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I came back to the publication of A report
by IPPR, Scotland, sponsored by FETL
that explores the current and future challenges facing the Scottish skills system and makes suggestions on some key areas for action.
It is a thorough piece of work, though one that you might have expected to come with a confident and joined up voice from within the Scottish FE system.
I had a look for some informed critiques on this excellent piece of work. It will probably start arriving once the paper has had broader circulation and folks have battled through their new year emails . I see it is being raised in a question at Holyrood today, that may stimulate some further debate - here is my tuppence worth.
The IPPR Scotland report outlines six priorities for action for the skills system in Scotland: I've set them out here with some commentary. I think it is worth too setting this paper alongside the ambition of the reforms that are currently moving at pace through the English system
My overall reflection is that we need to speed up our thinking in this space in Scotland. While a lot of focus has been on the reorganisation of delivery structures to reflect the public funding available - we have perhaps been marking time around the bolder thinking that has in the past been a hallmark of the Scottish vocational system. It is often overlooked that like Scottish Whisky this can be a successful export if we are bold and get our thinking right. This is not about sectors - it needs built around a learner's journey
1 Embedding an outcome approach and setting a clear national purpose of the skills system – it is not clear what the overall purpose of the skills system is
I think this also stretches into Schools and University system - some sectors or parts of it have forgotten than deep links to industry and employers are significant for learners and for the CPD of teaching staff.
Outcomes should be for learners with institutions being rewarded on their delivery, but these should be around distance travelled - so that the resources follow the learners need for support. We can have both a high achieving and a more equitable system - this should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
2 Regional integration of the skills system – not just college regionalisation but across the skills system
While large structural reforms and regionalisation are referred to frequently in the report this must mean more than simply College Regionalisation - The report does not pick up that there are a significant number of Regional DSWY groups with no College representation
There needs to be clearer vehicles for employers, local authorities, Schools , Colleges , Training Providers and Universities to engage with. Perhaps there are still too many separate funding streams and this discourages real cooperation.
How in practice are skills investment plans (SIPs) and regional skills assessments (RSAs) really aligned with College Outcome agreements and how are the other delivery partners involved ? If Colleges shape their offerings around these then all parts of the supply chain should be doing this too.
Also worth reflecting that though Colleges are now regional - there is greater disparity than ever in the size of these regional colleges.
You can be global and still reflect the needs of local learners.
3 Clarifying roles of learning routes within the skills system – there is too much confusion and duplication between routes at present
The University system has in many cases needed the carrot of additional funding to support articulation and the acceptance of HND/C students into the 2nd and 3rd years of degree programmes.
While there is increased investment in apprenticeships - the articulation links for these are very uncharted. How easy is it to switch and get due credit from an SVQ3 in to an HND or Degree programme ? or SVQ4/5 into post-graduate study ?
The system seems to ignore the growth in wholly work based professional routes in areas like accountancy and law spawned by English system of paying fees for Higher Education. There are likely to be more wholly on-line global offerings arriving too. The system could get more confusing without some clear guidance and coordination.
4 Learners and employers co-designing a responsive skills system – the funding and implementation of the Apprenticeships Levy in Scotland offers opportunities in this regard
The levy is being used in the main to deliver the system in England not to re-design the system or the underpinning standards that support the system - the state is paying for this bit . Should the system not be redesigned around learners , employers and those who deliver the skills system. You can't write out training providers , colleges, universities and in time schools who all have a stake in delivering a responsive skills system.
There needs to be a more explicit expectation on employers. Reforms in England all about them making a contribution and having a greater say in the system.
If it is going to be based on qualifications and assessments you need to use SCQF and make better use of SQA in this mix . There is a lot of experience in the system.
5 Improving flexibility of learning so that learners can learn at a pace that suits their needs
Innovation here is being led by a few UK based training providers who are delivering directly into a growing number of Scottish employers and supporting apprenticeships in the main. Colleges and Universities have been incentivised to focus on full-time learners in the 16-24 year old cohort. There needs to be some fresh thinking and some fresh stimulus around the flexible learning agenda. This bit of innovative , flexible , on-line delivery has atrophied in the main-stream but there is lots of experience around Massive Open On-line courses and around open educational resources that need brought into mainstream delivery.
6 Increasing transferability of learning so that learning can be built up over what will be longer working lives, potentially in multiple careers and for multiple employers
There is much more scope for SCQF but we are not far away from having a national qualification transcript. We already have all of the elements in the Scottish Candidate Number and if you think digital rather than paper learners and employers should be able to access a single on-line transcript of learner achievements.
There is no mention in this report of the importance of core or transferable skills. Perhaps there is some wish to dilute this ? - but for learners: numeracy , communication skills and digital literacy will underpin most occupations in the future.
Finally as a footnote - I batter things into this blog so I should never be a spelling or grammar pedant (that in my opinion is the job of a good sub-editor) However , I did spot Principle being used on a number of occasions in this report rather than Principal ;-)