A Citizens’ Curriculum – learning on a cliff edge

December 17, 2014, by Guest Blogger. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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Helen Chicot, Skills & Employment Manager at Rochdale Borough Council, shares the Council’s early experience of testing out NIACE’s new Citizens’ Curriculum.

We’re really excited in Rochdale, about how we can test an approach to a Citizens’ Curriculum. We’re testing it in one small neighbourhood and have the benefit of integrating our pilot into a wider piece of work in this area, which will help us understand how public services can work together to get better outcomes for people before they end up in crisis. We’re targeting the people who are most likely to end up in crisis, using an interesting new approach to information sharing, and it’s great to work with people from across the public sector: housing, health, police, early years, families, skills and worklessness, to name a few. Importantly, we’ve got our Community Champions front and centre, trying to break new ground in ways of integrating volunteers as part of a public sector offer. Finding out where they fit best, how they can best do the things they do and how the public sector can best support them to carry out this positive activity.

This pilot comes at a good time for us. We’re really feeling the impact of skills policy changes. In Rochdale, our skill levels have been improving, but it’s been a struggle and trying to make a difference at each level is tricky for all of us. Where do you prioritise? Who is going to benefit most? What’s the most important thing – economic or social capital?

I attended a skills policy briefing last week, organised by New Economy, Manchester. The messages were stark. Opinions suggested that austerity, from a skills policy perspective, may last for another ten years – giving the impression that funding for skills is about to fall off a cliff, especially for post-19. Some of the evidence presented suggested that the assumed employer willingness to contribute is patchy. Our productivity is low, the incidence of workforce training, having peaked in 2000, is now back to 1993/4 levels and the volume of in-work training days have reduced by 50%. Where does that leave us? Thinking about those who are, at best, stuck in a low skill, low pay, no pay cycle, where are the opportunities for engaging people? Where is the space for learning to help? And where can that help be best placed? It felt pretty grim, for sure. Coming out of that session with my head reeling, I thought: we need a plan or we’re going off that cliff.

Ask our Community Champions what they think and they’ll make it very clear. People who are getting to the point where their lives are a struggle – who are coping with low incomes and families and health issues, need something else. Our Champions very eloquently describe how that should feel from the point of view of a person or family. It’s something integrated, something that’s not a series of services with specific offers that sometimes don’t quite address the issues. It’s got to make sense otherwise it can actually make things worse.

So a curriculum which is integrated with a wider offer is really exciting for us. This is an opportunity to really give it a go –to come together to try things in a way that will make sense, perhaps to us all. Maybe we can turn the adrenalin of panic into momentum for change… maybe we’ll come back from the cliff edge after all, but with a different plan.

So we’re going for it! We’re working in one neighbourhood, we’ve got a team of different people coming together and we’re putting a Citizens’ Curriculum in the middle of all that. More opportunities, more conversations about learning, and different ways to get help. Integrating literacy with citizenship; digital capabilities with health and wellbeing; financial capabilities with mental health approaches; specialist programmes for the young people who are at the highest levels of disadvantage; targeted approaches for those who are on the very edge of the cliff themselves.
Our colleagues at Edge Hill University are supporting our Community Champions to test this from the perspective of the community, to research this from within by participating in the change and to help us to understand what works well and what makes a difference.

So that’s why we’re excited. We’re not going off a cliff; we’ve got some hope.

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A work in progress

December 3, 2014, by Tom Stannard. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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Column originally published in The Municipal Journal on 11 November 2014.

One of the most pressing facts facing local economic development plans in the skills arena is that investment in skills is very heavily focused on young adults, at the expense of people over the age of 24. Investment in 18 to 23-year-olds prioritises higher education at the expense of other types of learning and skills or those not in learning. Educational outcomes are still too strongly correlated with socio-economic factors and the truth for many people is that ‘if at first you don’t succeed in education, then you don’t succeed’.

Our economy will have 13,5,000,000 job vacancies in the next decade but with only 7,000,000 young people entering the labour force in that period, we are heading for a major labour market imbalance. Tackling the skills and employment support needs of UK adults is therefore now a pressing economic necessity and sustainable recovery is dependent on more UK adults participating successfully in the labour market and doing so later into their lives.

An ageing population is one of the most powerful forces shaping the UK’s future. But local government is typically still encouraged to deal with this as a problem for adult social care or acute hospital services, rather than a socio-economic opportunity. While an ageing population will put increasingly high demands on adult social care, health, welfare and pensions, it also opens up opportunities with more adults able to contribute to society, communities and the economy for much longer.

