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Skills & Learning
This section summarises some of the most recent information relating to skills and learning across the South West, before exploring the significant policy changes impacting on the sector since the election of the Coalition Government in 2010.

Young People
Most (59%) children in the South West started their compulsory education in 2011 having achieved a good level of development during their Early Years Foundation stage, although only around half (49%) of children from the most deprived areas of the region had done so. Standards have improved in recent years - with the percentage of ‘achieving’ children rising by two percentage points between 2010 and 2011 (and three percentage points between 2009 and 2010). The ‘performance gap’ between the lowest and average performing children has narrowed marginally in the last two years.

The majority of young people make expected progress in Maths (64.5%) and English (72%) during their secondary schooling with most (57.5%) subsequently leaving school in with 5 or more GCSEs grade A*-C (including Maths and English) in 2010/2011. The proportion of children leaving school with this desired foundation of educational attainment has increased every year for (at least) the last five years and is two percentage points higher than in 2009/2010. Disparities, however, evident at the Early Years stage, persist throughout schooling so that boys (53%) are less likely to achieve than girls (61%) at this level.

The vast majority of young people decide to stay in full time education upon leaving school. In 2009, almost three-quarters (72%) of 17 year olds in the region were in full-time education. Participation rates have risen relatively swiftly in recent years - by 10 percentage points between 2004 and 2009 - with particularly fast growth recorded during 2008 and 2009. One in twelve (8%) 17 year olds in the South West were in workbased learning in 2009. This is unchanged on the previous two years. The number of young people starting a Government-sponsored Apprenticeship has not increased substantially in recent years (see Fig 4.1) although there has been considerable growth in the number of Apprenticeships started by learners aged between 19 and 24, and over 25 years old. The rapid increase in apprentices aged 25 and over has been a relatively recent phenomenon.

Connexions Service data suggests that a minority (5%) of the region’s 16-18 year olds were not in education, employment or training (NEET) in 2010/2011. This figure remained largely unchanged during the recession because more young people chose to remain in fulltime education. The proportion of NEETS varies across the region (Map overleaf) with the highest percentages in the largely urban local authority districts of Bristol (7.5%) and Plymouth (7%).

Figure 4.1: Apprenticeship Programme Starts in the South West by Age

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Apprenticeship Programme Starts in the South West by age
Source: Supplementary tables to the FE and Skills Statistical First Release, the Data Service

Figure 4.2: Percentage of 16-18 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) 2010

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% of 16-18 year old Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET): 2010
Source: Connexions Service
Labour Force Survey data suggests that the proportion of NEETS in the broader age group of 16-24 has increased in the South West and England over the last decade (see Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3: Percentage of 16-24 year olds NEET

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% of 16-24 year olds NEET
Source: Labour Force Survey

Figure 4.4: Percentage of employees aged 16-59/64 participating in job-related training in the last 4 weeks

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% of employees aged 16-59/64 participating in job-related training in the last 4 weeks
Source: Annual Population Survey
Less than one-half (47%) of young people aged 17-30 in England participated in Higher Education (HE) in 2009/2010 with girls (52%) substantially more likely to study at this level than boys (41%). The participation rate increased by one percentage point over the previous year with student numbers increasing marginally (by almost 4%) over the period. 21,050 young people in the South West started full time first degree courses in 2009/10, only marginally (0.5%) higher than the number starting in the previous year.

The vast majority (87%) were state educated and a minority (9%) were from a neighbourhood with a history of low-participation in Higher Education. More than one-quarter (28%) were from household with low socioeconomic status. The share of young entrants from lowparticipation neighbourhoods rose by two percentage points between 2008/9 and 2009/10.

HE Institutions located in the South West had 165,140 students in 2009/10. While student numbers increased on the previous year the rate of growth (3.9%) was slightly slower than that evident (4.4%) across England as a whole.

According to the NIACE adult learning survey for 2011, 44% of South West residents aged 17 and over who had finished full-time education were either currently learning or had participated in learning during the preceding three years. This compares to a national average of 39%.

The survey found that the level of - and patterns in - adult participation have changed little over the last 10 years with those most likely to learn including the young, those in the highest socioeconomic groups and those who had remained in education at 21.

The Annual Population Survey (APS) provides estimates of participation in job related training and, as such, uses a narrower definition of learning than the NIACE survey. According to the APS, in 2010 one-in-seven (14.5%) working age employees in the South West resident had trained in the last four weeks. Participation rates nationally are highest (one in five or more) for employees aged between 16 and 19; those working in the public administration, education and health sector; and those working in professional or personal service occupations.

More than one-third (34%) of South West residents aged 19 to 59/64 had a degree level qualification (or equivalent) or above in 2010; up from onequarter (26%) in 2001 and three percentage points higher than in 2009.

Despite this general upwards trajectory in the level of qualifications held by residents, a substantial minority (24%) either do not have any qualifications or hold qualifications below Level 2.

