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2021 Autumn Budget: 5 key takeaways

28 October 2021

After a challenging 18 months, it’s heartening to see a more positive economic outlook following the announcement of the 2021 Autumn Budget.

Investment in skills was at the heart of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s speech, showing the Government’s awareness of the importance of skills in supporting government’s plans for levelling up and increasing the quality of work.

High skills lead to high productivity as well as increased wages – benefiting not only the individual, but also society as a whole.

Here are our five key takeaways for what the Budget means for the future of education.

  1. Schools funding will return to 2010 levels

The Chancellor announced that schools are to get an extra £4.7bn by 2024-25, with school funding set to return to 2010 levels in real terms – an equivalent per pupil cash increase of £1,500.

Attracting and retaining world-class educators is vital to the success of our education system and to delivering transformational learning experiences. With recruitment and retention of teachers a growing issue, we welcome this investment and hope to see this funding used to support educators across the country.

  1. T Levels to continue on their trailblazing path

It’s great to see the Government continue to champion T Levels – qualifications that represent a seismic change to the landscape of learning for 16–19-year-olds.

The Chancellor’s promise of a £1.6bn cash investment over three years will allow centres to spend more hours with T Level students, as well as to help more students to undertake work placements so that they have the essential skills needed to enter the workplace with the skills that employers value.

Having recently won the contracts for three more T Level qualifications, we’re hearing from students and educators directly about the many benefits and opportunities that they bring, and are excited to welcome more learners to our T Levels. We’re fully committed to T Levels continuing on their trailblazing path and succeeding as a gold standard, world-class qualification.

  1. Early opportunities can’t afford to be missed

As quoted by the Chancellor in the Spending Review, “the evidence is compelling that the first 1,001 days of a child’s life are the most important”. In support of this, a £500m package will be delivered to support a network of “family hubs”, which serve parents and children across the UK.

This recognises that making early interventions in the lives of families can help to narrow the disadvantage gap at the earliest occasion, and provides opportunities to link families with other support services.

We hope to see this funding support mental health, family relationships and antenatal services, which will reap benefits to be seen decades down the line.

  1. Lifelong learning is a core and significant message

We massively welcome the proposed increase (in real terms) to adult skills funding. The importance of lifelong learning cannot be understated, and additional investment can only be a real positive after a challenging decade for the sector.

The news of expanding the Lifetime Skills Guarantee so that more adults can access their first Level 3 course free of charge is very welcome indeed. However, a gap does still exist here. Adults holding Level 3 qualifications who wish to switch sectors, or who must reskill to get back into employment, still face too many barriers to accessing learning. Greater consideration must be given to retraining needs – especially as it is now accepted that people do not generally stay in one profession over their working lives.

Whilst the scaling up of skills bootcamps is more welcome investment in the sector, there is still little evidence on their effectiveness, having been rapidly rolled out as part of the National Skills Fund. We would urge the Government to consider introducing credentials that participants can take away. Although bootcamp participants are guaranteed a job interview, this doesn’t mean a guaranteed job. It’s important that individuals have a credential that they can use as currency to demonstrate the skills, knowledge and behaviours they’ve gained to potential employers.

  1. Free numeracy courses for those without a maths GCSE

Continuing to focus on the theme of skills, the Government also announced the development of a £560m funded programme “Multiply”, a digital platform that will help adults and employers to improve numeracy skills.

We very much welcome the pledge to address numeracy issues, as this is a longstanding issue in England. According to the Learning and Work Institute, it’s essential that we take action.

NCFE is already committed to re-engaging adults in improving their numeracy skills, from our bite-sized maths qualifications that help build learner confidence, to our Functional Skills Maths that offers full flexibility to learners and an alternative route to GCSE. These are combined with our Skills Builder online resource tool that helps to plug those skills gaps and allows accessible online learning.

Movements need collaborators, and the Government would be wise to harness the expertise and knowledge in the sector to support the development and implementation of the Multiply programme. We believe that pooling our resources will ensure that Multiply has the best chance of success, incorporating elements from existing sector provision that we know works.

Overall, we welcome the increased spending plan and hope to see a ripple of positive change across the education sector in response. Lifelong learning is paramount to helping all individuals to navigate their futures, and as such, the focus on skills is hugely important.

As stated in our recent report, “world-class technical skills and skills systems [are] seen across all countries as vital for the economy and successful skills economies rely on partnerships to embed excellence at all levels.” We echo this sentiment now more than ever, and welcome opportunities to collaborate with the Government and other stakeholders to achieve success together.