Access and Participation Plans; reflecting higher level technical education?
Frequently we find ourselves discussing the impact of policy – and whether the consequences of it (unintended or otherwise) are good or bad. This can mean sometimes discussion about practice is drowned out. At the recent UVAC and FACE webinar we were reminded of the powerful voices practitioners have when trying to respond to the big questions of the day.
The webinar was put together following a series of discussions regarding the skills agenda, which is gaining much traction, and its impact on Access and Participation Plans. The question the webinar was: how can we get access and participation plans to better reflect higher level technical education? Against a backdrop of ‘skills’ being a central plank in the government to levelling up agenda, and perception that degree apprenticeships are part of a middle-class ‘land grab’ (according to a social mobility commission report) there were vibrant examples of how providers of higher education are engaging with employers to dispel that myth (and actually having practical positive impact on apprentices’ social mobility). Drawing on research reports, such as those from the University of Middlesex, there were clear examples of how universities and colleges were working with employers to develop robust and exciting recruitment strategies to widen access. Indeed, with 133 reference to ‘apprenticeships’ in the Skills for Jobs White Paper there is a clear driver for providers to seize opportunity in this space to widen access. Indeed, many on the webinar articulated how they are making sense of Micro-credentials, Lifelong Learning Entitlement and a clear call for a change of rules regarding ELQ to support social mobility. There was discussion about the need for long term planning. This ranged from providers placing higher and degree apprenticeship officers in outreach teams to engage target primary schools in spreading information about higher and degree apprenticeships, to con-constructing toolkits with employers to support SMEs to engage with apprenticeship programmes. The need to grow and develop the resources to support diverse recruitment seemed a real priority. All of this, it was decided, clearly linked to the discussion about regulation, and how regulation could be used to support widening participation in this space. For example, panellists discussed how metrics for ‘good’ social mobility in this field of work could be set and monitored, as well as how the vicarious experiences of apprentices could be captured to understand the good work that exists in this space. Of course, there remains questions about how employers and providers can move to more inclusive practice. How attainment gaps are closed and how those working and learning at the same time can get the support needed to scaffold their learning seem to be perennial problems. However, there was a strong feeling that between FE, HE and employer collaborations creative, regional based solutions could be found. The webinar was the start of a conversation about apprenticeships, access and participation. There was great energy in the virtual room to learn from each other and build on positive peer working. In a Post-Covid world, with the 4th Industrial Revolution taking place, the link between education, social mobility and increased productivity seeming to be high on the agenda for government, the continued iterative conversation will allow us to develop and share practice across the skills agenda.