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Post-16 Skills Plan - A Monopoly on Qualifications?

Blog posted by: Michael Lemin, Thursday, 16 February 2017.

Following a review led by Lord Sainsbury, the government's Post-16 Skills Plan proposes overhauling technical education for 16-18 year olds. The unintended consequences of the policy could potentially cause more harm than good – here we look at the Plan in more detail.

The principles behind the reforms are admirable; aligning the skills system to needs of employers, eliminating 'low value' qualifications that are of little use to learners, and ensuring financial sustainability of the system. Unfortunately, as the policies emerge and are put into practice, there are serious concerns about the negative impact this could have on learners, educators and employers.

The plan proposes moving away from the current model, where colleges, schools and training providers have a choice of Awarding Organisation. The new system will mean skills training is divided into 15 ‘routes’ and a licence given to a single Awarding Organisation to deliver each part of the skills qualification system. The intention is to ensure that the system is more simple and consistent.

Unfortunately, one only has to look at Southern Rail as an example of what can happen when an organisation is awarded a monopoly. Customers (in these cases, colleges, schools and training providers) will not have the option to take their business elsewhere if they’re not happy with the product (qualification) or service offered.

Some Awarding Organisations may feel that the need to provide good customer service disappears in light of having no competition. I can see a situation where learners could find themselves waiting a long time to receive certificates from some Awarding Organisations. The incentive for Awarding Organisations to innovate and invest in developing qualifications for the emerging skills needs of our economy is taken away.

These factors are likely to have a hugely negative impact on skills provision, if not addressed. The problem is that there is such huge reform in the sector, and the skills system is very complex, evolved over decades of interventionist policy making.

It’s difficult for ministers or civil servants to pay due attention to perceived minor details in light of the scale of change. But it is these details that will determine the= success of their plans. The next few years are crucial; if we get it wrong, the results could be wholly detrimental. Employers could walk away; learners could lose confidence in the skills system.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. It’s been genuinely exciting to see employers taking such an active part in the skills system in recent years. This will help to ensure that we create a system that gives people the skills that employers want. Apprenticeships are back in the limelight and learners are seriously considering them as a viable route in to employment, in light of rising university costs.

We need to build on this early success and work with the government to highlight the need for continued discussion and consideration of the finer details of emerging skills policy. From our unique vantage point, we’re excited about the potential positive impacts that reforms will bring to employers and learners, and we’ll continue to challenge emerging policy and constrictively suggest changes to ensure that the new system works for all.


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