Getting off on the Front Foot with Area Based Reviews

This is the first in a series of three blogs which will be posted over three consecutive weeks about the national programme of Area Based Reviews (ABR) of post-16 education which is being rolled out in a series of ‘Waves’.

What is it all about?

The national productivity challenge sets the scene for change in the further education system to ensure that it has strong institutions capable of driving up productivity. People and skills are essential factors in achieving economic growth.

The Growth Challenge

Two major areas of reform are considered critical: the need to ensure that high quality professional and technical routes to employment exist alongside academic routes to enable progression to the higher level skills valued by employers; and secondly to ensure that post-16 provision is more responsive to local employer needs and economic priorities.

Alongside this economic development imperative is the continued need for cost-savings to help reduce the budget deficit. After 5 years of funding cuts, there was some relief at the Autumn Statement announcement that core funding for 16-19 year olds and Adult Skills will be protected. However, there is recognition that the Area Reviews will play a role in delivering further cuts. This means some difficult decisions have to be made to deliver Government aspirations for “institutions which are financially viable, sustainable, resilient and efficient, and deliver maximum value for public investment” (HM Government, March 2016, p.6, Reviewing post-16 education and training institutions. Updated guidance on area reviews). It is anticipated that the Reviews will result in a restructured sector which is underpinned by stronger (often larger) and more sustainable institutions.

An important source of sustainable funding is the Apprenticeship Levy, due to be introduced in April 2017. This will require a significant shift in the apprenticeship delivery model, with colleges being encouraged to deliver two thirds of apprenticeships by 2019/20.  This requires a demand-led approach responsive to employer needs to ensure colleges can capture a share of these funds. In the past competition between providers has resulted in multiple providers offering the same courses and competing for the same employers, leaving many businesses feeling bombarded and confused about what is on offer.  The area based reviews provide an opportunity to articulate the needs of the local economy and to ensure that these needs are met through a streamlined system which plays to the strengths of individual providers and is less confusing to employers.

Collaboration is therefore a key theme in the process. The opportunity for collaboration needs to be understood in the context of travel-to-learn patterns, existing strengths and specialisms, and a critical mass of demand (from employers and learners). Specialisation of provision is a driving force to ensure that provision responds to the local imperative, engenders confidence in employers to invest and provides a pathway to higher level skills.

What do we do?

Regeneris has been supporting clients through the Area Based Review process in a variety of ways.  This ranges from producing sector skills intelligence to guide local authority and LEP understanding of the economic needs of their areas and the need for specialist training infrastructure to support growth (e.g. Advanced Manufacturing Skills Action Plan on behalf of Lancashire County Council, and Scoping Study of Demand for a Regional Skills Centre in Advanced Manufacturing on behalf of Calderdale Council) to producing a detailed evidence base of skills and labour markets to inform the LEP stance on the economic and education priorities of their area (e.g. Marches SEP Evidence Refresh and Skills Action Plan).  We have also supported our clients through facilitating workshops with ABR partners in preparation for their involvement in the process (e.g. SEMLEP).

For more information about our experience in undertaking skills and sector analysis and supporting the Area Based Review process please contact Stephen Rosevear, Lauren Newby or Oliver Chapman



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