Issue 107 | July 2020

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On 8 July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, launched the UK government’s new ‘Plan for Jobs’. The scheme is intended to provide funds to help address the impact of the surge in unemployment expected to follow in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. The proposals apply predominantly to England, but proportionately similar amounts of money will go to other devolved UK nations via the so called Barnett formula ‘consequentials’ (an administrative mechanism used by the Treasury to adjust devolved administration block grants to reflect changes in spending on public services in England). The plan for England incorporates measures designed to boost apprenticeships and skills and as such offer opportunities for FE. These include:

The DfE has also published three sets of apprenticeship funding rules for the 2020/21 year, which incorporate the above incentives and other Covid-19 flexibilities. The three groups covered are: employers; employer-providers; apprenticeship training providers. The rules for each can be found at:

  •  The ‘Kickstart’ fund. £2 billion is being provided to create high quality six-month work placements for those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and who are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. The funding will cover 100% of the national minimum wage for each age group for a minimum of 25 hours a week, plus an amount to cover overheads. There will be no cap on the number of placements, but the payments will be conditional on employers confirming that the placements are new. Young people taking part in the programme must not also be apprentices.
  • An additional £111 million for traineeships. Employers will be eligible to receive additional payments of £1,000 per trainee up to a maximum of 10 trainees. For trainees aged 19-24, the new funding will also cover a 55% increase on existing training payments from £970 to £1,500. In addition, eligibility for participation in a traineeship will be extended to those already holding Level 3 qualifications
  • An extra £101m for school and college leavers to return for a third year. This is intended to give all 18-19 year olds who are struggling to find work an opportunity to return to college study ‘high value’ Level 2 and Level 3 courses throughout 2020/21 free of charge. The DfE has now published a list of 355 courses that will be eligible for funding. 155 of these are at Level 2 and 200 are at Level 3 and include a range of A-Levels and vocational qualifications (such as BTECs) in areas such construction, engineering, health and social care, ICT, manufacturing, mathematics, nursing, science and transportation. The DfE has said that providers will need to demonstrate how courses offer employment opportunities in their local area. The list of courses eligible for funding can be found at:

Details of the scheme include the following:

Students will be fully funded to undertake a qualification from the agreed list including those who already hold a Level 2 and Level 3 qualification. For those aged 19 wishing to take a Level 3 course this means they will not be required to take out an Advanced Learner Loan.

18-year-olds will be funded at the same rate as 16 and17-year-olds (i.e. £4,188 per student). The one-year offer will also include a £400 uplift per learner to cover the costs of putting on additional courses at short notice, recruiting extra students, and preparing staffing and facilities. The DfE has also said that it will also include adjustments to retention payments and job outcome payments to compensate where learners leave early and take up employment or an apprenticeship.

The scheme will be administered by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) however 19-year-olds will be funded through the Adult Education Budget (AEB).

The DfE says that it will publish more detailed information in due course but a summary is available at:

  • An additional £32m for the National Careers Service (NCS). This will be spread over the next two years and is intended to provide more people with personalised advice on training and work.
  • An extra £17 million for sector-based work academy placements. This will allow for an expansion of an existing scheme currently run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which is intended to help unemployed adults gain the skills needed to apply for jobs available in their local area. The six-week programme includes pre-employment vocational training and ‘guaranteed’ job interviews.
  • Early release of part of the £1.5 billion being made available for college capital projects. The government says it will bring forward to 2021 £200 million of the £1.5 billion being provided to support colleges in carrying out urgent and essential maintenance and upgrade projects.