This month NIACE is launching a new package of collaborative work programmes to help Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), combined authorities and councils tackle adult skills shortages in the working age populations of local areas across the country. Among other things, this now includes employability, pathways to work, and local work programme support; the European Social Fund; our highly successful mid-life career review programme, and particularly on learning and skills market development.

On market development, the latest further education and skills 24+ advanced learning loans figures show a collapse in the number of people taking part in learning at Levels 3 and 4. This loan system, similar to the loans system for university tuition fees, was poorly promoted and little understood in local government or LEPs, but is becoming hugely important to the future of tacking adult skills shortages.

In 2012/13 over 400,000 people aged 24 and over took part in learning at Levels 3 and 4. By comparison, in 2013/14 only 57,000 people paid for learning at this level with a loan. These figures are a clear warning that last year was not a blip. Huge numbers of people are no longer participating in learning that will help them to get on in life and in careers which will help the economy to grow.

Making new markets on both the demand and supply side in learning and skills means the prospects of there being enough highly-skilled people to do the jobs – now and in the future – will improve. It also means, critically, that there is a huge capacity development gap on skills, and that blithe talk of devolving the adult skills budget in city deal negotiations is only grasping a small part of the actual fiscal challenge facing new markets in learning and skills.

NIACE will be expanding our programmes of work across local government into 2015 and beyond to help councils, LEPs and emerging combined authorities tackle these challenges and others, as the skills aspect of local growth strategies is absolutely essential to creating a sustainable economic future for the UK.

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Saving public services – a skills take on the Challenge Panel report

November 27, 2014, by Tom Stannard. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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Yesterday’s Challenge Panel report, looking at the future of service transformation within and beyond local government, was published to deserved fanfare.  The report is a brave attempt to look at a sustainable future for local public services, building on the success of what it describes as necessary but “irreversible” service changes centred on meeting the needs of individuals and families across the country.

It is for good reason the report is subtitled “why we need local deals to save public services”.  After multiple exhortations claiming “this can’t go on” in relation to ongoing austerity, the Panel has started to break new national ground in describing a strategy for cross-sectoral transformation with sustainability beyond just the next couple of years.

The panel was set up in April as part of the Government’s “continued commitment to deliver better, more open public services, centred around individuals’ and family needs rather than working in traditional Whitehall silos.” It benefited from high-level credibility and insight under Sir Derek Myers and Pat Ritchie, also crucially including panel members on skills, the NHS and some of the best of current private sector thinking on service change and innovation.

The panel has called for three fundamental changes:

  1. That local and central government use the person-centred approach of the Troubled Families programme to design services for groups and individuals with multiple and complex needs.
  2. More easily accessible and more flexible up-front funding for the up-front costs of transformation, and a sensible rationalisation of multiple divisive national “transformation funds”.
  3. Radical improvements in how data and technology are used to provide smarter services.

Twenty specific recommendations support this.  And within the report at the Commons launch this week, two particular themes impressed me.  Firstly the fact that the report is genuinely cross-sectoral and not, as some might have feared, focused largely or exclusively on local government.  Secondly, perhaps more importantly, is the binding in of the Treasury to the agenda it sets out.  Although HMT Ministers did not attend the launch, Kris Hopkins MP, the Under-Secretary of State at DCLG, was on solid ground confirming the support of Treasury ministers and officials throughout the panel’s work.  This bodes well for the next parliament in making some of this happen.

In his response to the report, Eric Pickles said, “This report now provides us with a blueprint as to how we can take this approach forward into other areas such as jobs, skills and early- years”. This has to be welcome, particularly in the skills and employment support world, where, as we have argued at NIACE, skills system reform is a fundamental transformation challenge facing public services over the next parliament.

The Challenge Panel’s proposals for co-ordinated Whitehall energy, and personalised, people-centred approaches to service and system reform are precisely what the skills and employment system needs.  Many commentators have made this case, but few have set out a blueprint for how this reform could be achieved.  Our 2015 Election Manifesto, calling for fundamental reform of the adult skills system, local deals on skills and strong devolution, and a highly personalised approach to skills and employment support reform reflecting the proper balance of individual, government and employer interests and financial contributions, is an exception to this.  It is good to see the Challenge Panel report echoing much of this agenda.

Today’s BBC news coverage of the systemic weaknesses in the current skills system to meet individual and employer demand confirms how these failures to transform skills and employment support are further holding back UK economic recovery.  Our new localism prospectus, supporting our reform focused manifesto, is going some way towards supporting local areas achieve real and lasting change in skills reforms focused on helping local people achieve their full potential in local labour markets.

