In January 2021, the government published the Skills for Jobs White Paper, with a clear focus on the pivotal role that further and technical education has in helping people get skills for good jobs now and in the future. The Government followed this up by publishing the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill whose Committee Stage began on the 6th of July. The Association of Colleges, has proposed amendments to the Bill. One of these is that sustainability and the role of colleges in delivering a net-zero carbon economy should be added to the Bill.
AOC notes that the Bill is an important element of the wider reform agenda, which seeks to achieve three core aims:
– [i] To develop a system of lifelong learning. Delivering this means ensuring that this is meaningfully accessible to all, and involves an effectively joined-up wider education and skills system.
– [ii] To deepen the strategic relationship with, and service to, employers. Delivering this must involve a genuine partnership, with colleges and other providers empowered to stimulate and challenge articulated demand, rather than act as passive policy recipients.
– [iii] To empower colleges to deliver as a resilient network to look outward in delivering on long-term strategic priorities, rather than looking up to Whitehall for permission. Delivering this means ensuring that we develop the right balance of autonomy, authority and accountabilities, which enable colleges to focus on the complementary roles they can play together and with other partners over the long term.
In relation to embedding sustainability and the role of colleges in delivering a net-zero carbon economy into the Bill, AOC says:
"The challenge posed by the climate crisis is existential, and the consequent changes are already greatly impacting on our lives and our world (IPPC, 2014). This means dramatic changes to industries, with people needing to develop skills in new areas and continued change to the way that people live. The Committee on Climate Change (2020) has argued for governments across the UK to develop coordinated strategies for a net-zero workforce, integrating relevant skills into education frameworks. The Committee has additionally argued that education systems have a wider role to play supporting the transition to a net-zero economy and preparing for the risks of climate change including the need for greater public awareness and understanding, and the need for technical skills in the workforce."
It goes on to say:
"Sustainability must be embedded into the Skills for Jobs reform agenda. This should include the role of colleges in the transition to a net zero carbon economy reflected in the agreed strategic outcomes that colleges are expected to work collectively to support, in partnership with employers. Additionally, there should be a funded universal learner entitlement to education for sustainable development, with investment in the college workforce to match. Capital investment must support the reduction of the carbon footprint of colleges within their communities."
Is it not incredible that, in 2021, and knowing what we know, such amendments are needed? Incredible, but unsurprising given the track record of thinking by the UK's educational civil servants whose expensive but sheltered educations have trapped them in 19th Century thinking.
Sadly, it's not just the challenge posed by the climate crisis that is existential.