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Funding for the FE sector is vital if we are to deliver the critical skills the country  needs

Funding cuts over the last decade have hit further education particularly hard; with a looming crisis and  government unwilling to intervene, this could impact the sector in irreparable ways, writes Bill Jones, Deputy CEO of Luminate Education Group

The government already acknowledges that the FE sector is vital to the UK’s economic growth and productivity. This was made apparent in the summer and autumn budgets last year when the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak, planned to apportion more than £3.8 billion towards skills development by 2024-25, equivalent to a cash increase of 42 per cent (26 per cent in real terms) compared to 2019/20.

However, beyond this promise, there was a failure to provide clarity about how much of the allocated funding was additional as much of it appeared to have been rehashed from a pot that had previously been awarded.

The current education budget is not sustainable in our current climate

Even based on the 2021 budget, which included a further £1.7 billion, college spending per pupil in 2024 will still be around 10 per cent below what it was a decade ago. School sixth form spending per pupil will be 23 per cent below 2010 levels, which is not ideal in our current economy. 

We are already in the throes of a recession and this is going to bring about challenges such as unemployment, which will amplify skills gaps. Education in every sense is a fundamental factor of development. No nation can achieve sustainable economic development without a sizeable investment in ‘human capital’. FE colleges will be key to supporting people to gain additional skills and knowledge that can help them stand out from the competition. It will also play a crucial role in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution.

The reality is that school and college spending has seen major cuts over the past decade and like the Association of Colleges, and other unions/organisations, I agree that a real-terms cut in funding will be detrimental. It is also concerning that there are considerations being made for further ‘efficiencies’ in public spending but with the rate at which the economy is going, there is no room for efficiencies.

Further efficiencies, means further cuts, and where the education sector is concerned, will mean that our ability to deliver programmes that prepare young people and adults for the labour market will be reduced because of lack of resources. It will also result in the most disadvantaged people missing out on vital education and the country further combating skills gaps.

The government needs to expand opportunities within the FE sector, based on efficiency and equity. This means ensuring that we are at the heart of its strategic plans as essentially, we are the drivers of skills development.

We recently wrote to the education secretary and expressed our concerns about the lack of funding and the impact it will have on the delivery of quality education, teaching staff and resources.

As a sector, we are a first choice provider and offer young people and adults a second chance to gain the necessary knowledge and skills that lead them on to higher education or employment; FE needs to be taken seriously. Robust frameworks need to be put in place so that it is not lagging behind when it comes to allocation of resources. We want to be in a position to respond to the different and changing needs of people who want to learn and  improve their lives through education. 

Apprenticeships need more reform and promotion

In April 2017, the government introduced the apprenticeship levy, which aimed to put skills development in the hands of employers to address skills shortages within their business. While we welcomed the move, we would like to see reform of the apprenticeships system to make it more flexible and transparent, as it will help achieve a bigger boost to skills development.

Apprenticeships will be an integral part of the UK’s growth strategy in the years to come, therefore, there needs to be assurance that funding created through the levy is sustained and used effectively for the national good.

Adult education budget needs to be revisited 

Adult education has been impacted very significantly across England over the last three years. I believe that the adult education budget needs to be revisited as the clawback on adult skills funding from colleges and other grant-funded organisations like local authorities, risks hitting colleges at an already very challenging time. 

We want to continue supporting adults who need to upskill or reskill in order to secure more sustainable employment, but in order to do this, the 90% threshold needs to be reduced or it could force providers to lose focus on these priority learners and cause colleges across England to reduce capacity for adult skills.

More cuts will greatly impact driving the skills agenda nationally 

We want to be able to do more to drive economic growth/recovery, as well as tackle some of the wider regional issues and social inequalities. However, the funding model needs to reflect and support the huge social and economic benefits that come from that.

We are already seeing cuts in extra-curricular provision, such as school trips and clubs, across the country. If we are not prioritised in terms of funding, we will see learners not developing the transferable skills required by the jobs market. This will have a knock-on effect as the UK continues to face growing skills shortages.

Declining funding has real consequences for learners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and if no more money is funnelled into the sector, we will see educational outcomes get worse in the future as a result of this neglect.

