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The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] was introduced in the House of Lords on 18 May 2021. It received its first reading in the House of Commons on 26 October 2021 and has since passed its second reading and committee stage. A date for report stage and third reading is yet to be announced.

The Bill aims to improve how the skills and post-16 education system functions in England. It supports the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, announced by the Prime Minister in September 2020.

The Bill would implement reforms set out in the Department for Education (DfE) White Paper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth (January 2021). These included giving employers a greater say in skills development, new measures to improve teacher training, and a Lifelong Loan Entitlement.

The Bill also includes measures to address some of the recommendations of the Independent Panel Report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (the Augar report), published in May 2019, particularly around increasing opportunities for flexible, lifetime learning.

What the Bill does

The Bill would allow Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) to be created by Employer Representative Bodies (ERBs). LSIPs would take account of local skills needs to help shape what courses further education providers offer.

The Bill would increase the role of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education when it comes to approving and regulating qualifications. It would also give the Secretary of State for Education powers to introduce a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which would provide students with four years of funding for post-18 education.

Other provisions seek to improve further education teacher training and to criminalise services that help post-16 students in England cheat on assessments.

The Bill currently has four parts and 36 substantive clauses.

Second reading debate

MPs passed the Bill at its second reading on 15 November without a vote. During the debate, the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, announced policy changes and proposed amendments to address concerns raised in the House of Lords. These included:

  • committing to amend the Bill to include combined authorities in the development of LSIPs;
  • delaying the defunding of some BTEC qualifications by a year;
  • removing the requirement to get a level 2 English and maths qualification as part of a T level (new, two-year technical courses equivalent to three A Levels);
  • committing to consult on proposals to reform level 2 qualifications (a GCSE pass or equivalent).

Labour said the Bill had been improved by the Lords and would not oppose it. However, it raised concerns about the timetable for introducing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, the exclusion of level 2 qualifications from the Bill, and the effect of funding restrictions for students wanting to take an equivalent or lower-level qualification to the ones they hold.

Committee stage debate

The Bill’s committee stage comprised six sessions of line-by-line scrutiny between 30 November and 7 December 2021. In addition to the promised amendment to include the views of combined authorities in creating LSIPs, the Government removed amendments and new clauses added at report stage in the House of Lords. Among other things, the Government reversed changes that would have:

  • required LSIPs to be developed by a “partnership” between ERBs, local authorities, and further education providers;
  • given learners a legal right to take BTECs and other applied general qualifications, rather than simply the opportunity where they are offered;
  • allowed students to keep their Universal Credit entitlement while studying.

No Opposition amendments were accepted, but in response to several issues they raised, the Minister for Skills said relevant details would be set out in statutory guidance.

Further reading

Background to the Bill, commentary on its provisions, and responses from the further education and skills sector can be found in the Commons Library briefing Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

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