Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Mr Chris Hughes, Chief Executive, Learning and Skills Development Agency (FEF 11)


  The paper:

    —  Sets out the priorities established by the Select Committee report in 1998.

    —  Reviews progress against these priorities.

    —  Analyses the priorities and targets for the sector under the Learning and Skills Council.

    —  Draws on evidence from our work about how to address the key challenges of quality improvement and growth.

    —  Identifies the strategic role for FE colleges within the new arrangements as a key issue that needs to be addressed.


    —  New arrangements for inspection may result in lower grades in the short term since colleges are being judged against new criteria—public perceptions will need to be handled carefully to avoid inappropriate blame.

    —  Overall improvement in the quality of leadership is required.

    —  There is some concern that the extent of external regulation and review arrangements could discourage institutions from taking ownership and responsibility for raising standards.

    —  Staff morale is worryingly low in colleges, especially in general FE colleges.

    —  Colleges could have a key role in working with micro and small and medium enterprises to achieve business success.

    —  The policy objective of widening participation needs to be clarified to determine whether it is targeting those who lack qualifications, who are cash poor or are from poor areas.

    —  Maintenance for adults remains a significant gap.

    —  There is a danger that if LSC adopts a very detailed planning approach, it will not work effectively and will undermine colleges' capacity for innovation and risk-taking.

    —  A sustained strategic focus on the demand side is required, and might include consideration as to whether there are sufficient incentives for growth in the current funding methodology.

    —  The strategic focus for general FE colleges should be to develop an inclusive and modern approach to vocational education and training.


  1.  The 1998 Select Committee enquiry threw a welcome spotlight on the role of FE colleges. The report highlighted their significant contribution to the delivery of the government's agendas of `economic competitiveness and social well-being by improving the skills of the existing and potential workforce and by creating opportunities for achievement for all members of the community.'

  2.  The Select Committee recognised the need for colleges to have a clear sense of purpose and identified the following priorities for the period beyond 1998:

    —  Widening participation among both 16-19 year olds and adults;

    —  Raising of standards;

    —  Meeting the Learning Age target for 2002, of more than doubling the number of adults on Basic Skills courses[1].

  3.  These priorities were not an abrupt departure from existing priorities, but did mark some significant changes of emphasis. For example, they marked a shift away from undifferentiated growth towards a focus on widening participation to those groups of learners who had benefited least from education and training in the past. This policy shift acknowledged the work of the FEFC's Widening Participation Enquiry chaired by Helena Kennedy. Equally, the specific focus on Basic Skills reflected the work underway by Sir Claus Moser's Working Group on Post-School Basic Skills.


  4.  Assessment of the success of colleges in meeting these new priorities needs to be set within the context of the sector's development since incorporation. Analysis of the pattern of provision since 1994-95 indicates a significant change:

    —  The number of students enrolled on level one programmes more than doubled between 1994-95 and 1999-2000 (from 374,600 enrolments to 883,600);

    —  Levels one and two combined rose from 40 per cent of total student numbers to 59 per cent;

    —  Level three and above declined from nearly 40 per cent of total students in 1994-95 to 30.1 per cent in 1999-2000, with a particularly steep decline in provision at level four and above[2].

  5.  These figures are indicative of the challenges already embraced by FE colleges. Colleges engage with learners with high levels of educational disadvantage and deliver a range of programmes from Basic Skills to undergraduate level study. In addition, they offer subjects as diverse as painting and decorating, computer-aided design, bookkeeping, science and aromatherapy, indicative of responsiveness to new employment opportunities, and engage with learners from age 14 through to post-retirement. The complexity and diversity of FE college provision should not be over-looked in assessing their achievements.

  6.  Despite the rise in Level one and two provision since 1994-95, colleges were able to make further increases in basic skills enrolments following the Select Committee report. The number of adult students on basic education courses (as a proxy for Basic Skills courses) increased by 10.8 per cent between 1998-99 and 1999-2000 (from 211,784 to 234,604). These figures do not include those learners who are developing Basic Skills as an integral part of a programme in another curriculum area.

