Why colleges must be at heart of jobs plan – Angela Foulkes

The Government has now unveiled its  Skills for Jobs White Paper.The Government has now unveiled its  Skills for Jobs White Paper.
The Government has now unveiled its Skills for Jobs White Paper.
IT has been a long time coming, but it’s very encouraging to see the Government place its faith in the further education sector.

The Skills for Jobs White Paper, announced by Ministers, puts further education colleges at the forefront of a skills-led economic recovery that our communities, region and country urgently need.

Colleges are already at the heart of their communities across Sheffield City Region, Yorkshire and beyond; they provide a huge range of vocational and academic qualifications for young people and adults from entry through to degree level.

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For too long, our sector has been on the periphery, overlooked and underfunded by government.

Angela Foulkes is Chief Executive and Principal of The Sheffield College.Angela Foulkes is Chief Executive and Principal of The Sheffield College.
Angela Foulkes is Chief Executive and Principal of The Sheffield College.

The White Paper means that colleges, and the communities they serve, now have the opportunity to benefit from a rebalancing of academic and technical education.

Investment in high-quality technical and vocational education will lead to improved life chances for young people and adults alike.

Currently, the post-16 education and skills system is not set up to empower colleges to offer the full range of opportunities needed for people to reach their potential. This is especially true for the 50 per cent who do not go to university, as the Independent Commission on the College of the Future has pointed out.

That needs to change – and at 

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Our concern within FE is that young people and adults with lower level qualifications are at greater risk of unemployment in an economic downturn – yet, frustratingly, the opportunities to support some
of those learners have been 

Historical skills gaps are being exacerbated by the pandemic from an adult education system weakened through lack of investment during the last 10 years.

Spending, according to the Association of Colleges, fell in real terms by 45 per cent from 2010 to 2018.

There are ongoing issues with the ‘missing middle’ in terms of qualifications and skills.

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Students tend to leave education at Level 3, for example, having achieved BTEC Extended Diplomas and A-Levels. Or they go onto study full degrees.

In fact, many more learners could benefit from employment-focused qualifications in the middle.

These are currently known as Level 4 and 5 qualifications, such as higher national certificates, higher national diplomas and foundation degrees, which will become the higher technical qualifications, referred to in the White Paper.

Participation in adult training has also fallen at all qualifications below degree levels because funding has been cut and provision has shrunk. This has implications for social mobility too.

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Adults with the lowest qualification levels are the least likely to access adult training despite being the group who might benefit most.

I feel the Government recognises all the issues I have mentioned and putting us at the heart of their plan for jobs represents a significant shift in public policy.

It’s exciting to see FE get the recognition it deserves and the chance to show how amazing colleges are at transforming lives, communities and economies.

There is much to be optimistic about, and of course elements we will need to consult and engage on.

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Establishing college business centres by working with employers and Chambers of Commerce could accelerate collaboration and get local employers the skilled people they need so long as the measures are done truly ‘with’ colleges – and not just ‘to’ them.

I’ve always said that colleges are anchor institutions in their local communities and are well positioned to lead the nation’s skills recovery – hopefully this is the first step on that road.

Angela Foulkes is Chief Executive and Principal of The Sheffield College.

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