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On 22 January 2021 the Government published its further education white paper – Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth.

The further education (FE) and skills sector is large and complex with a wide range of public and private providers and significant numbers of students. It has frequently been said that the sector is overlooked and undervalued compared to the higher profile schools and higher education sectors. The FE sector has for many years suffer from underfunding and decreasing student numbers and this has become more acute in recent years.

Furthermore England has for a number of years suffered from skills gaps in some vocational areas. The Government has sought to raise technical skill levels and increase productivity through a number of strategies and initatives but persistent issues remain.

In 2019/20 1.75 million adult learners took part in some form of funded further education and skills in England. 0.88 million were on (classroom-based) education and training courses, 0.58 million on adult apprenticeships and 0.36 million on (non-formal) community learning courses. These courses cover a very wide range of academic levels.

The majority (61%) of learners in this sector were female, 24% were from Black, Asian or minority ethnic groups, 56% were aged 25-49 and 18% were 50 or older.

There are a wide range of factors behind the decline in further education students including: cuts in funding for some courses, increased complexity in funding rules and the ongoing increased ‘competition’ from the higher education sector.

Spending on adult education has fallen by nearly two-thirds in real terms since 2003–04 and about half since 2009–10. In 2018/19, colleges’ income totalled £6.5 billion, of which £5.1billion (78%) was public funding.

In May 2019 the Independent Review of post-18 education (the Augar Review) published its report. The review analysed the whole of the tertiary education system and made recommendations on structures and funding to encourage and facilitate lifelong learning.

On 29 April 2020 Gavin Williamson the education secretary told the Education Committee that the Government intended to publish a ‘revolutionary’ FE and skills white paper. Further information on the white paper was given on 29 July 2020 when Mr Williamson said at the Social Market Foundation that he planned to “build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities”.

The impact of the Covid pandemic and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on jobs has created further impetus to increase skills and boost employment. The Government has announced a number of schemes to achieve this such as the National Skills Fund, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, Kickstart and digital boot camps.

The white paper aims to increase momomentum in the delivery of skills by: increasing employer involvement in skills courses and better tailoring provison to local needs, improvng higher technical qualifications, introducing a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, reforming accountabilty and funding systems and supporting FE teachers.


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