Colleges have fixed budgets from the Department for Education but with energy prices set to quadruple, we’ll have to cut the resources we have for staff at a time when we are already experiencing staff pay difficulties. 

Over the last decade, college staff pay has fallen behind inflation by 35%, this means that the vast majority of college staff are financially insecure.

FE staff are highly skilled and their work is essential, not only to our students and sector as a whole, but to the region’s future prosperity. With the rise in the cost of living, the impact on the profession over the last two years has been incredibly challenging, leaving us concerned about retaining some of our best staff. 

I believe that the levelling up agenda that the government has been pushing must also include saving the vital support staff jobs which are dwindling, with huge damage for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), who need personalised support. 

Make VAT status same as multi academy trusts

One feasible suggestion is looking at the VAT status of the FE sector. For many years, successive governments told FE colleges that we could not have the same VAT status as academies and schools because of European Union rules. I am calling upon the treasury to review and consider creating a level playing field in post-16 education and move FE corporations onto the same VAT status as multi-academy trusts and 16 to 19 free schools.

If the government wants us to deliver T Levels, increase apprenticeship delivery, and grow adult provisions, there needs to be a full commitment to providing the FE sector with the necessary financial backing. It also needs to strongly support the courses that strengthen the UK’s thriving industries.

Keighley College

Keighley College receives funding for green skills investment

Keighley College is one of six further education providers across the region that will receive £140,000 to invest in specialist equipment to deliver electric vehicle and retrofit training, grow and embed green knowledge within the curriculum and improve links with businesses to develop and enhance their green skills.

As part of the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges (WYCC), the college will be involved in government plans to boost the nation’s skills and make sure more people can secure good, well-paid jobs that are closer to where they live.

A great opportunity to ‘level up’ for sustainability

Kevin O’Hare, Principal at Keighley College, said: “We are delighted to be working with partners across the region to help our young people develop green skills and learn about sustainability.

“Our Industrial Centre of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering provides students with the opportunity to gain real world industry experience and this project will allow us to explore more green opportunities available in these areas.

“It is our aim to ensure that we successfully embed sustainable development goals into our curriculum and prepare our learners for futures in a greener world.”

The Department for Education has announced that it will invest £2.6m in West Yorkshire’s colleges through the Strategic Development Fund. 

The fund was launched in 2021 to help colleges and further education providers to transform their facilities and offer high quality technical training that better meet the needs of local employers and boost job opportunities for their communities.

This would mean that local businesses have access to the home-grown talent they need for the jobs of tomorrow and more people don’t need to leave their hometowns to get a good job.

Preparing a workforce for the future

Project Director of the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges, Joanne Patrickson said: “This funding will make a big difference to our colleges and in turn, the businesses and communities in West Yorkshire. 

“Part of the funding will be a capital investment into equipment and machinery to allow our colleges to train the workforce in electric vehicle maintenance and retrofitting buildings.

“Colleges will be employing dedicated teams to work closely with businesses in the region to understand what help they need to become more sustainable, and the WYCC The Green Skills Service to help employers access the training and resources they need to take action.”

The £2.6m is contracted to be spent by 31 March 2023, but this initial investment will allow these new initiatives to establish and offer training that will prepare the workforce for a sustainable future.

Breaking down research barriers to enhance teaching

A new group has been started to ensure our staff can learn about and benefit from each other’s research.

Laura Kayes hopes the Research Development Group (RDG) will encourage colleagues from across multiple disciplines and campuses to share the extra work that so many of them are doing. The group also picks topics of general interest to discuss, and delves into existing research.

Laura, an Advanced Practitioner in teaching, learning and assessment and a Creative Arts lecturer at University Centre Leeds, uses her own research to inform her teaching.

She is currently undertaking funded* research – through her doctorate in education with the University of Sheffield – into the impact poverty can have on 16-19 year old learner outcomes in FE.

Laura was asked to take over the RDG shortly after it had started, at the end of 2021 – and jumped at the chance.

A chance to share insights

She said: “The group is about enhancing scholarly activity within Luminate Education Group. When I started conducting my own research, I realised that there’s a lot of valuable research that’s not being shared, and I wanted that to happen.