  7.  Widening participation (WP) funding, introduced in 1998, appears to have resulted only in a minor increase of around 8600 additional learners attracting WP funding across all FEFC-funded provision. The proportion of total students attracting the WP factor in colleges remained stable at 26.9 per cent between 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

  8.  We believe that the policy objective of the WP factor requires clarification. It remains unclear whether the intention is, in the terms used in the LSC's grant letter, to increase numbers of learners `drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances', or whether it is to attract those with low levels of educational attainment. Different funding incentives and levers will be needed to achieve these different policy objectives. (This point is discussed further in paragraph 44.)

  9.  Overall learner numbers in FE colleges fell by 0.3 per cent in the period between 1998-99 and 1999-2000 (from 3,683,697 to 3,673,510). Over the same period, actual courses delivered increased by 2.7 per cent (from 6,319,885 to 6,495,853). This increase could be attributed to increased breadth of programmes (for example for learners following Curriculum 2000 and other broader programmes), or to an increase in uptake and progression on short courses. The fall in student numbers is likely to be a result of the reduction in franchising. An LSDA report indicates that franchising accounted for almost 20 per cent of student numbers in the FE sector between 1994-95 and 1996-97[3].

  10.  The importance of standards was emphasised by the Select Committee report and the Standards Fund was established and referred to in the government's response to the Committee. Achievement rates overall have increased by 3.9 per cent since 1998, to 76.3 per cent. The achievement gap is closing year-on-year as worst achieving colleges improve their achievement rates faster than the best[4]. However, one in four FE colleges have a learner achievement rate of 68 per cent or less, with some colleges recording rates at below 50 per cent. Therefore, while there has been modest progress, there is still scope for substantial improvements.

  11.  Slow progress in terms of widening participation and raising achievement indicates the scale of the challenge. It is not a reflection of lack of endeavour or responsiveness by colleges. During this same period, a significant number of colleges have:

    —  Responded to Curriculum 2000 by introducing ranges of AS levels, Key Skills qualifications and enrichment activities;

    —  Worked with LEAs to make provision for 14 and 15 year olds for whom traditional schooling was inappropriate;

    —  Taken on the major role in delivering financial support for learners, for example, Access Funds, childcare funds and residential bursaries;

    —  Begun to work collaboratively and in partnership with other colleges and other providers, rather than competing as they were encouraged to do previously;

    —  Re-focused away from franchising (particularly distance franchising) to more local and community based provision;

    —  Engaged with the implementation of the ILA fee discount scheme, ILA pathfinder projects and the national framework, and the introduction of EMAs.

  12.  However, this wide range of initiatives does not amount to a clear strategic role for FE colleges. The Select Committee report identified that `the FE sector has suffered somewhat from a lack of leadership and national strategic direction.'

  13.  The speech by David Blunkett, the then Secretary of State, to the November 2000 Association of Colleges conference,[5] identified four objectives for colleges:

    —  High and improving standards for 16-19 year olds;

    —  Providing the skills the economy needs at craft, technician and equivalent levels;

    —  Widening participation in learning and enabling adults to acquire the Basic Skills;

    —  A ladder of opportunity to higher education.

  14.  David Blunkett's proposal indicates diversity of mission as a way forward—building on strengths and creating more distinctive roles. For many general FE colleges that will mean a strong focus on a modernised vocational education and training mission, and re-gaining their image as primarily technical and vocational institutions.

  15.  Since David Blunkett's speech, the government has begun the roll out of Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs)[6] to take forward the regeneration of technical and vocational education. The CoVE initiative will systematically recognise and promote high level, specialist vocational provision in colleges. The first 16 pathfinder centres have been announced and the plan is to develop at least 150 centres by 2003-04, against rigorous quality criteria which include engagement with industry sectors and employers, and the capacity to train to high levels of vocational excellence.


