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Improving the level 3 skills offer for adults: summary of consultation responses

Next steps: June 2023

The West Midlands Combined Authority is committed to increasing the proportion of its residents qualified to level 3. Between 16 March and 24 April 2023, WMCA consulted on proposals to expand and improve our level 3 training offer for adults. We received 52 responses including from our Local Authority partners, training providers, colleges, universities, the voluntary and community sector and national organisations. This document provides a short overview of the responses received and next steps.

Summary of responses

The case for level 3

Respondents were unanimous in their support for our ambition to help more adults achieve a first level 3 qualification and/or to engage in training that further develops their skills at this level – with the majority of those who expressed an opinion suggesting that the region should have a collective ambition for the proportion of residents qualified to Level 3 to be at or above the national average by 2030. Respondents recognised that achieving this ambition will require strong collaborative partnership working, include concerted efforts to engage more employers and residents.

Improving the offer at level 3

The WMCA Adult Education Budget Strategy sets out our expectation for a minimum of 20% of grant-funded provision to be delivered at level 3 and above. To achieve this, respondents focused on the need for:

  • A region-wide resident-facing campaign to engage more adults in learning
  • Better alignment between training provision and local labour market opportunities
  • Greater collaboration between providers across the region
  • More flexible delivery
  • Additional investment in level 3 training, and for adults studying at this level.

While the need for a strong level 3 offer across the region and in all sectors of the economy was widely recognised, respondents suggested that over the next 12 months, WMCA should place a particular focus on:

  • Health and social care
  • Digital
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing and engineering.

Providers shared with us their own plans to develop their level 3 offer, including through employer engagement, marketing activity with residents, course design, and flexibility in delivery models.

Making level 3 study affordable

There was overwhelming support for our proposal to raise the low wage threshold to £30k for an initial two-year period, with respondents agreeing this would be a bold move that would make training more affordable, widen access to learning, and raise the qualifications profile of the region.

Respondents generally expected, that if this change is communicated effectively to residents, it should engage more adults in level 3 study and support their progression into good work. It is anticipated that this change will also strengthen the level 3 offer in the region, through the development of more targeted courses, greater flexibility, and better-quality delivery.

"Absolutely agree. We think this is a fantastic step and will allow many more residents to access the qualifications they require." Independent Training Provider

"This would remove a significant barrier to those looking to retrain into priority sectors or to upskill within their workplace. Due to inflation, whilst household spending power has been reduced, a significant proportion of those in semi and low skilled work are trapped as they are paid above the national living wage, but cannot afford to access skills training to enhance their earnings potential." FE College

"Yes. At least 80% of the 2030 workforce is already in employment and up- and re-skilling is a major challenge for the West Midlands economy as it is for the UK as a whole - raising the threshold will hopefully incentivise more people to take up these training and development opportunities. We also believe this will pay for itself over time." National organisation

A small number of respondents suggested that WMCA should be even more ambitious, raising the low wage threshold further or removing it entirely. Others highlighted the trade-offs involved in focusing a greater proportion of AEB on higher level skills and the potential for deadweight. WMCA will evaluate the impact on residents, providers and on the wider skills offer of any changes made.

Accessibility and proposals for learner support

Course fees are just one element of the cost of studying at level 3. We sought to use this consultation to better understand how Discretionary Learner Support Funds (DLSF) are used across the region, recognising that, since devolution, WMCA have not increased spend on DLSF, in the same way that it has reviewed and increased other comparative benchmarks.

The limited feedback received on DLSF through the consultation means that we will need to undertake a wider piece of work to review the aims, focus and flexibility of the Fund, including how it can effectively support learners on level 3 provision who are currently earning below average wages. This will include benchmarking spend against other parts of the country and examining wider best practice in how to maximise the impact of DLSF funded activities.

