What does the future hold for further education in Croydon?

By - Wednesday 26th August, 2015

Croydon, like the rest of our country, must invest in education and skills, says Sean Creighton

The decision of the government to cut the English adult further education budget for 2015-16, once funding for apprenticeships is excluded, by 24% will decimate further education provision, leaving millions of the most vulnerable adults without access to any opportunity to improve their education or retrain and put thousands of jobs in further education (FE) at risk. At the moment there are five million people in the FE system.

What does this mean for Croydonians in terms of what CALAT (Croydon Adult Learning and Training) and the Croydon, Coulsdon and John Ruskin Colleges will be able to offer? It is always possible that our local colleges will be merged or one or two of them closed.

The cut appears to undermine the intentions of the government’s unexpected entry into long term planning with its productivity plan, published in July as part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s summer budget, and is counter to being able to implement the recommendations being made by organisations like the Workers’ Educational Association*.

There’s a compelling case for investing in education and skills

Long term under-investment in skills is a major reason why Britain has a widening productivity gap with other major competitors, argues Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the WEA. “In this current climate”, she states, “there is a compelling case for increasing investment in the education and skills of the whole work force. Only 5% of government spending on education and training goes on adult FE and skills. Education should and needs to be accessible to everyone and in particular those who lack proficiency in literacy, numeracy and digital skills”.

Spellman contiues: “(T)here are five million people in low-paid work who will not be eligible for an apprenticeship. The WEA would like to see employers and government working in partnership to increase skills and reduce income inequality. As stated in our manifesto, we believe that auto-enrolling workers at all levels into training and development accounts to support skills development and providing tax relief to employers who give their employees opportunities to learn will help stem the growth in skills shortages”.

FE colleges “are ideally placed to play a larger role in the provision of technical and professional qualifications but expansion must be dependent on links to local employers and on teaching that combines pedagogical expertise with knowledge of current practice in the workplace”, argues Dr Scott Kelly in a report published on 16th July by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Scott outlines as necessary features of a better system:

  • a well-defined set of institutions with a core mission based around technical and professional qualifications
  • a better system for accrediting and funding technical and professional qualifications, with a clear distinction between work-oriented qualifications linked to specific jobs and qualifications intended as stepping-stones to first degrees
  • reduced barriers to employer engagement

He also recommends that:

  • people with recent industry experience should be encouraged into teaching by removing some of the qualification barriers to becoming a part-time teacher and by establishing a scheme similar to Teach First that supports qualified and experienced technicians who want to shift to teaching
  • (a) new system for accrediting qualifications should… give scope to accredited higher education institutions, FE colleges and private training providers to design and deliver their own qualifications if they can demonstrate sufficient rigour and industry engagement
  • formal industry representation should be intrinsic to a new system for accreditation and funding, leading to the creation of strong and stable institutional anchors for business engagement

 The productivity plan

This plan cleverly links together the main components of government economic and social strategy:

  • An even more competitive tax system, bringing business and investment to Britain
  • Rewards for saving and long-term investment
  • A highly skilled workforce, with employers in the driving seat
  • World-leading universities, open to all who can benefit
  • A modern transport system
  • World-class digital infrastructure in every part of the UK
  • High-quality science and innovation, spreading fast
  • Planning freedoms and more houses to buy
  • A higher pay, lower welfare society
  • More people with a chance to work and progress
  • Financial services that lead the world in investing for growth
  • Open and competitive markets with the minimum of regulation
  • The creation of a trading nation, open to international investment, with resurgent cities, a rebalanced economy and a thriving Northern Powerhouse

The plan states that: “It is an agenda for the UK’s overall domestic policy for the course of this parliament, and it will be tracked and driven forward by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, under the leadership of the Chancellor of the Exchequer”.

A national petition has been launched calling on the government not to implement the cuts to FE and to instead to invest properly in lifelong learning opportunities for all.

*In 2003 the WEA celebrated its 100th anniversary. I had an essay published in the anniversary book and gave several talks about the formation of the WEA. A display on its first 100 years was mounted by Croydon Radical History Network as part of this year’s Croydon Heritage Festival in June 2015, and is available for use .

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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