  16.  The creation of the LSC since the last Select Committee report provides a new context. It offers the opportunity to look at the post-16 education and training enterprise as a whole, to achieve greater coherence of provision and a more rational determination of the roles and contributions of different providers. We now need to reconsider the role of colleges in the context of the priorities of the new Learning and Skills sector.

Priorities and the challenge of targets

  17.  The remit letter from David Blunkett (the then Secretary of State) to the LSC set out his vision. It described the importance of learning for a civilised and cohesive society, with a vital role in promoting active citizenship, strengthening families and neighbourhoods. A commitment to equal opportunities ran through the document with a strong emphasis on the need for the new arrangements to support existing community and economic regeneration initiatives. This has been translated into the following mission and vision in the LSC Corporate Plan:

  Our mission is to raise participation and attainment through high-quality education and training which puts learners first.

  Our vision is that, by 2010, young people and adults in England will have knowledge and productive skills matching the best in the world.

  18.  A number of targets have been established for the new Learning and Skills sector[7].

    —  around 625,000 more adult learners in FE in 2001-02 compared with 1997-78, with 65 per cent of these drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances. This target, set out in the LSC Grant Letter, does not appear in the LSC Corporate Plan. Its status is therefore unclear. There has been a reduction in total student numbers of nearly 196,000 since 1997-98, and the proportion of learners attracting the widening participation factor has remained broadly stable.

    —  to raise literacy and numeracy skills of 750,000 adults by 2004[8]. There has been an increase of nearly 23,000 adults studying on basic education courses since 1998-99 with 234,604 learners in 1999-2000. The extent to which the 750,000 learners are expected to be new learners is unclear.

    —  85 per cent of 19 year olds with a level two qualification by 2004. The current rate of level two achievement at 19 was 75 per cent in 2000. Currently just under 50 per cent of students achieve level two at 16; the FE contribution raises this to 75 per cent by age 19, working by definition with the least able students. Irrespective of any increase in success rates at 16 the target requires the sector to raise 40 per cent of the bottom quartile to the same level in three years.

    —  80 per cent of 16-18 year olds to be in structured learning by 2004. This compares to current levels of engagement of 75 per cent.

    —  LSC shares responsibility for Government's target that by 2010 half of those aged 18 to 30 should be able to access HE. Current levels appear to be around 40-42 per cent, but figures are not easily available.

    —  52 per cent of adults at level three by 2004. This compares to current levels of achievement in 2000 of 47 per cent. It is not clear how data will be collected on this target.

    —  In addition, in next year's plan the LSC will develop:

      —  Baselines and targets for adult participation

      —  Measures of employer engagement

      —  Baselines and targets for quality and user satisfaction.

  19.  In addition to the priorities outlined above, the government has also indicated a new framework for 14-19 education, with an enhancement of vocational options and increased involvement of colleges in delivery to 14-16 year olds. A consultation paper due early in 2002 will set out the government's proposals.

  20.  Sir John Cassell's report on Modern Apprenticeships, due imminently, is expected to call for a step-change in quality and volume of provision, and enhanced engagement of employers. Given the potential role of colleges in delivering technical certificates across more vocational sectors, and the role of CoVEs in relation to higher level provision and employer involvement, implications for colleges are likely to be significant. The extension of Modern Apprenticeships will contribute directly to the level three targets.

  21.  The targets outlined above relate to most elements of the Learning and Skills sector's activity. As yet there is no target for equal opportunities or for community engagement, but these may emerge through local LSC corporate plans or performance indicators. The large number of targets already makes it difficult to identify clear priorities; some are difficult to measure; they are overlapping (Adult Basic skills and adult participation); some depend largely on behaviours in other sectors (schools, higher education); several are shared with other agencies (eg Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit, schools).

  22.  For the new LSC, establishing a new culture, operating arrangements and relationships, there may be a case for examining afresh the targets, based on a closer assessment of its collective capacity and the data that will be accessible.

  23.  It is within this new LSC context that we need to consider the future role and priorities for colleges of FE. Colleges are often referred to as delivering 80 per cent + of provision in the new LSC sector—they will be vital to the achievement of the new targets. A clear strategic role, which gives clarity of purpose to the FE sector will be vital in the context of such wide-ranging objectives.

