London’s further education sector ill-prepared as recession looms, says new report

London’s further education sector ill-prepared as recession looms, says new report

With the post-pandemic recession looming, coupled with the impact of Brexit and increased immigration controls, further education, skills, and opportunities for retraining will be crucial for the capital’s economy. But after a decade of funding cuts, London’s further education (FE) providers are ill-prepared, according to new research published today by the Centre for London think tank

The report takes a hard look at a sector which educates more students than the capital’s universities, but is currently under-performing and badly in need of government support. It finds that spending cuts, together with falling numbers of students and apprenticeships and restrictive funding arrangements have taken their toll on FE standards.

Budgets are down by 30 per cent since 2009 and spending on adult learning by even more, while the proportion of working age Londoners in FE has fallen by over 40 per cent in five years. The city has only half the number of apprenticeship starts as the rest of the UK.

Last year, almost one in three of London’s 48 FE colleges were rated by Ofsted as inadequate or requiring improvement. Courses were not targeted at areas with particular skills shortages, the report says, and were not advanced enough, with three-quarters of students taking courses at GCSE level or below.

Yet the FE and adult learning sector remains vital, according to the research, helping Londoners into new jobs as well as catering for school-leavers and addressing an increasingly divided city by providing opportunities for those with no or low qualifications – currently one in seven residents. “Without access to high quality further education, Londoners will struggle to find new opportunities as unemployment rises, slowing the coronavirus recovery,” the report says.

It recommends a two-pronged approach from government: boosting funding for further education, including support to recruit teachers in areas of skills shortage, more free tuition to encourage learning and a “lifelong learning allowance” helping adults take up higher level courses, plus devolving all FE budgets to City Hall.

“The upcoming recession is set to hit London hard,” said Centre for London research manager Nicholas Bosetti. “Automation and Brexit were already a threat to London’s workforce and this crisis makes the situation far worse. Retraining and upskilling are even more important now than they were three months ago, and the government is going to need to step in if we’re going to help workers into employment in the post-Covid-19 world.”

The £306 million London adult education budget was devolved to the Mayor last year. Sadiq Khan has already boosted free provision in English and Maths and for deaf students studying for a first qualification in British Sign Language. Last month he launched a new £9 million fund for online learning, focused on low paid and “furloughed” workers and those at risk of redundancy as a result of the pandemic.

But full devolution of FE, including funding for apprenticeships and education for 16 to 18-year-olds, should now follow, to “enable strategic oversight of the city’s skills provision and allow City Hall to set priorities that match London’s economic needs,” the report says.

“London, along with other regions, must have more control over skills funding and how this is used,” said City Hall skills and employment director Michelle Cuomo-Boorer as the report was launched. “This will be a key part of London’s recovery, building a fair and inclusive economy and society and investing in the long-term sustainability of jobs for all Londoners.”

The research will be launched at an online event this afternoon, with speakers including Cuomo-Boorer and Mary Vine-Morris, director of the Association of Colleges London region. Full details here. Read the full report via here.

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