In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Government must develop a post-16 education, training and jobs plan by June which is ready to be rolled-out at the start of the new academic year in September, according to a the Campaign for Learning's and NCFE's new paper COVID-19 and Post-16 Education: Planning for a very different September.

The new paper, warns of a “very different Septemberto the one the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions planned for way back in January, requiring a different mix of provision and financial support”.

By September the economy could be 15% smaller and unemployment 1.5 million higher, reaching 2.75 million. Despite the welcome and generous wage subsidy programmes introduced by the government, we can expect there to be fewer businesses as some go bust including levy and non-levy payers funding apprenticeships.

This year, an extra 54,000 16 and 17 year olds from September will need to meet the duty to participate in education and training. Nearly 450,000 18-24 year olds will also be leaving full-time further and higher education entering the labour market in search of jobs in September. The paper notes that this downturn, as with previous ones, may have a significant impact on young people.

Adults aged 25 and over are likely to suffer too. The paper highlights that more will be unemployed and looking for work to support them and their families from September. And many adults who retain their jobs during the summer will put earning before training and retraining by working longer hours and taking extra jobs to protect household incomes.

Act Now

In response to the likely impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy, labour market and post-16 education, the paper outlines an action plan to address the consequences for jobs, apprenticeships, youth unemployment and adult retraining.

Writing in the paper, Dr Susan Pember CBE and Mark Corney, policy consultant urge the Government to take action now arguing that a plan needs to be in place by June ready for September. Waiting for the Spending Review planned for the Autumn would be 'too late' to implement the meaningful changes needed to ensure suitable provision.

Pivoting Policy 

The paper agrees measures are needed to safeguard businesses, protect employment and maintain jobs with apprenticeships where possible. However, it argues that the economic impact of COVID-19 is so great that policy must pivot to towards full-time further and higher education, programme-led apprenticeships, job search and training for unemployed adults and maintenance support for adults still in work but worried about their long-term finances who want to train and retrain.

A Plan for September

The central recommendation of the paper is that the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions should develop a joint post-16 education, skills and employment plan for England.
For 16-17 year olds, the plan should:
  • maximise participation in full-time further education, expand traineeships and introduce programme-led training to offset the loss of jobs for this age group including an inevitable fall in apprenticeship starts;
  • create a single, flexible, 16-18 education and apprenticeship participation budget which accommodates growth in real time rather than on a lagged basis – and can respond to speedily to learner choice, and
  • reintroduce high-value means-tested Education Maintenance Allowances to boost incomes of full-time FE students living in households suffering from the impact of COVID-19.

For 18-24 year olds, the plan should:

  • enable as many as possible enter full-time higher education from (if they achieve the appropriate academic and vocational Level 3 qualifications) and resist any national cap on student numbers;
  • extend eligibility for means-tested maintenance loans for 19-24 year olds seeking to achieve a first full Level 3 qualifications;
  • extend jobs search provision and increase the number of back to work coaches to help unemployed jobseekers;
  • permit participation on one year training and retraining courses in return for Universal Credit, with the cost of training met by the Department for Education;
  • fully fund Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships for non-levy payers from the new Adult Apprenticeship Programme Budget, and
  • introduce wage subsidies of £1,000 to employers recruiting 19-24 year olds for Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships.

For older adults, the plan should:

  • extend the entitlement to free adult education for first full Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications from 19-24 year olds to adults of any age;
  • end co-funding for adult further education courses, and
  • remove the ELQ rule in higher education and bring forward to this year the £600m National Skills Fund to promote up-skilling and re-skilling at all levels in these difficult times.