Priority 1: Focus support on young people
The impact of Covid-19 will be one of the defining features for a whole generation of young people. Our report ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Education’ highlights that the economic impact has been, and will continue to be, felt disproportionately by those under 24 and the impact on mental health has been particularly challenging for many young people. We have also seen a widening of the digital divide with disadvantaged young people left further behind than their peers due to limited digital reach.
Over the next year HM Treasury and DfE should immediately prioritise funding to support a full return to education, particularly supporting young people and disadvantaged learners at risk of being left behind and ensuring digital access for those who need it most.
Priority 2: Apprenticeships
For too long, we have seen the government’s fixation on targets lead us to a culture of ‘quantity ahead of quality’. Covid-19 has also had a particular impact on apprentices with more than a third furloughed and more than one in ten made redundant.
We need to promote apprenticeships as an equal route to success. This should include refocusing the levy on 16-24 year olds and offering a significant wage subsidy for small businesses so that regions can more appropriately tailor the programme to meet local need
Priority 3: Supporting our education workforce
The last few months have been particularly challenging for our education workforce, with significant concerns over mental health, workload and the pressures of moving to online, hybrid working.
The CSR should signal clear support for our workforce by increasing pay, improving issues of recruitment and retention and strengthening professional development. This should go some way to ensuring that our college workforce feel better valued and there is parity of esteem. So that lecturers remain at the forefront of their field, government should also fund a sustainable programme of industry exchange – at Edge we have piloted a series of ‘teacher externships’ which provide a successful model of how this can be done well.
Priority 4: Careers support
The lack of a coherent careers advice strategy for young people is now posing a longstanding challenge for education institutions. It is bad for people and bad for business. At Edge, we have been advocating the importance of good quality careers guidance so that young people can understand the breadth of career opportunities.
For students entering the workforce the crisis has had a significant impact on career paths so these students need particular support. We also need to see renewed funding for careers programmes, careers hubs and better integration of careers into the curriculum, through real examples that help bring learning to life.
Priority 5: Renewed support for technical skills
We welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Supporting adults towards their first level 3 qualification will enable those furthest from the labour market to upskill and gain meaningful employment. We also welcome the refocus towards lifetime learning and flexible funding for FE and HE so that adults and young people can reskill into sustainable jobs fit for the future.
This year we need to see government match this ambition with pace and urgency. The £2.5bn National Skills Fund offers an opportunity to support individuals to retrain and ensure that adults are supported into meaningful employment. We also need to see continued support for T levels and renewed reform of Higher Technical Education to make this a more popular and prestigious choice.
Despite the difficulty of the current fiscal situation we can also use this year as an opportunity to strengthen policies that don’t need substantial sums of money. By taking the time to collaborate across institutions, working closer with employers and learning from best practice across our four nations we can use this opportunity to support our FE sector out of this crisis and towards a bolder and brighter future.