“Further education is rich in the diversity of its workforce but for some of our staff their first contact with higher education may be doing a PGCE or teaching qualification.

“So they’re not too familiar with higher education and it can seem a bit intimidating – there’s a tendency to always see the word ‘research’ and think it’s very academic, and I wanted to break that down.

“For the first  session after I took over, I brought in research about how to be authentic in the workplace. That seemed a good starting place because it impacts everybody, is something we can all talk about and, though it had been researched, it had been done in a very human way.”

Gaining insights from outside our comfort zones

Laura is conscious that one of the strengths of the Luminate group – its size and breadth of campuses and disciplines – can also be a barrier when it comes to collaboration.

The RDG, however, is focused on encouraging colleagues to look outside of their own fields to see what they can learn from, and share with others.

She said: “As teachers we’re curious people, that’s why we’ve chosen to go into this field, but it’s really easy to become insular once term starts and we’re all so busy.

“We’re massive here at Luminate so sometimes it’s not so easy to share practice. But we all have lessons to be learnt from different fields.”

A bite-sized approach

Aware of how intimidating some research can seem, Laura is getting the group to adopt an approach that makes sophisticated ideas easily digestible.

At another recent meeting of the RDG, for example, Zach Cotter – who has a doctorate in neuroscience – spoke about his in-depth research into the workings of the brain.

The subject could easily have seemed impenetrable but Zach, a course leader for T Levels in Digital Design and Production and Digital Support Services, took pains to make sure that wasn’t the case.

Laura said: “Zach brought along some really scientific research about the mind and talked a lot about brain scans.

“There were some really challenging ideas in there but he was really gentle in his approach, so it didn’t feel overwhelming, and the feedback we got was that it was accessible to people.”

She added: “Going forward I want to use a gradual release model that lets us break research down into bite-sized pieces so we can discuss it, consider how we might apply it, and even conduct our own research on the impact of doing so.

“We have a lot of staff involved in research that not too many of the wider group know about, so the next step is to get them feeling like they have something valuable that they’re willing to share.”

The RDG is open to any colleague with an interest in educational research, and meets once every half-term.

*Laura’s research is being supported by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE).

Open day offers a first glimpse at brand new Pudsey Sixth Form College

Students have been given an early taste of what Pudsey Sixth Form College will have to offer when it opens.

The new sixth form held its first open day to introduce potential students to the all-new further education establishment, which is set to open in September 2024. 

Pudsey Sixth Form College is being developed through a partnership between Crawshaw Academy, Co-op Academy Priesthorpe, Leeds West Academy and Leeds Sixth Form College.  

By creating this dedicated post-16 provision, future Pudsey students will benefit from an educational experience that builds confidence, raises aspirations and hope to inspire generations to come

The event took place at Leeds Sixth Form College, where the first cohort of Pudsey Sixth Form College students will initially be based next year, until the new college building is complete.

This gave prospective students a first glimpse at the exclusive classrooms, study zones and dedicated spaces they will have access to, as well as an opportunity to meet the architects, designers and builders who are involved in developing the new Sixth Form College in Pudsey. 

Parents and prospective students had the chance to view the designs and ask questions.

Students also took the opportunity to speak to teachers about the sixth form’s broad subject and enrichment offer, and have their questions answered by members of the management team.

Leeds Sixth Form College and Pudsey Sixth Form College Principal, Rachael Booth, said: “We are delighted to be sharing our vision for Pudsey Sixth Form College in person for the first time.

“This event has allowed us to showcase our ambitious offer of subjects and qualifications as a specialist sixth form, as well as our commitment to preparing our students for a future without limits.

“This is an exciting new chapter for education in the area, and it’s great to see so many people joining us to find out more.”

The Pudsey story

There has long been a history of partnership and collaboration amongst the local schools in Pudsey, but this new venture was born out of a need for a dedicated sixth form for students in Pudsey. 

As part of Luminate Education Group, Pudsey Sixth Form College aims to become the natural destination for further education in the area.

In 2024, the sixth form will take up residence in an all-new, multi-million pound campus located in the heart of the Pudsey district. 