  24.  The following sections consider the key policy priorities indicated by the targets and consider evidence from our work over recent years about how FE colleges might be supported to address these.


  25.  Under the new LSC and inspection arrangements, the institutional structures and roles in relation to quality assessment and quality improvement have changed. LSC carries out continuous monitoring via provider review. This should provide early warning of any problems of performance.

  26.  Inspection is now carried out through Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) using the new Common Inspection Framework. This new framework places greater emphasis on the experience of the learner and on the impact of leadership in promoting achievement, than the previous FEFC and TSC frameworks. Given that new grades will be in relation to the new framework, caution will be needed in drawing conclusions from early reports. If, as seems likely, new arrangements result in lower grades in the short-term, public perceptions will need to be handled carefully to avoid inappropriate blame.

  27.  There is no magic bullet that will bring a step-change in the pace of quality improvement. However, our understanding about how to improve quality has moved on significantly since the Select Committee reported. The standards fund, the LSDA national programme associated with it[9], and a range of other LSDA activities[10], provide an extensive evidence base for evaluating impact and identifying the most effective interventions. The following observations draw on this evidence.


  28.  Colleges are likely to make gradual improvements in quality, but significant change is unlikely unless there is substantial overall improvement in the quality of leadership. Experience of working with substantial numbers of college leaders over the last two years shows great variation in leadership abilities. There is a need to improve:

    —  the quality of those aspiring to college leadership;

    —  the effectiveness of the selection process by governors;

    —  in-service training of principles.

  29.  There is also a need to conduct more research on the impact of leadership development initiatives and what qualities make for an effective FE principal. In addition, it is clear from LSDA work in raising achievement, that if leadership is to have a more direct impact on student achievement, it is important to consider the leadership activity of those responsible for course organisation and delivery.

Quality ownership

  30.  A key feature of successful college improvement strategies is the ownership by the institution of quality improvement processes. Failure to own the process can lead to technical data-driven approaches rather than real change. There are some concerns being expressed that the extent of external regulation and review arrangements could discourage institutions from taking ownership and responsibility for raising standards. This needs to be kept under review.

Retention and achievement

  31.  Low levels of student achievement are associated with certain demographic characteristics. However, evidence indicates clearly that, at the most, differences in the characteristics of the student intake can account for only half of the difference in levels of achievement between the best and worst achieving colleges. Differences in institutional ethos, systems, procedures and practices account for the significant remainder of the achievement gap.

Staff morale

  32.  Low morale in the workforce is likely to be a major impediment to the implementation of strategies to improve student performance. Evidence from our research indicates a positive correlation between some aspects of staff satisfaction and student satisfaction. It has already been established that student satisfaction correlates positively with student retention and achievement. On average, staff satisfaction is worryingly low in the FE sector, especially in general FE and tertiary colleges.

  33.  In a recent LSDA survey[11], college staff were asked to rate their level of agreement with 38 statements concerning positive attributes of job roles and college organisation. There were 17 instances where over half the 9,500 survey respondents indicated some measure of disagreement, and a further 15 where over a third did so. The following exemplify some of the most negative opinions:

    —  The college genuinely cares about the welfare of its staff (66 per cent disagreed).

    —  Staff feel they have job security (64 per cent disagreed).

    —  Staff are encouraged to take risks or try new things without fear of failure (72 per cent disagreed).

    —  There is an opportunity for me to progress within the organisation (71 per cent disagreed).

    —  Communication is effective in this college (70 per cent disagreed).

  34.  Staff satisfaction is likely to be influenced by a clear sense of institutional purpose, and the evidence from the LSDA survey shows that levels of staff satisfaction in Beacon or accredited colleges were substantially better than average for the survey. Such colleges are more likely to have a clear strategic role and sense of mission around which staff can be effectively motivated.


