The decision to subsume former minister Anne Milton’s FE and skills role into the much wider brief of the new education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has been questioned by an former Downing Street adviser writing in FE Week. Jonathan Simons says that the move means FE should have a stronger voice at Cabinet meetings. But he argues that the education secretary’s main brief is to make final decisions on policy matters, based on detailed and sometimes conflicting advice from junior ministers – meaning he is unlikely to find diary or thinking time to fulfil the FE brief properly. Another critic, the University and College Union, points out that, by contrast, schools have been allocated two dedicated junior ministers, universities have one, and there is also a children’s parliamentary under-secretary. It says the jury is out on whether Johnson will honour his funding promises towards FE, although – maybe significantly – Williamson’s first ministerial visit was to a Royal Mail apprenticeship scheme in Leeds last week.
Numbers of adult learners have dropped by almost 50% since 2009-10 due to funding cuts, according to the interim report of Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission. TES quotes shadow education secretary Gordon Marsden blaming government silos for stifling lifelong learning (LL) and calling for a more integrated policy. He says the new report not only highlights the nation’s need for reskilling, training and a comprehensive industrial strategy but also spells out the key role in society that LL plays in creating justice and personal empowerment. The report underlines the role that could played by Labour’s plans for its new 'cradle to grave’ National Education Service.
A move to help stop a growing stream of unconditional offers from universities desperate to fill places and thus secure more funding began last week when the Office for Students (OfS) assumed full regulating powers. Unconditional offers have led to some many students across the FE sector losing motivation or no longer even bothering to attend A-level or equivalent classes as the unconditional offers do require specific grades. The OfS may now fine universities up to £500,000 or 2% of their tuition fee/grant income (whichever is highest). TES quotes from a new report by university admissions organisation UCAS that says 38% of students were sent at least one unconditional offer this year. That compares with 34% in 2017-18 and just 1% in 2012-13.
Background remains a strong factor in students' post-16 education choices, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI), TES reports. The thinktank cites research showing disadvantaged students tend to opt for an FE college, a job or an ‘unknown/unsustained’ destination, whereas advantaged students are more likely to do an apprenticeship, attend sixth form college, or stay on in a school sixth form. The EPI research shows an increasing pattern of segregation – latest data shows England’s segregation index at 21.8% (2017 figures) compared to 21% in 2013.