Designed with community needs in mind, the new building will feature 26 classrooms as well as art studios, design and technology workshops and laboratories to give students access to unparalleled educational opportunities.

What’s on offer?

Pudsey Sixth Form College’s academic provision will centre primarily around A levels, offering a range of subjects that will act as a springboard to university and beyond.

But as one learning style will not suit every student, the sixth form will also offer practical courses and hybrid pathways for those looking to undertake a different type of vocational qualification alongside their A level studies.

Rachael Booth added: “We will provide choice for students in Pudsey, with unparalleled opportunities both in terms of course choices, but also the breadth of extra and super curricular on offer.Broadening choices at this critical stage in their education means young people can make an informed decision about their chosen path.

“We want our students to enjoy learning and to acquire the skills they need to succeed – no matter their destination.”

If you would like to find out more about Pudsey Sixth Form College, please visit the website.

Huge Impact of Smaller and Specialist Universities Highlighted in New Report

Leeds Conservatoire, a member of GuildHE and has contributed to its new ‘Building the Jigsaw’ report, launched on Tuesday 27 September.

Small and specialist universities are innovative, agile industry experts supporting the economic development within their communities and specific sectors in the economy. Frequently located in smaller towns, on the edge of cities, or in rural or coastal locations, many also carry out high impact, practical research and knowledge exchange.

This new report from GuildHE demonstrates they are well-positioned to stimulate the growth of key priority economies such as the creative industries, health and agriculture in a landscape which includes the Government’s levelling up agenda and the plan to increase investment in research and development to 2.4 per cent of the GDP by 2027.

‘Building the Jigsaw’ contains an in-depth study of the key role of smaller and specialist universities in their local, national and international economies. The report uses a combined experimental heat mapping and case studies approach to highlight the local, national and international economic impact of smaller and specialist UK higher education institutions. It brings new evidence to the sector by capturing knowledge exchange activities not always apparent in traditional statistics and often in unexpected locations throughout the UK.

Anthony McClaran, GuildHE Chair and Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s University Twickenham, said:

“Many small and specialist universities are innovative, agile industry experts that carry out high impact, practical research and knowledge exchange. This important report brings new evidence to the sector and a new approach to capturing the local, national and international economic impact of their work.”

Eleven UK higher education institutions, including Leeds Conservatoire, contributed to the report.

Professor Joe Wilson, Principal at Leeds Conservatoire, added:

“As a specialist institution, known for its creativity and innovation, Leeds Conservatoire seized the opportunity to contribute to the ‘Building the Jigsaw’ report and be part of the case study on productive collaborations in the Leeds City Region.”

The activity of higher education providers is often distributed widely across a region. In Leeds City Region, the largest economy outside of London, this means projects and relationships that reach up to and beyond the borders of the ten districts. The work of three small and specialist institutions, Leeds Conservatoire, Leeds Arts University and Leeds Trinity University, all members of Yorkshire Universities, helps to illustrate this reach.

The case studies in the report, five in total, reveal a surprising number of initiatives and collaborations being undertaken by smaller and specialist institutions that are driving impact, prosperity, and actively addressing local, regional, national and even international, economic, social and cultural challenges.

Read the ‘Building the Jigsaw’ report

Find out more about GuildHE

Next Gen Choices Fair is coming to Leeds

Luminate Education Group have taken the lead in organising a one-day choices fair for 14-16 year olds across North and West Yorkshire.

Taking place on Tuesday 18 October at Elland Road’s Centenary Pavilion, the group have developed the event to showcase the wealth of opportunities open to young people following their GCSEs.

With an increasing number of post-16 options available to students, choosing what to do next can seem like a daunting prospect.

By hosting further education colleges, sixth form colleges and apprenticeship providers, plus training companies and employers all under one roof, this event will provide young people with the information they’ll need when considering their next steps.

The occasion will also provide an opportunity for employers to meet students from across the region, inspire the next generation of talent and promote their organisation

If you would like more information about the choices fair, please visit luminate.ac.uk/nextgen or click here to book your place. School groups can book here.

If you or your organisation would like to reserve a space as an exhibitor, then please complete this booking form, or contact sibh.megson@luminate.ac.uk for more information.

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