  35.  The shift in the pattern of provision in colleges to a greater proportion of level one and two programmes (see paragraph four) indicates that colleges have already been working increasingly with learners who have higher levels of educational needs. As the new sector aims to reach increasingly disadvantaged learners, more differentiated approaches will be needed both to recruit and to meet their requirements effectively.

  36.  There is evidence from our work[12] that there are a range of community and voluntary and training providers particularly skilled at engaging groups of hard-to-reach learners. The diversity of providers in the LSC-funded sector is a great strength in achieving growth and will need to be pro-actively supported. Particular attention must be paid to ensuring that progression opportunities, particularly between colleges and other local providers are clear and smooth.

Workforce development and skills for the economy

  37.  Many of those people that the Learning and Skills sector needs to target are in employment—both in low skilled work or in jobs requiring updating of higher level skills. Mechanisms to reach these people should be a priority for the LSC. Our work[13] indicates that a combination of strategies will be required to deliver an effective service to business and to reach and encourage those who lack level two skills to engage in appropriate learning. Strategies should include:

    —  Supporting micro, small and medium-sized companies to achieve business success. This requires differential approaches and effective work with relevant intermediaries. Experience teaches us that micro companies and SMEs are seeking solutions to business challenges, rather than directly seeking education or training solutions. Our research has revealed that FE colleges appear to attract a particular segment of small firms—mainly small to medium sized (20-250 employees) manufacturers, firms in the distribution sector and providers of personal services. The self-employed and micro firms (less than ten employees) account for some 90 per cent of firms in England and Wales but they are the least interested in formal training and the least likely to view FE colleges as sources of information or services likely to meet their needs.

    —  Providers should be supported to take advantage of the opportunities (now available with the end of Schedule Two), to develop more appropriate, flexible programmes, and not be constrained unnecessarily by a requirement for qualification outcomes, although there should be opportunities for employees to seek accreditation.

    —  There needs to be a clearly articulated resolution of the funding responsibilities between employers, individuals and the state. We support current proposals for the adoption of a level two entitlement (Institute of Public Policy Research, IPPR), underpinned by a clear policy on the responsibilities of different parties for funding, and mechanisms to ensure they are implemented.

Basic skills

  38.  The impact of the national strategy for adult Basic Skills has yet to be seen at the provider level. New curricula are rolling out and the Pathfinder projects are trialling the key elements of the strategy. Drawing on relevant LSDA work[14], we believe that action is needed in the following areas:

    —  The capacity and capability of providers to deliver the significant increase in provision needs to be addressed. There is a pressing need to recruit large numbers of staff and train them to the new FENTO standards.

    —  Inspection of college Basic Skills provision reveals poor average grades and a general over-estimation of quality by at least one grade. The national standards for adult literacy and numeracy have made it possible for providers of Basic Skills and ESOL to record the achievements of learners in a more systematic way. Better teacher training and sharing of good practice in recording achievement is needed before meaningful benchmarks can be set and comparisons drawn between institutions.

    —  Measures that can capture the retention of learners in roll on roll off provision need to be agreed. However, caution is needed in making comparisons with other subject areas.

    —  Management information for Basic Skills is patchy. It is difficult even to be sure how many learners are in provision when much Basic Skills is embedded in other programmes. The baselines for measuring progress nationally and at local LSC level need to be agreed.

    —  The development of ICT as an integral part of Basic Skills offer is a key area. There is strong research evidence of its motivational power[15]. IT skills are also fast becoming recognised as a basic skill, and in Wales, they are recognised within their equivalent `essential skills' framework and strategy.

    —  Practitioners and providers are asking for links between connected initiatives to be articulated more clearly. For example, Basic Skills, Key Skills and Citizenship are being conceived, launched and implemented separately.

    —  The following actions would allow colleges to engage appropriately with the national strategy:

      —  Development funding for innovation and outreach;

      —  The creation of regional networks of centres of excellence for adult literacy and numeracy;

      —  New roles for colleges as supporters/mentors for new basis skills and ESOL providers in the community or teacher training centres.