We now need the full weight of the Transformation Panel’s analysis, and the Treasury’s backing of this, to help embed lasting change in the skills and employment system across local government, further and higher education, private and independent training providers, and employers. NIACE has shown how this might be achieved.  The agenda the Challenge Panel sets out, if it succeeds in balancing individual control, personalisation and fundamental system reform, could just ensure change in the skills system is not a flash in the pan applying in some lucky areas with advanced city deals, but as the panel’s report rightly demands, reflects lasting transformation that goes well beyond “general efficiencies and better ways of working.”

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Shared ownership of local growth is our collective goal

November 13, 2014, by Tom Stannard. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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Column originally published in the Local Government Chronicle on 5 November 2014.

This year’s Solace summit in Liverpool gave us plenty to think about.

The big challenges facing local government over the next parliament include increased demand in statutory services, heightened risk in child protection, place-making for districts, counties and metropolitan councils alike, and of course, the core issue of growth.

Growth for growth’s sake is meaningless. What we need is sustainable, equitable growth, shared across a place, with equal access to the benefits and proceeds for affluent and deprived communities, whether the authority is highly prosperous with a strong economic base, or highly deprived, facing substantial structural economic weaknesses.

Chief executives get this agenda, and are working hard to support elected members to deliver it. We heard on the one hand impatience from Mark Rogers, the Solace president, about the pace and shared accountability for improvement.

On the other hand, we have Sir Derek Myers, past chair of Solace, and his upcoming report, which will redefine the transformation challenge for councils, with substantial changes in demand management and ‘irreversible’ service change likely to feature highly.

Growth cannot come second to debates on managing austerity and statutory services and if the mood of Solace members is anything to go by, it is unlikely to do so. For district, county and metropolitan chiefs, growth is just as important.

Increasingly muscular English local enterprise partnerships, and the advent of combined authorities, make this a great opportunity for local government, as shared ownership of growth becomes the norm.

Only this week the RSA’s city growth commission demonstrated in a major new study that devolution to cities would deliver a 5% productivity boost to the economy, equivalent to boosting economic growth by £79bn a year by 2030. After the Scottish referendum, devo-max, or the newly coined ‘devo-met’, are increasingly powerful arguments for growth, with councillors and Solace members championing this cause to government.

At NIACE I’m pleased we are playing a transformational national role with local government in this area. Our new prospectus for English LEPs and combined authority areas launches this autumn and will showcase the large-scale applied regeneration and development programmes we have already completed across the UK to tackle the adult skills crisis that could hamstring the recovery, and will show how we are rolling these out across the country.

We’re supporting local government do what it does best: to articulate local needs and drive a collaborative strategy to tackle these. After one of the best Solace summits in many years, it’s great to see a renewed energy and confidence about this across a local government going into the next parliament.

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Could a new localism lead to the creativity and innovation needed in our sector?

November 6, 2014, by David Hughes. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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For a while I thought that the devolution debate, which flared up around the time of the referendum in Scotland, would sneak into the background. And then the Chancellor announced that Greater Manchester was set for significant new responsibilities and budgets, including some more control over skills spending. Whatever the rights and wrongs, and politics, of the requirement for Greater Manchester to have an elected Mayor, this was an important signal about the landscape in the next few years.

It is very clear that a new localism, as we called for in our general election manifesto in June, will be high up on the agenda for the next Government, whatever the make-up. In part this is because of a genuine shift in thinking about how best to run the country. I am sure though that it is also about how to drive change when there is no new money to spend. For NIACE and those interested in lifelong learning there are many opportunities, as well as the obvious worries.

Our position set out in our new 2015 Localism Prospectus is simple – we want local areas to develop the social partnerships between employers, public bodies, people and communities which can set out long term plans for employment and skills, leading to sustainable and inclusive economic growth. This will, if done well, lead to stronger and more vibrant and tolerant communities, as well as more people able to learn throughout their lives.

In our work with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local and combined authorities and all of the main political parties we are advocating simple, practical and effective ways of working at the local level. We want to see more action on literacy, numeracy and digital skills; a new approach to ESOL; vibrant Community Learning Trusts; integrated employment and skills; a focus on progression for people from low pay into better jobs; more support for people in work to understand their options and access new skills, traineeships and apprenticeships, which help people carve out genuine careers; and a concerted effort to develop an effective and accessible ladder of learning opportunities from level 2 through levels 3, 4, 5 up to postgraduate study. A new localism can help make this happen alongside our priority actions we set out in our manifesto.

Maybe the new localism will provide the space for creativity and innovation we need to overcome the pessimism which continual funding cuts have inculcated in our sector?

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