Other proposals in the ‘Plan for Jobs’ document which could impact on FE, include the following:

  • A Job Retention Bonus to incentivise firms to keep furloughed workers. Employers will receive a one-off bonus of £1,000 for each furloughed employee who is still employed as of 31 January 2021.
  • Bringing forward work on £8.8 billion of new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects. This includes a £3 billion green investment package to upgrade buildings and reduce emissions that could help support around 140,000 green jobs, and a £1 billion programme to help make public buildings (including schools and colleges) greener.
  • £5.8 billion for ‘shovel-ready’ construction projects. These include:
  • £1.5 billion for hospital maintenance and upgrades.
  • £100 million for local road networks.
  • £1 billion to start to rebuild schools in the worst condition in England.
  • £1 billion for local projects to boost local economic recovery in the places that need it most.
  • A range of specific measures to protect jobs in sectors most threatened (e.g. tourism and hospitality)

A copy of ‘Plan for Jobs’ can be found at:

Chancellor launches Comprehensive Spending Review

On 21 July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, launched the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which will set:

  • UK Government departmental budgets for the years 2021/22 to 2023/24.
  • UK departmental capital budgets for the years 2021/22 until 2024/25.
  • The devolved administrations’ Barnett Formula block grants for the same period.

Mr Sunak said that departmental CSR proposals will need to prioritise:

  • Strengthening the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19 by prioritising jobs and skills.
  • Levelling up economic opportunity across all nations and regions of the country by investing in infrastructure, innovation and people, and closing the gap with our competitors by spreading opportunity, maximising productivity and improving the value added of each hour worked.
  • Improving outcomes in public services, including supporting the NHS and taking steps to cut crime and ensure every young person receives a superb education.
  • Making the UK a scientific superpower, including leading in the development of technologies that will support the government’s ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • Strengthening the UK’s place in the world.
  • Improving the management and delivery of our commitments, ensuring that all departments have the appropriate structures and processes in place to deliver their commitments on time and within budget.

Mr Sunak did not fix a set spending limit due to the ‘unprecedented uncertainty’ in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, but confirmed that departmental spending (both capital and revenue) will grow in real terms across the CSR period and that the UK government will ‘…deliver on the commitments made in the Budget to level up and invest in the priorities of the British people’. The CSR will be published and discussed in parliament in the autumn. More information is available at:


At an event organised by the Social Market Foundation earlier this month, the Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson, made what he called a ‘landmark speech’ about the UK government’s proposed FE reforms for England which will be included in an upcoming White Paper prior to the introduction of legislation. Key points in his speech included the following:

  • Although FE stands for Further Education it may as well have stood for ‘Forgotten Education’.
  • The challenge posed by the pandemic has made it even more important to think about the post-16 education system we need in post-Brexit Britain. There will be a need for upskilling, reskilling and retraining and the development of technical, vocational and digital skills will be vital to our recovery. FE will be at the very heart of this.
  • FE is also central to our mission of levelling up the nation. If you want to transform many of our left-behind towns and regions, you don’t do it by investing more money solely in universities. You have to invest in the local college and drive up the skills base of the local community.
  • For decades, we have failed to give FE the investment it deserves. Universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture. But there are limits to what can be achieved by sending ever more people to university, which is not always what the individual or the economy needs.
  • There has been a systemic decline in higher technical qualifications. Well over 100,000 people were taking Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/Ds) in 2000. That has reduced to fewer than 35,000 now. At the same time, businesses are crying out for skilled technicians. Sectors such as manufacturing and construction report some of the highest skills shortages. Many of these occupations need intermediate or higher technical qualifications – precisely the things that we are not teaching and, as a nation, we seem to have given up on. These qualifications are not inferior to a degree. Five years after completion, the average Higher Technical Apprentice earns more than the average graduate.
  • There is an inbuilt snobbishness about HE being better than FE, but evidence demonstrates that FE can open the doors to greater opportunity and better prospects. Graduates are now competing for jobs that used to be done by non-graduates. A significant proportion of graduates fail to gain any advantage from going to university at all. Employers say that too often, graduates don’t have the skills they need (including basic numeracy and literacy).
  • When Tony Blair set the 50% target for university attendance, it was a target for the sake of a target. Governments of all colours have failed to give the other 50% of young people the support and investment that they deserve. In driving more people into HE our policy experts focused on what they were familiar with, rather than what the nation and the economy needs. This has to change. We need a wholesale rebalancing towards further and technical education and a stronger alignment with the economic needs of the nation.
  • FE colleges should be led by great leaders and governors who are drawn from local communities and businesses, and teaching staff who have already have experience of working in and with industry.They should have industry-grade equipment and modern buildings which are great places to learn in and which act as centres for business development and innovation. They should deliver courses that are of the highest quality and which are tailored to the needs of employers and their local economies. They should work with small, local businesses to support the introduction of new technology and processes and offer training in emerging skills. This autumn a White Paper will set out a comprehensive plan to change the fundamentals of England’s FE landscape. From now on, our mantra must be Further Education, Further Education, Further Education.

