The long-term implications of devolution and localism for FE in England

The over-arching research question for this project is: ‘How and with what consequences, are colleges and other stakeholders responding (strategically and operationally at a range of levels from individual institution to national system) to devolution, localism and attempts to spatially restructure education and training provision against a backdrop of declining central government financial support?’

Colleges are vital parts of the local education system, are major employers and do so much to support the local economy, healthy communities and social cohesion. Yet they have been pushed and pulled by national policy shifts more than any other institutions in education. That’s why we need to think about how localism might best be implemented so that it can provide a more stable, secure and fruitful future for colleges to be able to serve their communities, employers and students.

This project set out to evaluate how this is being developed now and the impact it will have on colleges. Through in-depth research and events, Professor Keep has set out the approaches college leaders might consider to ensure localism works well. I believe that there are opportunities in localism and devolution as well as risks and this report is an important contribution to realising those opportunities. With the changed leadership in Government, it is unclear how devolution and localism will develop.

The plans to give control of the Adult Education Budget to local leaders were not seen as sufficient in many parts of the country where the interest was also in 16-19 funding and apprenticeships. The machinery of government change has now brought the more pro-localism BIS into the more centralist and market-led DfE, so it will be fascinating to see what happens next. Whether or not you are a proponent of localism and devolution, it is abundantly clear from this paper that many localities do not yet have the capacity or capability to manage the Adult Education Budget, let alone anything more. Whitehall itself has not yet articulated clearly how it intends to set the balance between central and local power.

Meanwhile, the country as a whole, is going through a period of transition and we await the full impact of Brexit, not least on migration and the labour market. At the same time, the policy changes do mean that there is a lot to play for. It may be that good devolution, well thought through would bring colleges together with local leaders in a powerful force for good. That’s why the findings of this report are so crucial for college leaders and why I am keen that we use this report to support college leaders and ensure that colleges remain at the heart of the skills and education agendas.

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