The Future of Further Education in London

  • By Dianna Neal

As London government continues its negotiations with central government on a skills devolution deal for the capital, the Mayor and the boroughs are preparing to lead the London Area Review of post-16 education and training across London. Part of a national programme of reviews to deliver a rationalised and more responsive FE sector, the London Area Review is an opportunity to secure a more resilient and sustainable base of providers to deliver the skills outcomes that London needs. This briefing provides an update on the London Area Review following an earlier Member briefing in November 2015.

Overview

In 2015, the government announced a programme of Area Reviews of post-16 education and training provision to deliver a rationalised FE sector, comprised of fewer, more financially sustainable institutions that are more responsive to local economic need. This programme was motivated by both policy and financial imperatives, namely:

  • Increasing productivity by developing better professional and technical routes to employment, and ensuring more locally responsive provision through local commissioning of adult provision
  • Stabilising the FE sector as an increasing number of colleges face financial difficulties due to a combination of factors including declining funding for adult skills

Reviews are taking place in waves across the country, with the first ones having started in September 2015. They are focussing primarily on general FE and Sixth Form Colleges, with the option for other providers, including local authority adult and community learning services and independent training providers, to opt in to their local review. This is something that London government has encouraged.

Local areas with strong governance and levers have been offered the opportunity to take a leading role in their Area Reviews1. Following the announcement in the March 2015 budget that the government would devolve further powers over skills to the Mayor of London, London was identified as one such area. Working closely with stakeholders across the post-16 sector, London government (the Mayor and the boroughs) has therefore negotiated a slightly different approach to Area Reviews in London, outlined below.

As well as recognising the national objectives of the Area Review process, London government sees the London Area Review as an opportunity to begin to deliver a clear skills vision for London, and establish the infrastructure needed in London to commission skills under a future devolved system. This is in the context of ongoing negotiations with central government about a skills devolution deal, involving devolution of the Adult Education Budget along similar lines to devolution deals announced elsewhere in the country2. This follows the submission of a London devolution proposition to Treasury in the autumn of 2015, covering a number of policy areas including adult skills and employment support.

The London Approach to Area Reviews
Structure and geographies:
Given the scale and complexity of provision in the capital, the London Area Review will consist of four sub-regional reviews. The geographies for these were agreed by London Councils’ Executive Committee and are set out in the map below. The geographies took as their starting point existing sub-regional partnerships between London boroughs.

Map

The sub-regional reviews will be staggered but will form part of one overall London review process. All recommendations from the sub-regional reviews that have regional implications will be considered together at the London level.

Governance:
Each sub-regional review will have its own steering group. Sub-regional steering groups will report to a London Steering Group, which will oversee and be responsible for the London Area Review as a whole. The London Steering Group will take a strategic view to ensure the London Area Review delivers a sustainable, resilient base of institutions, and quality post-16 skills provision to meet London’s economic and social needs.

The London Steering Group will be chaired by the Mayor, and deputy co-chaired by a LEP representative and Cllr Peter John, London Councils’ Executive Member for Young People, Skills and Employment. Members of the group will include the sub-regional steering group chairs (see below), representation from participating institutions across the sub-regions as well as the FE Commissioner, Sixth Form Commissioner, a Regional Schools Commissioner and representatives from central government. Observers from representative bodies from the FE sector and London government will be invited to join the group on an advisory basis.

Sub-regional steering groups will be chaired by nominated borough Leaders representing all of the boroughs within the sub-region. The nominated Chairs are:

  • Central: Cllr Peter John, Leader, LB Southwark
  • West: Cllr Steve Curran, Leader, LB Hounslow
  • East: Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader, LB Barking and Dagenham
  • South: Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader, LB Sutton

Each sub-regional steering group will be deputy chaired by a business representative. Chairs of Governors and Principals of all participating institutions will be invited to attend the steering group meetings. Other membership will include the FE and Sixth Form Commissioner and representatives from the GLA, local government and local business.

Each institution that is in scope for the London Area Review or that chooses to opt in to the process will be a full participant in one sub-regional review, meaning it will sit on one sub-regional steering group. However, taking into account travel to learn patterns, and provision across multiple sites, each institution will also have the opportunity to feed into any other sub-regional review(s) in which it has a substantial interest, including scrutinising the findings and recommendations.

Timing and sequencing:
The London Steering Group will meet over the course of all the sub-regional reviews in order to monitor progress, provide a steer on London-wide issues, and agree pan-London recommendations. The first meeting of the London Steering Group will be on 29 February 2016. The West and Central sub-regional reviews will start in March 2016. The South and East sub-regional reviews will follow after the Mayoral election in May 20163. The process is scheduled to conclude in September 2016, after which the implementation phase will begin.

Commentary

As London looks ahead to a skills devolution deal, the London Area Review will be an important test of boroughs working collaboratively and strategically at a sub-regional level across all of London. For each sub-regional steering group, sub-regions will need to provide economic and social analysis for their area at the start of the review, put in place mechanisms to establish a collective view among boroughs to feed into the process, facilitate discussions with colleges between meetings, and undertake wider stakeholder engagement within the sub-region.

Demonstrating boroughs’ ability to work in this way is important as London’s skills devolution proposition proposed a two-tier system of skills devolution, with some skills funding commissioned at the pan-London level and other funding (focused on providing basic skills) commissioned sub-regionally, so that employment and skills provision could be joined together effectively at this level. The London proposition proposed that Employment and Skills Boards at a sub-regional level would oversee devolved employment and skills programmes.

Should London government agree a devolution deal on skills with government, sub-regions will therefore need to input into the development of a pan-London skills strategy, develop sub-regional skills strategies to establish future funding priorities for their areas, input into delivery agreements with colleges in 2016, and draw up local outcome agreements with providers in early 2017 to influence funding. Sub-regions will also need to develop effective arrangements for the commissioning of skills funding sub-regionally, integrating this with employment provision.

London Councils will therefore continue working closely with the sub-regional partnerships, the boroughs and the GLA to support the Area Review process and to ensure that London demonstrates its ability to lead on the skills agenda to secure better outcomes for Londoners as we look ahead to skills devolution.

1 BIS further guidance: Reviewing post-16 Education and Training Institutions: guidance on area reviews
2 For example with Sheffield City Region and the East Midlands
3 West and Central will be part of Wave 2 of the national Area Review process. South and East will be part of Wave 3 of the national process

Dianna Neal, Head of Economy, Culture and Tourism