Mr Williamson’s speech would seem to be encouraging for the future of FE, but there have been many false dawns for FE before and only time will tell. You can watch Mr Williamson making his speech and the subsequent question and answer session at:

And you can obtain a transcript of Mr Williamsons’ speech at:


Meanwhile, a 3.1% pay rise has been announced for schoolteachers in England, increasing their mean average salary to £41,822, no similar increase has been announced for FE Lecturers. This is because any pay award for FE lecturers will need to be found from within already stretched college budgets with, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC), almost half of all colleges in England expecting to have made redundancies by the end of the 2020 autumn term. The Education and Training Foundation FE Workforce Survey published in spring 2020 shows that the average salary of an FE lecturer in England is £32,500. This will now be £9,322 less than the average pay of schoolteachers in 2020/21.


As part of the proposed FE reforms above, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, has confirmed that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) is to be given the remit for approving and awarding a new ‘quality mark’ for all new and existing Level 4 and 5 technical qualifications and has proposed that they should be renamed Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs). The change will affect a variety of existing qualifications and programmes, including higher apprenticeships, Foundation Degrees and HND/Cs. The new HTQs will be approved against an occupational standard agreed with employers. They are intended to be in place by 2022, the same time as the first T-Level students finish their course. HTQs will only be available at ‘high-quality’ providers which must have suitably qualified and experienced teachers with up to date occupational and industry experience and teaching expertise. They must also have learning environments with up-to-date facilities and have strong links with employers. In addition, HTQs will be entitled to the same tuition fee and maintenance loan support, as Level 6 (first degree level) qualifications. To help with recruitment to HTCs, the DfE is developing a new public awareness campaign to be launched in autumn 2021. Further details can be found in the government’s response to the earlier consultation on HTQs, which was published earlier this month and can be found at:


On 8 July, the DfE published updated guidance for colleges to help them to safely provide a full programme of courses for learners of all ages from September 2020. The guidance lists a number of safety and prevention measures that colleges are expected to put in place. These include:

  • Ensuring that contact with individuals who are unwell is minimised.
  • Ensuring that students and staff clean their hands regularly.
  • Creating separate ‘bubbles’ to reduce the level of contact between students, and students and staff.
  • Helping to limit the use of public transport by students by encouraging walking and cycling to college.
  • Implementing staggered start and finish times.

The guidance goes on to say that:

  • Colleges should make arrangements to assess any gaps in students’ knowledge and skills that may have been caused by the lockdown and identify the help students need to help them to ‘catch up’.
  • There is no requirement to have smaller than normal class sizes.
  • Remote education may still need to be provided for some students for all or part of their courses, or if a further total lockdown is imposed in the event of a new spike in Coronavirus cases.
  • It is left to college leaders to decide on the appropriate mix of face to face, self-directed and remote delivery, along with the amount of additional support students may need. However, they should ensure that the overall study programme provided meets the requirements of the current funding guidance.
  • If younger students are unable to access provision remotely (e.g. because they do not own a laptop), colleges are urged to make use of the 16-19 Bursary Fund to help them do so.
  • While most teaching and teaching support staff will have to come into college from September, leaders should identify those administrative staff who can work from home, if it is feasible for them to do so.
  • The majority of staff should not require personal protective equipment (PPE) beyond what they would normally need for their work. PPE should only be needed in a very small number of cases, such as hairdressing courses or staff dealing with a person who develops coronavirus symptoms while on site.
  • FE colleges and other FE providers will be supplied with a number of home testing kits that they can give directly to staff or learners who have developed Coronavirus symptoms on-site. Should a person test positive, the Public Health England (PHE) local health protection team will advise on the appropriate action and isolation measures. A mobile testing unit may be dispatched to test others who may have been in contact with the person who has tested positive. All staff, students and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop Covid-19.
  • Risk and health and safety assessments must be reviewed and updated over the summer.

