Education and Skills Committee

30 November 2006

New Inquiries into Skills

The Education and Skills Committee has agreed to undertake two inquiries into skills issues. The main inquiry will look at Post-16 Skills Training. This broad-ranging inquiry will follow on from an initial, shorter inquiry to focus on 14-19 Specialised Diplomas. Written submissions are invited for both inquiries. The Committee will begin taking oral evidence in the New Year.

Post-16 Skills Training

The purpose of the inquiry is to undertake a broad and systematic review of post-16 skills training in England. Skills are increasingly high on the Government's agenda, but there are indications from Leitch's interim report that even meeting current targets will leave England with significant skills gaps in the future. In addition, employers often say the system ill-fits their needs. Employer investment in publicly-funded training is low compared to other countries. The inquiry will look at the following issues:

€ What should we take from the Leitch Report on UK skills gaps? What are the demographic issues which need to be taken into account in skills policy?
€ Are the measures that we have available to assess the success of skills strategy robust?

National Policy/Issues
€ Are the Government's priorities for skills broadly correct - for example, the focus on first 'level 2' qualifications?
€ How do other targets, such as the '50% into HE' fit with the wider skills agenda?
€ What is the extent of joined-up working between Government departments, particularly, the DfES and the Department for Work and Pensions?
€ Do current funding structures support a more responsive skills training system? How could they be improved?
€ Is the balance between the public, employers' and individuals' contribution to learning appropriate?

Supply Side:
€ Is there a case for a less regulated supply-side system with fewer intermediary agencies and bodies? What are the potential risks and benefits of such an approach?
€ What do national and regional agencies currently do well? How are bodies such as the Regional Skills Partnerships working?
€ Does the LSC need to be the subject of further reform?
€ What is the typical experience of a college or other provider who wants to put on new provision in response to local employer demand?
€ Do we need to consider any further structural reforms in terms of which institutions provide what kind of learning?

Demand side
€ What should a 'demand-led' system really look like?
€ Do employers feel like they are shaping skills training - for example through Sector Skills Councils?
€ Do employers feel closely involved with the design of qualifications?
€ Should employers be further incentivised to take up training? If so, by what means?
€ What is the role of Union Learning Reps?
€ What roles should employment agencies play in facilitating training?

€ What is the typical experience of someone looking for skills training?
€ What information, advice and guidance is available to potential learners?
€ What is available for those with the very lowest skill levels, who are outside of education, training and the world of employment?
€ What is the role of the new Learner Accounts? What factors should be considered in their design and implementation?

€ What should apprenticeships look like? How close are they currently to this vision?
€ What parts of the current apprenticeship framework are seen as valuable by learners and by employers, and which less so? Is there a case for reform of the framework?
€ Are the number of places available appropriate, and in the right areas, and at the right level?
€ What is the current success rate for apprenticeships?
€ What can we learn from practice in other countries with apprenticeship systems - ie., Scotland and Wales?

€ Do the qualifications which are currently available make sense to employers and learners?
€ Is the Qualifications and Credit Framework succeeding in bringing about a rationalised system? Is there a case for further rationalization?

14-19 Specialised Diplomas

The first five specialised diploma lines are due to be taught in schools and colleges from September 2008. However, it appears that there are concerns about the management of the design and development process, compounded by the involvement of multiple organisations. Looking ahead, it will also be important that institutions and staff are adequately prepared for their introduction. Particular issues here include teacher training and co-ordination between schools and colleges. The inquiry will assess whether concerns are justified, and if so what needs to be done to address them.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are as follows:

Design and development of Diplomas:
€ What progress has been made on the development of diplomas to date? Where have been the sticking points?
€ What role have employers and Sector Skills Councils played in the development of diplomas?
€ Who is responsible for the co-ordination and development of diplomas?
€ Is there a case for a stronger co-ordinating role for one of the agencies involved, or for the appointment of a senior responsible officer or champion?
€ Is there a clear system for accrediting and awarding the diplomas?

Teacher and lecturer training:
€ What are current levels of teacher/lecturer training activity in preparation for Diplomas? Is this sufficient to make diplomas a success?

Co-ordination between schools and colleges:
€ What is the current level of co-ordination between colleges and schools in local areas?
€ What are the barriers to co-ordination?
€ What are the lessons that can be learned from areas where there is strong co-ordination on 14-19?
€ What are intermediary bodies such as LEAs and LSCs doing to foster co-operation?
€ How engaged are headteachers and college principals in the diploma agenda?
€ How are the rules on post-16 expansion likely to affect the rollout of diplomas?

Submissions should arrive no later than noon on Monday 8th January for both inquiries. A guide for written submissions to the Committee may be found on the parliamentary website at:

A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to with an additional paper copy to:

Education and Skills Select Committee
House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA

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