The profile of highest qualifications in the resident population varies considerably across local authority areas with residents of Torridge (36.5%) and Sedgemoor (31.5%) more than twice as likely as those in the South Hams (12%) to be poorly qualified (see Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5: Proportion of People with a Highest Qualification Below NVQ 2, Quintiles

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Proportion of People with a Highest Qualification Below NVQ 2, Quintiles
Source: DfE; Analysis: SLIM
The policy context for skills and learning has changed radically since the election of the Coalition Government in May 2010. The Government White Paper, Skills for Sustainable Growth, published in November 2010, was accompanied by an investment strategy, Investing in Skills for Sustainable Growth. Collectively, these set out the Government’s Skills Strategy and how Government will invest in Further Education (FE) and skills over the Spending Review period. Significant savings are planned, although the strategy continues to emphasise the importance of achieving high levels of participation in skills development.

While the commitment to the Leitch targets favoured by the previous Government has been abandoned, a commitment to the wider Leitch ambition remains. The previous Government had made a significant shift towards industrial activism, linking skills policy to sectors strategically important to the economy. The new skills strategy has moved away from focusing on particular sectors to providing greater freedom for providers to deliver provision linked to local needs. Perhaps the biggest change is the significant shift towards a more shared responsibility for skills, with those who benefit being asked to contribute to the costs.

Key elements of the skills strategy includes:

  • expansion of Adult Apprenticeships - by 2014/15 there will be 75,000 more adults starting apprenticeships;

  • improving the Apprenticeships package, with Level 3 (A Level equivalent) becoming the level to achieve, with clear progression pathways beyond Level 3;

  • fully funding training for young adults, aged from 19 up to 24, undertaking their first full Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) or first Level 3 qualification if they do not already have one. Government-backed loans will be available from 2013/14 for learners aged 24 and over undertaking Level 3 or higher qualifications;

  • fully funding basic skills courses for those who left school lacking basic reading, writing and mathematics;

  • protecting investment of £210 million in adult and community learning;

  • helping those on active job-seeking benefits to secure work through relevant training;

  • reducing bureaucracy and freeing colleges and training providers to respond to individuals’ and employers’ needs;

  • simplifying the funding system from the 2011-12 academic year into a single adult skills budget;

In November 2011, Government published New Challenges, New Chances - Further Education and Skills. This new Further Education strategy, builds on Skills for Sustainable Growth and the
Wolf Review, bringing together the necessity for businesses to continue to invest in training and skills of their workforce while recognising that several key areas will continue to need government support. It also identifies a three strand approach to helping colleges and training providers to run their businesses and better respond to the needs of learners, employers and communities: streamlining the landscape; simplifying systems and processes; and deregulation.

Significant changes have also taken place to the skills infrastructure including:

  • a smaller more narrowly-focused Skills Funding Agency, responsible for dispensing funding and issuing grant agreements with FE colleges and contracts with training organisations. Regional offices have now been replaced by area relationship teams based on a more sub regional structure;

  • the Education Funding Agency will take over responsibility from the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) on 1st April 2012, for the funding of all 16–19 provision of education and training, including the increasing number of Academies and free schools (see SLIM Comment on the New Schools White Paper, November 2011)

  • restructuring of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) to include a smaller number of District Offices and reformed regional offices with a new Southern office covering former South West and South East regions;

  • a change in the focus for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES);

  • in April 2012 Government will launch the long awaited National Careers Service, building on Next Step. The Service will have a presence in a wide range of organisations, including FE colleges, and will provide information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market, covering further education, Apprenticeships and other types of training, and higher education. Schools will be responsible for securing access to independent, impartial careers guidance for their pupils supported by guidance and good practice from Government. Connexions services remain patchy across the region.

Significant changes have taken place in the field of higher education. Building on the recommendations of Lord Browne’s review of Higher Education (HE) funding and student finance, the Government published it’s White Paper, Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System in June 2011. The philosophy underpinning this policy is of relying increasingly on competition between institutions, increased choice for students and greater diversity of institutions, which would determine the level of fees and lead to greater social equity and mobility.

The major change proposed is that Government should no longer fund universities directly, except to a limited extent, but that universities should instead be funded primarily through fees paid by students. Government will provide loans to students to pay these fees, which will be capped at £9000. These changes are anticipated to have a significant effect on the scale and structure of HE provision. The proposals also aim to open up the higher education market, including to further education colleges and alternative providers. At least 24 new University Technical Colleges will be established by 2014. These will be formed through partnerships between universities, colleges and businesses and will provide technical training opportunities for 11-19 year olds.


As indicated above, the institutional arrangements both underway and planned have yet to fully settle down. The geographies of the restructured agencies are no longer co-terminous and this is potentially challenging for local agencies, seeking to co-ordinate employment and skills policies. The role of LEPS in relation to skills remains unclear, though they are clearly identified in Government policy documents as being key local partners with whom a dialogue with FE colleges and HE is expected.

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