Calls for urgent reform of skills policy development and implementation

City & Guilds Group is calling on Government to urgently rethink how skills and education policy in the UK is designed and delivered, in light of a new report launched by the Group today. Sense and Instability 2019 finds that important lessons from the implementation of skills policy over several decades have not been learned, meaning badly-needed training and education programmes are not fit for purpose or delivering the right results for people, businesses and the economy.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]At a time of continuing uncertainty, it is more important than ever for the government to introduce firm measures of success when it comes to education policy[/perfectpullquote]

The research indicates that it’s impossible to tell if the many £millions going into training and learning activity – such as the £500m per year pledged by Government to deliver the flagship new T levels – are going to waste. The report highlights that there is currently no clear or thorough published data on what value for money is expected from these new qualifications.

The analysis of UK skills and education activity, from Train to Gain and the Skills Pledge to more recent initiatives such as the National Retraining Scheme, also suggests that policy is being created in isolation, without clear measures in place to judge its success or failure and a lack of any agreed business case to support the policy need.


“Devastating consequences”

Unless this situation is improved, the consequences could be devastating not only to the UK’s economic success and productivity, but also the Government’s attempts to foster better social mobility – with effective education remaining one of the most valuable tools in creating change. The research finds that hard-to-reach and disadvantaged learner groups – such as single parents, people with health or other conditions, care givers and ex-offenders – are at risk of being left short-changed by legislation and unable to benefit from the socio-economic benefits of training and education.

Chris Jones, Chief Executive at City & Guilds Group, commented:  “While there is undoubtedly some effective policy in place, it is deeply concerning to see this developed in a vacuum, with little or no evidence to support it, no clear idea of its expected value for money and no concrete understanding of its impact. It is simply impossible to judge whether policy has been effective.”

The report finds that policy development continues to focus on output-related performance, such as numbers of learners or employers engaged within a programme, rather than clear outcomes and success measures. Moreover, these output targets are often overambitious and lacking in a reliable evidence base to support them.

Furthermore, skills and education policy has become short-term in outlook, disjointed and inconsistent – perhaps compounded by the fact that 70 different ministers have held responsibility for skills policy in the last three and half decades, compared to 20 for schools policy and 21 for higher education in the same period.

Chris Jones continued: “Skills and education policy has the potential to deliver transformative positive changes to people’s lives. But those who have the most to benefit from this are missing out. With all evidence pointing to an increasing disparity in our society, this has to change. Lifelong learning remains the best asset we have to tackle social mobility. Our work with organisations like the St Giles Trust* has proved time and time again that specific, targeted skills interventions can achieve incredible results. We need clear strategies in place to ensure no one is left behind by policy.”

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (The RSA) and author of the report’s foreword, adds: “We find ourselves in peculiar times. From this report it is abundantly clear that skills policy has effectively been ‘left behind’ while issues like Brexit dominate the political agenda. While it is heartening to see some evident progress over recent years, such as improved engagement and ownership from employers and some well-intentioned policy, much more needs to be done to ensure skills policy in the UK is delivering both social and economic value.”