New Research & Policy Digest for the Northern Ireland Executive

I am delighted to announce that emhconnect and 'sister' company AJ Enterprises have been awarded a joint three-year contract to produce a new quarterly Research & Policy Digest for Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy, following a competitive tendering process.

The aim of the new Digest is to provide policy makers and stakeholders in Northern Ireland with quick and easy access to relevant local, national and international studies and strategies.

Both of our organisations launched our own learning and skills digests in 2012, following four years producing similar briefings for members of a UK-wide business-education-government forum. The UK Digest, which I produce, and Informed Scotland, published by AJ Enterprises, provide subscribers with monthly intelligence on research, policy and practice across government, education, business and the wider community. They encourage and enable connections to be made across the learning and skills landscape. Subscribers include national bodies, businesses, local authorities, colleges and other organisations working in the field.

Angela and I are delighted to collaborate on creating the new digest for the Department. Winning the tender recognises our track record of keeping busy people up to date and well briefed on the issues that matter. We’re looking forward to working with the Northern Ireland team to provide a useful resource for them and their stakeholders.

This is a good example of the tailored services I offer clients. If you are interested in similar services, including both face-to-face and written policy briefings, please get in touch.

Technical Education Comes of Age

Skills Minister Nick Boles has published the report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education (TE), established in November 2015 and chaired by Lord Sainsbury, along with a Post-16 Skills Plan for England, accepting all the panel’s 34 recommendations.

The ambition is that every young person - after an excellent grounding in the core academic subjects and a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16 - is presented with two choices: the academic or the technical option, with bridging options between the two.

Employers will sit at the heart of the system and take the lead in setting the standards, which will be designed by considering what is needed to move to skilled employment and then working backwards.

Four principles must be in place for the system to succeed:

  • Employers must play a leading role, setting standards and defining the skills, knowledge and behaviour required for skilled employment.
  • TE needs to be fulfilling, aspirational, clear and attractive to all; the starting point is world-class excellence, with programmes defined to achieve it.
  • Many more people need to be able to meet the national standards through high-quality opportunities offered by “strong and responsive” colleges and other providers.
  • College-based and employment-based TE need to be closely integrated, so that everybody understands how they fit together and movement between them is as seamless as possible.

The remit of the new Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) will be expanded to cover regulations of all technical education.

15 routes will cover all technical education, grouping together occupations where there are shared training requirements; only high-quality qualifications that match the standards will be approved; the proposed routes are:

  • Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care
  • Business and Administrative
  • Catering and Hospitality
  • Childcare and Education
  • Construction
  • Creative and Design
  • Digital
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Hair and Beauty
  • Health and Science
  • Legal, Finance and Accounting
  • Protective Services
  • Sales, Marketing and Procurement
  • Social Care
  • Transport and Logistics

Routes will begin with two-year, college-based programmes – suitable for 16-18 year-olds but open to adults - aligned to apprenticeships.

Each programme will include a ‘common core’, including English, maths, digital skills (essential plus specific – based on the forthcoming digital skills strategy) and a common set of transferrable workplace skills (t be articulated by employers).

Work placements will be critical, and every student will be entitled to one.

Those not ready to access a route at 16 will have access to up to a year of tailored, flexible support based on prior attainment and aspirations.

There will be just one approved tech level qualification for each occupation or cluster of occupations, which can also be used within the relevant apprenticeship if employers agree.

Exclusive licences to develop the qualifications will be granted following a competitive process.

Routes will extend to Levels 4 and 5, with greater specialisation; higher levels will still follow national standards, but will offer a wider range of qualifications, registered by the IfA.

More data will be available, and careers guidance reformed, as will be funding and accountability arrangements.

A more detailed timetable will be published later in the year, but the main steps to 2020 include:

  • September 2016: legislation to expand IfA remit, to take effect April 2018; first National Colleges open; careers strategy published
  • April 2017: IfA operational, apprenticeship levy introduced
  • October 2017: technical qualification content developed for ‘pathfinder routes’ (approved Feb 2019)
  • September 2019: first teaching of ‘pathfinder’ routes
  • September 2020-2022: phased first teaching of other routes

The other members of Lord Sainsbury’s panel were:

  • Simon Blagden (Non-executive Chairman, Fujitsu UK)
  • Bev Robinson (Principal & Chief Executive, Blackpool and The Fylde College)
  • Steven West (Vice-Chancellor & President, University of the West of England, Bristol)
  • Alison Wolf (Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, King’s College London)

The panel considered the systems operating in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.