Also in the guidance, the DfE says that FE providers can allow learners aged over 19 to return to onsite delivery before September if they can be safely accommodated. Providers have been told to prioritise returning adult learners in the following order: First, learners who have had their assessments delayed and were due to complete Level 2 or Level 3 programmes between March and July 2020; second, apprentices; third, learners participating in Level 1 and below learning; fourth, community education provision. A copy of the DfE guidance is available at:


Last month, the DfE announced a £1 billion Covid ‘catch-up’ package to help tackle the impact of lost teaching time. £650 million is for small group tuition, for whoever needs it, and the remaining £350 million is for a National Tutoring Programme to provide extra tuition for disadvantaged students to help prevent the gap between them and their more affluent peers widening. Initially, it was thought that a share of the Covid catch up funding would automatically be made available to support 16-19 year olds, but the DfE subsequently said that this was not the case. This prompted a cross-party group of MPs to write to Gavin Williamson asking him to rectify the anomaly, pointing out that funding for those aged 16-18 is already significantly lower than funding for those aged 11-15. As a result of this and other pressure, the DfE has now reversed its decision to exclude 16-18 year olds and has agreed to ring-fence £96 million (or £150 per disadvantaged learner) from the £350 million National Tutoring Programme to provide small group tutoring for disadvantaged 16-18 students whose studies have been disrupted by the pandemic. In this instance, ‘disadvantaged’ means full time students without GCSE grade 4 or above in English and/or mathematics. Providers have the flexibility to decide the most appropriate approach to the delivery of small group tuition but will need to prove that the funding has been spent to support tuition activity over and above the study programmes already planned for 2020/21. Providers are also required produce a statement explaining how they will use this funding, publish the statement on their website and maintain records of how the funding has been used. Funds will be recovered from providers unable to demonstrate their compliance. Further details can be found at:


Following Marcus Rashford’s campaign, the DfE has also agreed to fund free meals over the summer holiday for disadvantaged students age 16-18. The extra funding provided for these students is around £2.40 per meal for five meals per week for six weeks. For some reason funding provided for disadvantaged school pupils is £3 per meal. Perhaps 16-18 year olds don’t need to eat so much. The DfE says that this funding will only be provided for 2020. Details on how colleges can access the fund can be found at:


Dame Mary Ney’s long awaited Independent review of college financial oversight’ was actually completed in October 2019 but, for reasons not entirely clear, was not published until earlier this month. The report highlights the factors contributing to financial failures in the college sector, as well as the complexities of the system. The report says that the lack of a sector-wide strategy and the contraction in ESFA staffing capacity have resulted in a relationship between the government and the FE sector that is largely contractual, based on funding agreements and focuses on financial failure. The report goes onto say that the DfE does not have an adequate ‘line of sight’ on the wider issues facing colleges and as a result often misses the early warning signs of difficulty. This, in turn, affects the confidence of colleges to seek support and advice at an early enough stage. The report also makes a number of recommendations. These include the following:

