Expansion of free courses for jobs scheme welcomed, but extra capacity needed
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has welcomed the expansion of the eligibility criteria for the free level 3 courses for jobs scheme which comes into force today (Friday 1 April) – and called for action to ensure greater take up of these valuable courses.
The level 3 adult offer was part of the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee, which he announced at Exeter College in September 2020. AELP and other FE sector stakeholders had long urged the government to recognise the limitations of the level 3 adult offer in supporting adults who already have a level 3 but need to retrain or reskill.
As part of the National Skills Fund, those 19 or over without a level 3 qualification were previously able to access a free level 3 qualification. This has now been extended to include anybody who is unemployed or earns below the National Living Wage (£18,525) regardless of their level of prior attainment. AELP believes opening up the free courses for jobs scheme to more people is a positive step but - given the current low number of enrolments – this could be significantly improved with more involvement from additional independent training providers (ITPs).
Funding to deliver the free courses for jobs scheme was originally rolled into the adult education budget procurement process – meaning only 21 independent training providers were contracted for level 3 course delivery, along with funding being automatically allocated to grant funded providers. This has led to unspent funds and a lack of capacity in the market to provide these high value courses.
AELP is calling for the Department for Education to allow providers who already have an advanced learner loan facility agreement in place fast-track, direct access to the National Skills Fund. This would allow these providers to deliver the level 3 adult offer alongside their usual advanced learner loans provision - expanding level 3 capacity in a controlled and measured process.
Jane Hickie, AELP Chief Executive, said:
“The move to open up the level 3 adult offer to allow unemployed people or those in low-pay work to access free qualifications, regardless of any prior qualifications, is a positive step forward. However, we need to support training providers to increase the number of these courses they are delivering.
“Given the low enrolment figures, there is a danger that we will see a repeat of the situation with the Adult Education Budget and end up with underspent funds. This is despite there being significant need for these courses, particularly from individuals who face disadvantage. It is vital that those providers who are agile and can increase capacity are allowed to do so. Without opening up delivery, big opportunities to support adult learners will be missed.”