Preparation for HE of 18-30 year olds

  39.  Progression to HE is determined by achievement of level three. Currently 51 per cent of young people achieve level three by 19.90 per cent of those who achieve two A levels go on to HE study. The LSC target, as stated earlier is, by 2004, to increase to 55 per cent the proportion of young people achieving level three by age 19.

  40.  FE colleges can make a significant contribution both through programmes to bring people up to the level three standard (including full-time, part-time and work-based), and through direct delivery of HE. HE students in FE are more likely to be older, part-time and from non-traditional routes and therefore FE has the potential to support both the agenda for participation and for changing the socio-economic profile of HE learners.

Funding and Widening Participation

  41.  Since the Select Committee reported, additional resources have been allocated through funding the Widening Participation factor, based on student postcodes, at ten per cent uplift. As indicated earlier, in the first two years of the full introduction of WP Factor (1998-99 and 1999-2000), 26.9 per cent of learners attracted the additional funding.

  42.  There remains uncertainty whether the intention of the factor was to recognise additional costs or whether it was to act as an incentive to colleges to recruit additional learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. It appears however that it has had minimal impact as an incentive to increase levels of recruitment, and recent evidence suggests that it bears little relationship to the actual costs of recruiting learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. LSDA's research[16] has proposed how a realistic rate might be calculated and LSC has now commissioned a major study along the lines proposed.

  43.  In a more planned environment where the emphasis is less on competitive enterprise and more on meeting diverse learner needs we believe that there is a stronger case for focusing the funding mechanism more directly on the specific costs of provision. However, it must be recognised that this will lead to a more finely tuned, but not necessarily to a simpler funding system.

  44.  We also recommend that the policy objective needs to be clarified. `Widening participation' or `disadvantage' remain contested terms and it may be helpful to separate out three potential emphases. Disadvantage could refer to:

    —  Cash poor students—whose needs should be addressed perhaps through EMAs and student support;

    —  Poorly qualified students—who may require extra learning support or more intensive teaching;

    —  Students from poor areas—colleges might be given an overall widening participation or disadvantage rating based on their catchment area.

Fees and fee remission

  45.  These areas require further work, and perhaps the development of national arrangements. A very substantial part of student support is assistance with the direct costs of provision, delivered through full or partial fee remission.

  46.  We suggest that consideration be given to the following:

    —  The need for a clear national policy on student or employer contributions, which inter alia avoids competitive undercutting and which is consistently implemented;

    —  Links between the fee regimes in FE and Adult Community Learning;

    —  Considerations of differential fees for different levels of study, aligned with developments in HE;

    —  Increasing some fees, and funding more targeted support for the disadvantaged[17].

Funding for learners

  47.  The last Select Committee raised concerns about the lack of a national entitlement to financial support for FE learners. This is still the case, with the lack of maintenance support for over-19s as the most glaring gap. The lack of parity with HE, which caused concern to the Select Committee, has not changed. Income contingent loans are not available for FE learners, although LSDA research shows that they would be welcome by some.

  48.  Access Funds have been widely welcomed by practitioners, and are taken up by around six per cent of learners. The most recent survey, by the Institute of Employment Studies, is clear that they have been effective in improving retention rates, but the evidence for an impact on participation is more anecdotal.

  49.  Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) now cover about a third of the eligible cohort. Evaluation reports show clearly that they have raised participation rates (by around six per cent of those eligible) and are especially effective with boys and the poorest.

  There is also LSDA evidence[18], that they have raised retention and achievement rates. However, they only affect 16-18s and do not solve problems with transport or residence. The funding implications of extending EMAs could be offset if universal child benefit were stopped and replaced with means tested EMAs. We are aware that IPPR is developing proposals in this area.

  50.  Arrangements for transport remain fragmented and inequitable with colleges and LEAs applying differing criteria, rates and limits. This is well documented by LSDA research[19]. We believe that in the context of more planned arrangements, with national and regional specialist centres of vocational excellence, greater co-ordination of transport planning with provision planning will become increasingly necessary.