  • The DfE should set out a strategic vision for FE colleges and create effective mechanisms for capacity and curriculum planning and delivery at a local geographical level.
  • There should be higher expectations of those with responsibilities for developing good governance practice. This should include:
    • Reviewing the Good Governance Guide, particularly in relation to transparency and whistleblowing.
    • Ensuring college websites provide information on whistleblowing.
    • Ensuring that governors having sufficient status and credibility to provide an independent challenge of standards and conduct.
    • Supporting training and development opportunities for chairs, board members, audit committee members, senior leaders and governance professionals.
  • Rather than relying on historic financial data, the ESFA should make more use of forward financial planning and cash flow data. The ESFA analysis dashboard should provide a narrative specific to each college to assist governing bodies in focusing on areas of concern and in providing challenge to college senior leaders.
  • The ESFA should develop the case manager role for colleges in intervention to provide more support and practical advice to college leaders in the formulation and delivery of recovery plans.
  • The potential for three-year funding settlements should be explored, and the approach to funding should be simplified and streamlined. Further consideration should be given to how and when colleges are paid to support better financial stability and cash flow forecasting.
  • The role of audit committees should be strengthened to ensure they play a robust role in good stewardship and risk management. External auditors should present their findings to the Chair and Board members either at a full Board meeting or by invitation to join the Audit Committee meeting receiving the auditor’s report.
  • The DfE, the FE Commissioner and the ESFA should review the current oversight guidance to allow greater flexibility to match actions to individual circumstances and to avoid delays in intervention. The ESFA and the FE Commissioner should develop a new relationship with colleges so that colleges have the confidence to come forward for help at an earlier stage.
  • Those involved in financial oversight should contribute to the Ofsted judgement on leadership to provide a holistic view and avoid disconnect between the judgements of the two bodies.
  • The use of the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint to a college board should be proactively considered at an early stage to support the delivery of an improvement programme.
  • The DfE should continue to invest in providing training, development and networking opportunities to promote good practice in the sector and should consider a further round of the Strategic College Improvement Fund.

A copy of the report can be accessed at:

The government’s response to the report can be found at:


Kate Green, the MP for Stretford and Urmston, has been appointed as the new Shadow Education Secretary, replacing Rebecca Long-Bailey. Ms Green has previously served as a Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Shadow Minister for Child Poverty Strategy. More information on Ms Green can be found at:


The FE Commissioner for England, Richard Atkins, has written to colleges to inform them that work in colleges on a virtual basis has now resumed and that, in September, work will recommence on a face-to-face basis. There will also be a resumption of intervention measures in cases of serious concern to the ESFA, along with diagnostic assessments and ongoing structural reviews. In the period since March, Mr Atkins has been working with the ESFA to undertake an analysis of college financial health which has formed part of the evidence recently submitted to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Mr Atkins told committee members that there were ‘…30 to 40 colleges at risk of running out of cash’ because of the Coronavirus crisis. He went on to say that the problems faced by colleges included ‘… the potential of a 50% fall in apprenticeship starts, unpredictable 16-18 numbers, HE numbers being subject to the new 5% cap, plus the commercial income that a lot of colleges have lost already’. 


On 6 July, the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, announced that Ofsted would resume inspections of colleges and ITPs in September. Ms Spielman said that visits to colleges planned for the autumn term will be ‘collaborative’ and different from normal inspections. The aim of the visits, she said, is to support the sector, and will predominantly be focussed on those providers with ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ inspection grades, and on those where risks or concerns have been identified. However, to ensure that Ofsted obtains a broad ‘national picture’ from across the whole of the FE sector, some ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ providers will also be visited. The content and structure of the visits will involve inspectors having a series of ‘professional conversations’ with college leaders and staff that cover:

  • The difficulties that colleges are facing in managing the return to full education provision for students.
  • The college curriculum, and how it meets the needs of learners and stakeholders.
  • The approaches used to develop learner knowledge and skills.
  • Safeguarding arrangements.

Inspectors will not:

  • Use the education inspection framework and further education and skills inspection handbook.
  • Judge providers on their response to crisis during the 2020 spring and summer terms.
  • Require any pre-written planning or other documentation for the visit.
  • Require staff to prepare any lesson plans or examples of assessment for the visit.
  • Arrive at, or publish, any overall grade following the visit. Instead, the key points arising from the discussions held with college leaders will be published in a letter.

Ms Spielman said a return to full inspections is not expected until next January at the earliest. With reference to new providers, Ms Spielman said that Ofsted will carry out a monitoring visit to those that have one or more existing ‘insufficient progress’ judgements and that would have been due a full inspection during this interim period. Ofsted says that new provider monitoring visits will not result in an overall inspection grade for a provider, although a brief report will be published. More information is available at:


On 21 July Ofsted published its report for the year ending 31 March 2020. A copy can be found at:


Meanwhile, the DfE has announced that Dame Christine Ryan has been appointed as the next Chair of Ofsted. She will take up her post on 1 August, replacing the current chair, Professor Julius Weinberg on that date. From 2005 until 2017, Dame Christine was Chief Inspector of the Independent Schools Inspectorate, which operates outside of Ofsted’s remit. More about Dame Christine can be found at:–6


The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that students will be awarded calculated grades in GCSEs and A levels and in most vocational and technical examinations this summer. Ofqual has now confirmed that students will be able to appeal (through their school or college) if they believe the process was not followed correctly. Ofqual says that any student unable to receive a calculated result, and others who would like to improve their grades will be given the opportunity to retake their examinations this autumn. Centres can also appeal if they believe something has gone wrong in relation to their results. The announcements follow the publication of the outcome of consultations undertaken earlier this year, Further details of the appeals and retake arrangements can be found in an updated copy of this, which can be found at:

Ofqual has also proposed delaying next year’s GCSE and A-Level examinations in England from May to early June, but he Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have criticised the government for failing to draw up contingency plans for exams should the pandemic continue into next year.


Following allegations of potential bias in teacher-assessed grades, Ofsted has published its research findings into the impact of teacher-assessed coursework on different groups of students, such as those of different ethnicities and gender. The findings include the following:

  • There is little evidence that the use of coursework to predict grades has any impact on outcomes for students of different socio-economic statuses or for students with special educational needs.
  • Female students tend to have better outcomes than males where internally set, internally marked coursework is included in GCSE assessment.
  • There is little indication of different outcomes for students of different ethnicities across different assessment types.
  • Where coursework was optional, the examination alternative appears to provide a safety net for less able students who, for whatever reason, failed to submit coursework.

A copy of the Ofqual research findings can be accessed at:


In a recent report, the BBC says that the ongoing process of standardising predicted grades this year is suggesting that candidates are likely to be given higher grades than might normally have been expected. Ofqual has also predicted that the numbers getting good grades are likely to be 2% higher at A-Level and 1% at GCSE. This means that, for example, whereas last year 25.5% of candidates achieved an A grade or above at A-Level, this year Ofsted expects this to be 27.5%. However, the standardisation process also suggests that grades awarded will be much lower than those predicted by teachers. For example, without the standardisation of teacher grades, A-Level results would have been 12.3% higher this year than last year and GCSE, grades would have been 9% higher. The BBC article can be found at:


The DfE has announced that, from this September, employers will be offered £750 per T-Level student to provide high quality work experience placements lasting a minimum of 315 hours (or 45 days) for up to a maximum of 10 students. The funding will be provided from the DfE ‘Capacity and Delivery Fund’ (CDF) and is intended to help employers meet the additional costs involved in organising the placements. This includes administration, setting up management information systems, training (such as that for line managers in mentoring and working with learners) and operating costs directly relating to the placement such as equipment, materials and supplies. The funds will be paid to T-Level providers, who will then pass the funds on to the employers providing the placements. The scheme will run just for the 2020/21 academic year in the first instance and mirrors the industry placement pilot programme which ran last year, and which also paid grants to employers. The funding rules for providing the work placements can be found at:

Guidance for providers and employers on organising T-Level work placements can be found at:

Guidance for students on preparing for undertaking a T-Level work placement can be found at:

An evaluation of the T-level work placement pilot can be found at:

And general information on the Capacity and Delivery Fund is available at:


Despite the cash incentive referred to above, providers offering T-Levels are becoming increasingly concerned about the availability of work placements as more employers withdraw their offers in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis. The extent of the problem is further revealed in the findings of a recent survey of 32 providers due to commence teaching the first T-Levels this September carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) earlier this month, which found that around a third of providers were finding it difficult to source a sufficient number of suitable industrial placements. The report can be found at:


The DfE has announced that the start date of both the Legal T-Level and the Human Resources T-Level have been delayed from their planned start date of September 2022 until September 2023. The DfE says that this is because IfATE has judged the bids put forward to develop these subjects as not meeting the required quality standards, and that a renewed procurement process would be undertaken. Meanwhile, the T-Level in Cultural, Heritage and Visitor Attractions has been removed completely from the list of planned T-Levels subjects after IfATE reported that there was little employer demand for it. The decision reduces the number of T-level subjects from 25 to 24.