Improving and expanding the Level 3 offer: working with providers

The consultation recognised that while the costs associated with level 3 study can be prohibitive, adults also face a wider set of challenges and barriers to engaging with training at this level, where we are keen to work with providers to develop new and innovative approaches to delivering level 3 training to adults. Respondents identified a number of challenges that they were keen to work with WMCA on, including:

  • Developing a stronger modular/short course offer
  • Offering more flexible delivery – particularly to accommodate those with work or other time commitments e.g. block delivery, blended, weekends, etc.
  • Securing greater employer engagement – to facilitate employer support for learning and in-work progression opportunities.
  • Wrap around support including CEIAG (Careers, Education, Information, Advice and Guidance), coaching and mentoring, work experience etc.
  • Making more effective use of learner support funds.
  • Access to data and devices for online learning.

The WMCA case for increasing investment in its level 3 offer is predominantly based on the employment and earnings outcomes from achieving qualifications at this level. Nonetheless, outcomes data from our existing level 3 provision is poor. Respondents were consulted on ways of finding more effective, efficient and sustainable ways to improving data on outcomes. Several respondents identified that they had effective systems in place and would be willing to share good practice, while others were keen to learn from the experience of those who were ahead of them. Respondents also referred to the time and cost involved in evidencing outcomes, as well as the challenge of maintaining contact with adults once they have completed their course.

Respondents agreed that as well as expanding the offer at level 3, it is also important to improve the pathways to level 3. Particular reference was made to the importance of establishing clear and coherent pathways up to level 3, including a strong English, maths and digital offer alongside a comprehensive and high-quality offer at level 2, across all sectors of the economy. In developing stronger pathways, respondents identified a particular need for:

  • Greater collaboration between providers, facilitated by WMCA
  • A directory of available provision across the region, to support signposting and referrals
  • Collaborative course design, with opportunities for providers to work with WMCA, employers and industry experts and providers in understanding need and designing provision to meet this.

Next steps

Based on the responses received to our consultation, WMCA will:

  1. Raise the low wage threshold to £30k, from 1 August 2023 for an initial two-year period, during which we would evaluate its impact on learners, on providers and on our wider adult skills offer.
  2. Test the impact of introducing a fully-funded level 3 offer, for all residents, regardless of income, in key economic sectors. Over the next 6 months, we will work with providers and employers to identify the sector(s) and qualifications in scope.
  3. Lead a regional resident-focused campaign to engage more adults in learning, including at level 3 – from January 2024.
  4. Implement a full study programme approach to funding level 2 and level 3 qualifications for young adults aged 19-23, from September 2023.
  5. Fully fund the following qualifications, with immediate effect, for those already working in the FE sector, to support delivery capacity. We will also work with providers to establish entry routes to support talent recruitment into the sector.
    1. Level 3 Coaching and Mentoring
    2. Level 3 Teaching/Higher Level Teaching Assistant
    3. Level 3 Award in Assessing Competence in the Work Environment
    4. Level 4 Award in the Internal Quality Assurance of Assessment Processes and Practice
    5. Level 4 Certificate in Leading the Internal Quality Assurance of Assessment Processes and Practice
    6. Level 4 Diploma in Advice and Guidance
    7. Level 5 Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA)
    8. Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training
    9. Level 5 Aspiring Leaders
    10. Level 3 Leadership and management – adoption of technology
    11. GCE A Level in Mathematics
    12. GCE A Level in Further Mathematics B (MEI)
  6. In addition, we will fully fund the following qualifications, from September 2023, for those already delivering employment support:
      1. Level 3 - Certificate in Employability Practice (CertEP)
      2. Level 3 - Award in Employer Solutions
  7. Undertake a wider review of Discretionary Learner Support Fund (DLSF) in order to better support the engagement, retention and progression of learners studying at level 3. Changes to DLSF will come into effect from 1 August 2024.
  8. Work with the provider base to identify good practice in outcome data collection and establish a standard set of outcome metrics to evidence the impact of the level 3 offer. This will be critical in demonstrating the impact of skills provision ahead of our single funding settlement in the next spending review. Changes will be implemented from August 2024. In the interim, providers should continue to use the current outcome reporting procedure.