis should be tailored to match the actual progression needs of individual clients;

    —  additional flexibility to vary and extend FTET programmes should be available where necessary to respond to the needs of individual clients; and

    —  quality assurance, audit and accountability arrangements should be streamlined within the new framework being created for post-16 learning and skills programmes, and in particular ES requirements should be aligned with, and as far as possible rely on, those of LSC.

Association of Colleges

November 2000

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