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Education and training for young people in England after the age of 16 is to be overhauled to ensure employers get the skilled workforce they need. Ministers are setting out plans to improve vocational education, saying it is an “illusion” that degrees are the only route to success.

They say funding will be targeted at training relevant to the labour market. But groups representing the further education (FE) sector say colleges must be properly funded to deliver. The Department for Education (DfE) also launched its consultation on “post-qualification admissions” on Thursday, which could change the application system so that students receive university offers after they have their A-level results.

Publishing its Skills for Jobs White Paper, the DfE said it wanted to “put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job and that further and technical education is the second-class option”. A white paper is a policy document produced by the government to set out their proposals for future legislation.

The measures put forward include:

  • business groups working alongside colleges to develop skills plans to meet local training needs
  • a £65m development fund to establish new college business centres
  • giving employers a central role in designing almost all technical courses by 2030, ensuring education and training is linked to skills needed
  • boosting the quality and uptake of higher technical qualifications by introducing newly approved qualifications from September 2022
  • changing the law so that from 2025 people can access flexible student finance to train and retrain throughout their lives
  • launching a nationwide recruitment campaign to get more talented individuals to teach in the FE sector.

In December, the government announced that tens of thousands of adults without an A-level or equivalent would be able to benefit from nearly 400 fully-funded courses from April.

It was the first major development in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee (LSG) scheme, which was launched in September.

Mr Johnson said it would mean “everyone will be given the chance to get the skills they need, right from the very start of their career. In the years ahead, the reforms we have announced today will deliver high-quality technical education across the country – and help people retrain and secure better paid jobs,” said the prime minister.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, whilst providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job.”

British Chamber of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said: “We welcome these ambitious plans to put the skills needs of businesses at the heart of the further education system.

“As local business leaders look to rebuild their firms and communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential to ensure that the right skills and training provision is in place to support growth.”

But organisations representing school and college leaders warned that funding to the FE sector needed to be raised to help deliver the proposals.

In November, an the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said FE colleges and sixth forms faced significant financial uncertainty. Chief executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes said:

“Colleges have been calling for this, after years of being overlooked and underutilised, but government has to not only recognise the vital college role, it also needs to increase funding. Colleges have shown during the pandemic that they are the vehicle to transforming lives, and supporting communities and employers, and we need the spending review this year to invest more in them.”

Head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said: “We continue to be concerned about the severe underfunding of the post-16 sector, which plays such a vital role in delivering the technical and vocational education that the government says it is so keen to boost, as well as academic routes which are also of the utmost importance.”

David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute, said: “The government is right to place further education and skills at the heart of its post-Covid recovery strategy, but for these ambitions to be realised, its plans must be backed up with sufficient levels of funding. “A more enduring financial settlement will help to ensure that it can deliver genuine quality throughout the further education sector and offer support to those young people and adults pursuing these pathways – including support with maintenance costs.”

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