  51.  Research[20] has shown high levels of hardship among students already enrolled in colleges. The key issue for most is transport; for those with childcare responsibilities the costs of childcare are heavy. The well-documented existence of hardship experienced by many students already enrolled in FE makes it difficult to remove barriers to access in a way which is equitable but avoids `deadweight'.

Planning for growth

  52.  LSC has a statutory responsibility to plan provision both at a local and national level. The actual approach that local LSCs will adopt is not yet clear. Concerns about the possible approach are two-fold. First, there is a danger that an annual contracting process that determines detailed numerical allocations could reduce the appetite of colleges for the innovative and healthy risk-taking needed to maximise the potential for growth. The 1998 Select Committee report touched on this issue, stating that:

    `. . . we do not believe that central Government should attempt to 'run' the FE sector at a detailed level. Further education is a locally responsive service: the Government's role should be to put in place a strategic framework that will promote effective local relationships.'[21]

  53.  Second, there are concerns that micro level numerical planning will inevitably be inaccurate for the following reasons:

    —  Supply and demand are not necessarily local. Learners travel across LSC boundaries and many (particularly in large cities) may study where they work rather than where they live. This will be a particular issue in London where millions of people travel across LSC boundaries daily.

    —  Many providers make non-local and national provision. LSC will need mechanisms to co-ordinate with each other and to recognise the non-local nature of much provision.

    —  The quality of local demand data is patchy and often unreliable.

    —  Planning appears to be assuming collaboration between providers, sharing students and provision, but any funding system where money follows the learner will encourage competition.

    —  Skills shortages cannot be resolved simply by making provision in the skills areas needed, but must be accompanied by demand-side strategies to engage learner interest. There is a danger that a focus on planning will divert attention away from a broader strategic approach.

Increasing Demand

  54.  There is substantial evidence of barriers to participation, and about who does and does not participate. Helena Kennedy's phrase "if at first you don't succeed, you don't succeed" is still relevant. Much less is known about successful strategies to enable people to overcome barriers and engage in learning.

  55.  There is little evidence, in contrast to past policies which aimed to increase numbers in HE, of pent-up demand for learning. There has been a positive history of initiatives at policy and institutional levels to support wider participation, as well as simply to increase it. However, initiatives to reach targeted, under-achieving and disengaged groups who are harder to attract have focused mainly on the supply side. They have had limited success and have not been part of a national strategy. There may be limitations to reforms which focus largely on the supply side. There is a strong case for a sustained strategic focus on the demand side, with a comprehensive set of actions based on evidence of what changes learner, community and employer behaviours.

  56.  Since too little is known about what triggers participation among those who do not take part in organised learning, LSDA has initiated research and policy work on `Attracting new learners'. The programme of work has started by examining the messages from research and good practice across the world[22].

  57.  The evidence suggests that there is a need for policy, national strategy and funding arrangements to ensure that a strong focus on demand gives equal attention to both the economic aspects, such as workforce development, skills and employability; and the social inclusion aspects, encouraging social capital development, citizenship, individual development and neighbourhood renewal.

  58.  We believe there is also a vase to re-examine whether sufficient incentives for growth exist in the current funding arrangements. The `Demand Led Element' (DLE) in the Further Educating Funding Council's methodology was a mechanism for growth. This resulted in growth by individual providers, which lacked a coherent framework in terms of national social or economic priorities and target groups. It proved to be flawed in terms of effective implementation, was misused by some providers and did not necessarily attract significant numbers of new learners: in some cases offering funding to complement existing employer-based provision.

  59.  However, there was some good and innovative practice enabled by the DLE in partnership arrangements, particularly at the local community level. A funding mechanism which was more carefully tailored and specified to meet the needs of social and economic priority groups as part of a targeted and carefully monitored growth strategy could provide the right incentives for providers.