Following widespread concerns about poor oversight and the continuing rise in fraud in respect of subcontracted FE provision, in October last year the ESFA wrote to all post-16 education and training providers to remind them that firm action would be taken where there was evidence of providers failing to comply with its rules on subcontracting. In February this year the ESFA launched a consultation on proposals to significantly reduce the amount of subcontracting and to introduce more robust controls on the subcontracting process, and earlier this month the ESFA set out new measures to control and reduce the volume of subcontracting. These are as follows:

  • Providers are required to produce a plan by 31 December setting out how they will achieve a reduction in their subcontracted provision.
  • Restrictions and limits will be placed on subcontracting that has been identified as high risk.
  • More use will be made of audit returns to identify and act on risks.
  • Large subcontractors will be monitored more effectively than at present. The ESFA will share any relevant information about the provider with Ofsted who may decide to carry out an inspection.
  • Providers will be required to give their rationale for engaging in subcontracting. Any subcontracting will need to be signed off by the provider’s governing body and published on the provider’s website. Providers will also need to publish their fee structure and a list of their subcontracting partners. The ESFA has given providers engaging in subcontracting until 31 October to comply with this.
  • Providers will be required to give a rationale for engaging in subcontracting any provision for 16-18 year olds at a distance (defined as that delivered in a location that is more than an hour or more away by car from the main provider’s campus). From the 2021/22 academic year, providers wishing to subcontract 16-18 provision at a distance must first obtain ESFA approval. However, this requirement does not apply to subcontracted provision for adults.
  • Providers will be required to secure prior ESFA approval for ‘whole programme’ subcontracting in respect of all 16-18 and 19+ programmes that exceed a specified number of guided learning hours duration. However, this will not apply to apprenticeships.
  • Providers will be required to publish the proportion of the contract value they retain (‘top slice’) from subcontractors. The ESFA says it will challenge providers where this exceeds 20% and offers ‘little value’.An externally assessed standard for subcontracting management will be introduced which will, in effect, act as a ‘licence to practise’. The standard is intended to provide assurance in areas such as governance and the management of risk. The ESFA will develop the new subcontracting standard through 2020/21, will trial it in 2021/22 and fully implement it in 2022/23.
  • The use of brokers will be eliminated. (Brokers are a third-party organisation that will, for a fee, match a main provider unable to meet its delivery contract with the ESFA with a subcontractor that can secure sufficient numbers of learners to use up any unused allocation). From 2020/21, any main provider using brokers in subcontracting deals will deem to be in serious breach of ESFA funding rules.

Although the implementation of many these reforms will begin in the next academic year, other changes will be brought in over the next three years, to allow for a period of adjustment. The latest funding rules on subcontracting (published this month) can be found at:


The DfE has announced that students from the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals aged 19+ will no longer be eligible to apply for Advanced Learner Loans for courses starting in academic year 2021/22. This includes funding from the devolved AEB, and for apprenticeships. However, the change will not apply to Irish nationals living in the UK whose right to study and to access benefits and services will be preserved on a reciprocal basis under the Common Travel Area arrangement. According to statistics published by the Student Loan Company (SLC) students from the EU makes up 11% of 19+ college learners in England. More information is available at:


On 6 July, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published a report jointly funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the University and College Union (UCU) entitled ‘Will universities need a bailout to survive the COVID-19 crisis?’. It would seem that the answer is ‘yes’ and that the £billions in lost income due to the crisis will leave many universities struggling to survive. The report says that those universities with large numbers of international students will face the largest drop in income, but that less selective universities will also be badly affected as they see potential students poached by more prestigious universities. IFS researchers’ best estimate is that universities in England will face a collective £11 billion loss, which amounts to around a quarter of the sector’s annual income. The report calls on the government had to step in now with a comprehensive package of support to ‘…protect jobs, preserve the UK’s academic capacity and defend the quality of teaching and research’. A copy of the IFS report can be found at:


Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson, has announced details a new restructuring regime for universities in England at risk of insolvency because of the Coronavirus crisis. Eligible HE institutions will be able to apply for financial support to develop restructuring plans, but conditions will be imposed that are intended to focus the sector towards meeting the future economic needs of the country and delivering high quality courses with good graduate outcomes. The scheme will also require the prioritisation of front line delivery and reducing administrative costs, including vice-chancellor pay. Assurances will also be required that the legal duty to secure freedom of speech on campus is being complied with. The plan builds on the earlier HE support packages, including eligibility to access the Coronavirus Job Retention and business loan schemes, as well as bringing forward tuition fee and research funding. The funds being made available are in the form of loans rather than grants, and loans will only be made after all other finance options have been exhausted. The scheme is therefore not a guarantee that no HE institution will go into insolvency. An independently-chaired HE Restructuring Regime Board will be established to oversee the scheme. Further details can be found at:


The DfE has confirmed the imposition of HE student number controls in England which, it says, are intended to prevent ‘…destabilising the admissions system as universities compete to recruit a greater share of domestic students, against the very real prospect of a collapse in the numbers of both international and home students in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis’. The cap will only apply to full-time undergraduate students. Under the new rules, universities will have the number of students they can recruit capped at their forecast growth, plus 5%. HE providers will also be able to bid for an additional 10,000 places in subjects that are of ‘strategic importance’, to be allocated by the DfE (of which 5,000 are ringfenced for nursing and healthcare courses). If an English HE institution over-recruits, the DfE has said it will reduce the maximum it can charge in tuition fees to redress the balance. To prevent those students from England unable to obtain places at English universities being ‘hoovered up’ by universities in the devolved nations, they will not be able to increase their intake of English students by more than 6.5%. If a university in a devolved nation recruits English students beyond this, the UK government will place restrictions on the number of loans the Student Loans Company (SLC) can offer. Education Ministers in the devolved nations have expressed outrage at the plans to cap the recruitment of students from England and the potential loss of income from the much higher fees English students pay compared with students from the devolved nations.


Conditional unconditional offers are offers of places which are not dependent on a student’s exam results, but are conditional on the applicant accepting the university offering the place as their sole choice. Office for Students (OFS) data also shows that young people who accept unconditional offers are less likely to continue into their second year of study. The use of conditional unconditional offers has risen sharply in recent years, and particularly this year (2020) as the Coronavirus crisis has raised concerns amongst universities about a potential collapse in student numbers and associated income next academic year. To prevent students being coerced into accepting places, the OfS has confirmed that it has imposed a temporary ban on English universities making conditional unconditional offers, and has warned that fines of up to £500,000 or more could be imposed on those universities that fail to comply. Around 30,000 conditional unconditional offers have already been made prior to the ban being imposed, but the OfS has assured those applicants to whom such an offer has been made that they will not be withdrawn. Although the ban is meant to be temporary, the Universities Minister for England, Michelle Donelan, said ‘There is no justification for conditional unconditional offers and…I hope to see this ban continue beyond 2021’.


Speaking at an event organised by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), Ms Donelan also said that getting more people into university did not necessarily improve their social mobility, and that there was evidence of many universities engaging in ‘grade inflation’ and ‘dumbing down’ their courses in order to attract more students. Ms Donelan went on to question the value of many university courses that ‘…do nothing to improve students’ life chances or help with their career goals, particularly when compared with the level of debt the students incur’. A copy of Ms Donelan’s speech can be found at:


The construction department of a local FE college was undergoing an Ofsted inspection, part of which involved an observation of its Level 2 Wall and Floor Tiling programme. Being mindful of diversity issues, the inspector observing the class noted that only one student on the course was female and therefore decided to have a more detailed look at her work. After watching her laying tiles for a time, he concluded that standard of her work was exemplary. However, he couldn’t help noticing that while she was working, she was also singing at the top of her voice, and that her repertoire was exclusively made up of songs such as ‘It’s a Heartache’, ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. The inspector asked her tutor (who was Scottish) why this was. In response, the tutor said that it was probably because he had told the student that she had the makings of a bonny tiler.

Alan Birks – July 2020

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