Gavin Williamson – 2021 Statement on the Skills for Jobs White Paper

The statement made by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 21 January 2021.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the publication of a Skills for Jobs White Paper on the next steps for post-16 education reform.

Last October, I notified the House of our plans to introduce a dynamic programme of measures to reshape this country’s further and technical education landscape, which is a key part of our mission to empower everyone in this country and level up those areas that have been overlooked and under-resourced for too long.

I informed hon. and right hon. Members that the details of how we would do this would be spelled out in a White Paper, and I am pleased to announce its publication today.

The House needs no reminding that this country stands at a critical point in its history. We have some enormous challenges ahead. There is an urgent need to rebuild an economy injured by the covid pandemic. We have already outlined an unprecedented support package to protect jobs and offer retraining to those who have lost theirs due to covid-19, but beyond covid we must also forge a new identity as an independent trading nation. Both those challenges have exposed our need for a strong and flourishing technical education sector to fire up the jobs of the future.

This White Paper is our blueprint for that future. It will play a pivotal role in creating jobs and rebuilding our economy. Through the lifetime skills guarantee, we will help people train and retrain at any stage of their lives. Our new flexible digital skills bootcamp training will give people the technical skills they need for great jobs through 12 to 16-week courses, and those bootcamps will expand into other sectors, such as engineering. From this April, tens of thousands of adults will be able to benefit from almost 400 free courses, which will be the first phase in the lifetime skills guarantee. These fully funded courses, which range from engineering to healthcare and conservation, will be available to adults without a full qualification at A-level equivalent or above, to help them gain skills that are in demand and that will open up exciting job opportunities for them.

In April, we will also kickstart the expansion of higher technical education, as we work towards making it as easy to get a loan for an approved higher technical qualification as it is for a full-length degree. We will also introduce pilots to encourage more flexible and modular provision, so that courses are more accessible and convenient. Lifelong loan entitlement will be up and running from 2025 and will build on the changes we are bringing in through this White Paper. Learners will be able to fit study around work, family and personal commitments and retrain as their circumstances and the economy change.

This White Paper is going to put employers firmly at the centre of our local skills systems, working in partnership with colleges and key local stakeholders to shape technical skills provision, so that it better supports the local economy. It will introduce German-style local skills improvement plans, which will be led by business organisations such as local chambers of commerce. Those plans will identify the skills that an area needs and spell out what needs to change to make training more responsive to employers’ needs. In turn, our further education colleges will shape the courses they offer to meet those skills needs, and we will make strategic development funding available to help them do that. We will start the ball rolling with a small number of trailblazer areas this year, and we will pilot a strategic development fund of £65 million in 2021-22 to help providers reshape provision to meet local employers’ needs.

By putting the employer voice at the heart of skills provision, we will ensure that technical education and training gives people the skills they need to get great jobs in sectors that the economy needs and boost this country’s productivity. We will back this through £1.5 billion of capital funding to upgrade our further education colleges. Today we announced the next phase of the FE capital transformation fund, and last week we made the next wave of capital funding for T-level providers available, with £135 million available to those delivering them in September 2022.

As far as long-term plans are concerned, we are going to move to a more coherent, simpler funding model that we will design together with the sector, and we will consult on it later in the spring. It will ensure a far more focused approach to funding. The consultation will be guided by the principles of high value, greater flexibility for providers, and enhanced accountability, which will see providers taking greater responsibility for their results. By 2030, we expect nearly all technical courses to follow employer-led standards, so that we ensure that the education and training people receive are directly linked to the skills that they will need to get a job.

We will continue with our existing programme of reforms in areas such as employer-led apprenticeships and our T-level programme. All apprenticeship starts are now on employer-designed standards. We will support employers in making greater use of their levy contributions by improving the transfer system and having more flexible training models.

The White Paper will also extend our network of institutes of technology to every region of the country, and we will see a corresponding increase in higher-level technical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths. In this way, we will future-proof our workforce, so that we are ready to deal with a constantly evolving economic landscape.

All our reforms depend on our ability to recruit and retain top-quality teaching staff in the further education sector, so we will launch a national recruitment campaign for further education teachers, strengthen initial teacher education, improve the support that new teachers receive, and help to provide more opportunities for improved training and development, such as work experience, as part of our industry exchange programme.

When the Prime Minister announced the lifetime skills guarantee last year, he spoke of how we will align our further and higher education sectors. I can tell the House that we have published the interim conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding, which addresses some of the key recommendations made by Dr Philip Augar in his report from 2019. I have laid copies of the report of Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework, and the Government’s response, before both Houses of Parliament. Today I have also published the post-qualifications admission reform consultation, which seeks views on whether to change the system of higher education admissions and move to a system of post-qualification admissions.

Our proposed reform to the teaching grant for the academic year 2021-22 will allocate funding in a way that delivers value for money for students and the taxpayer, and increases support for strategic subjects such as engineering and medicine while slashing the taxpayer subsidy for such subjects as media studies. We want to ensure that our small and specialist providers, including some of our top music and arts providers, receive additional support, and that grant funding is used to support students effectively as well.

This spring, we will consult on further reforms to the higher education system, including the introduction of minimum entry requirements to higher education institutions and addressing the high cost of foundation years, before setting out a full response to the report, and a final conclusion to the review of post-18 education and funding, alongside the next comprehensive spending review.

The White Paper is a step change in how this country prepares people for their working lives. I know there is enormous cross-party consensus, and a real will on all sides of the House to make a real change in this sector—a change that has been needed for so long. I very much hope that all Members will work together to ensure that we can deliver on this. These proposals will ensure that people can learn the skills they need to get a great job, and have control over the means of ensuring a more fulfilling and productive life. This White Paper will be the lever to unleash our nation’s creativity and talents, and will make this country an economic force to be reckoned with. I commend this statement to the House.