  60.  The analysis above highlights that achievement of priorities for quality and for targeted growth will require clarity of purpose and priorities, strong leadership and highly motivated staff. In addition, the realisation of the full potential of the range of providers in the new LSC sector will require institutions with clarity about their own mission and contribution and the confidence to collaborate to achieve common objectives.

  61.  The 1998 Select Committee report identified the need for a clear strategic role and framework for FE colleges. We believe that this is particularly the case in the new LSC context. Colleges represent the major resource within the LSC sector and the strategic deployment of this resource must be a priority.

  62.  We believe that the strategic focus for general FE colleges should be to develop an inclusive and modern approach to vocational education and training. Key features could include:

    —  Engagement with employers and the economy;

    —  Commitment to business competitiveness and community renewal and regeneration—from a strong vocational platform colleges can arguably make a stronger contribution to social and community provision;

    —  Capacity to develop individuals' skills through to high levels of technical and vocational excellence—the capacity to draw people into learning and then motivate them to develop their skills to high levels will be critical.

  63.  We believe that these features can build the status of vocational and technical provision, motivate learners and build the skills needed to achieve economic and social regeneration. For colleges we suggest that greater clarity of primary purpose need not imply a narrowing of provision, neither across the network of colleges not within individual institutions. It will, however, provide the basis for making decisions about how to develop provision in relation to other providers. The drive for quality, improving access, and growth will better be tackled by a strong sense of priorities at institutional level, within the context of a more clearly articulated strategic role.

Learning and Skills Development Agency

October 2001

1   Government's response to the Select Committee report, paragraph six. Back

2   FEFC Statistical First Release published in July 2001. Figures only include FEFC funded provision, do not include HEFCE numbers. Back

3   For better or worse: the influence of FE franchising on learning, FEDA, 2000. Back

4   FEFC Performance indicators publications-eg Table four on pages 32-33 of the 1998-99 volume, published Dec 2000. Back

5   Published as Colleges for excellence and innovation, DfES, November 2000. Back

6   Searching for excellence in FE colleges, LSDA, 2001, identified the factors which characterise high quality vocational provision. Back

7   Unless stated otherwise these appear in the LSC Corporate Plan. Back

8   The grant letter states: by 2002, 500,000 adults taking part in provision to improve their literacy and numeracy and by 2004 the number of adults with weak literacy or numeracy skills reduced by 750,000. This disaggregated target has not been published elsewhere. Back

9   Raising Quality and Achievement programme. Back

10   For example, the Principals' Programme, Senior Leadership Programme, Management Development Programme. Back

11   Listening to Staff, LSDA, October 2001. Back

12   For example, Back on Track: Successful learning provision for disaffected young people, LSDA/DfES, 2000; Evaluation of non-schedule two projects, LSDA/NIACE, 2000. Back

13   Relevant LSDA (and FEDA) research and publications include: Promoting learning in small and medium-sized enterprises, 1998; Supporting local small businesses, 1999; Developing responsiveness in VET, 2000; Learning in the workplace, 2001; Developing leading edge staff in colleges, 2001; and an ADAPT project (1998-2000) which considered relationships between FE and local SMEs. Back

14   LSDA work in this area includes the Basic Skills Quality Initiative, regional Basic Skills practitioner networks and projects to evaluate of Basic Skills and ESOL in local communities, and to identify non-accredited outcomes in Basic Skills and ESOL. Back

15   Mellor, H; Institute of Education. Back

16   The Costs of Disadvantage, LSDA, 2001. Back

17   These issues are explored in the recent LSDA publication Supporting Adult Learners-the Need for a New Approach, LSDA, 2001. Back

18   Educational Maintenance Allowances-the impact on further education, LSDA, 2000. Back

19   Student transport-Unfair or just Unequal, LSDA, 2000. Back

20   For example, The Hardship of Learning by Claire Callender, South Bank University, 1998. Back

21   FE Select Committee Report, paragraph 142. Back

22   Attracting new Learners: a literature review, IES/LSDA June 2001. In addition a report of an international seminar on successful strategies, held in June 2001 will be published in December 2001. Back

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Prepared 29 November 2001