Clause 5 - Institutions in England within the further education sector: local needs

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 2nd December 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

There is strong agreement on the importance of the provision of high-quality technical education and training that is responsive to local needs. For many colleges, the delivery of technical education is a key part of a wider curriculum that responds to different local needs.

The wider curriculum can include, for example, academic provision for students hoping to move on to university, English or maths provision for adults, or high-needs provision for learners with an education, health and care plan. Colleges also need to deliver other functions that support education delivery, such as careers education and advice, support for students with special educational needs and pastoral support.

We will only achieve our goal of provision that is responsive to local needs where there is effective strategic curriculum planning within every college. Such curriculum planning needs to reflect both the priorities set out in the local skills improvement plan, and the needs of different groups of learners.

The clause therefore places a duty on governing bodies of institutions within the further education sector to periodically review their provision against local needs and to consider changes that might improve the way those needs are met. The duty applies to further education and sixth-form colleges, and to institutions designated under section 28 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. That reflects the importance of those institutions in many local communities and the breadth of their curriculum offer.

In carrying out the review, the governing body must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State. A draft of the statutory guidance has been published by the Department. The guidance sets out the principles that should be followed when carrying out reviews and how reviews should be conducted, including working with different stakeholders and other governing bodies.

While the new duty builds on the existing good practice within the sector, there are also cases where improvement is required. That might include, for example, cases where intense local rivalries have led institutions to prioritise the needs of one group of learners over another, even if that is at the expense of learners in the local area as a whole. By putting in place a legal duty requiring reviews to be published, we are strengthening transparency and accountability around decisions on provision that are vital for local communities. When carrying out reviews, colleges will need to be mindful of their other relevant statutory obligations, including those in relation to learners with special educational needs and disabilities.

The clause strengthens the legal framework in which colleges, working both individually and in collaboration with each other, regularly review their provision to identify how it can be improved. That will help to deliver more responsive further education provision and will benefit local communities in all parts of England.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Clause 5 sets out the duty for institutions such as colleges to review provision in relation to local needs. The review must be published on the institution’s website and must be conducted in line with the Secretary of State’s guidance. The Opposition do not propose to divide the Committee on the clause. I am grateful to hear from the Minister specific mention of special needs. He will be aware that we are very concerned that that area should be reflected in local skills improvement plans, so I appreciate his reference to it. It is important to ensure that the review takes into account local circumstances and has the broadest possible base. We support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.