Does the UK's skills and education policy need a major rethink?

Written by
Tom Ritchie

06 Jun 2019

06 Jun 2019 • by Tom Ritchie

The government is being called upon to urgently rethink how skills and education policy is designed in the UK, as new research suggests that millions of pounds’ worth of investment could be going to waste.

City & Guilds Group’s report, Sense and Instability 2019, proposes that the lessons of poorly implemented policy over the last few decades have not been learned, leaving badly-needed education and training programmes unfit for purpose.

Sums such as the £500m per year pledged by Government to deliver the flagship new T-Levels are cited as potential sunk costs. The report also highlights there is currently no clear or thorough published data on the value for money of these new qualifications.

The analysis concludes that policy is often created in isolation, without clear measures of success or failure, and a lack of agreed business case to support the policy need.

City & Guilds Group is repeating its call for the creation of a new independent body to oversee the development and implementation of skills policy in the UK.

Chris Jones, chief executive at City & Guilds Group commented: “At a time of continuing uncertainty, it is more important than ever for the government to introduce firm measures of success when it comes to education policy. While there is undoubtedly some effective policy in place, it is deeply concerning to see this developed in a vacuum, with little or no evidence to support it, no clear idea of its expected value for money and no concrete understanding of its impact. It is simply impossible to judge whether policy has been effective.”

Output-related performance

Too much emphasis remains on output-related performance, such as number of learners or employers engaged with a programme. Over-ambitious targets and a lack of reliable evidence often make these goals unattainable, and mean a lack of clarity over desired outcomes or measurements of success. This in turn means skills policy is disjointed, short-term and inconsistent.

“Skills and education policy has the potential to deliver transformative positive changes to people’s lives. But those who have the most to benefit from this are missing out. With all evidence pointing to an increasing disparity in our society, this has to change. Lifelong learning remains the best asset we have to tackle social mobility,” Jones added.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, and the author of the foreword of the report said: “We find ourselves in peculiar times. From this report it is abundantly clear that skills policy has effectively been ‘left behind’ while issues like Brexit dominate the political agenda. While it is heartening to see some evident progress over recent years, such as improved engagement and ownership from employers and some well-intentioned policy, much more needs to be done to ensure skills policy in the UK is delivering both social and economic value.”

Recommendations from the report

  • Embedding success measures within skills programme design, consultation and delivery from the outset, including a thorough impact assessment process and a clear setting out of intended outcomes and impact
  • Better use of pilots to validate these measures and longitudinal impact studies to track outcomes
  • Developing a continuous improvement process within programme delivery – as well as gathering ‘lessons learned’ for future reference
  • Developing a clear Value for Money framework for skills policy and the creation of an evidence base for the skills sector
  • Improving access to programmes for the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach learner groups through better use of outcome and impact measures, such as single-parents, people with health and other conditions, ex-offenders and care leavers.

To access the full report, please visit: