Skills and Employment Policy for the digital age

The draft report (not yet confirmed for publication) of the warm-up meeting to brief the new Skills Minister for the start of the Conservative Party Conference is below. The briefing meeting for the team leaders for the follow up CPF National Discussion Group on “Skills and Employment” will be on the evening of 25th November. The invitation to register interest is at the end of the report, before the appendices.



The pace of change has accelerated and centralised planning can no longer keep up. Widening  workforce skills gaps require investment on a scale akin to that made in higher education but structured and funded very differently.

The need is for flexible local and on-line access to evolving and changing, “learn while you earn”, micro-modules – within a crazy paving of training programmes, including apprenticeships, for all ages. Education has to prepare pupils and students for a world of knowledge volatility. Technology, including AI, can help – but is only part of the answer.

Other nations have moved on rapidly in response to the same challenges. Time is not on our side. If we are not a leader, we will be a laggard, dependent on others for the skills of the future.

That will require national and local partnerships focused on meeting the evolving needs of employers, employees and self-employed, supported by joined up government policies which enable UK-based education and training providers to respond to those needs, at least as rapidly and accurately as their overseas competitors, with socially and geographically open and equal access.

The Conservative Policy Forum has asked the Conservative Science and Technology Forum to help structure a National Discussion Group to look at how Central and Local Government should respond.


  1. Introduction: Anna Firth, Director CPF and Philip Virgo V-P CSTF: From local discussions to national on-line meetings and the emergence of lifelong training as a priority issue for voters.
  2. Alex Burghart MP, Skills Minister: Setting the Start Point for discussion.
  3. Chris Francis, Chairman CSTF: The scale and nature of the challenge
  4. Anna Firth: as CEO Invicta: Lessons from creating an on-line school during UK lockdown
  5. Ian Bentinck: Lessons from moving schools around the world on-line during global lockdown
  6. Jon Hall, Better Hiring Institute & OU: Knowledge Volatility demands Lifelong Training
  7. John Midgely, AWS: using partnerships at scale to meet customer and individual needs
  8. Lord Lucas, Good Schools Guide: The crazy paving of programmes to meet local needs
  9. Just a Minute Ideas:
    1. Inter-operable skills records/passports to support life-long learning/training
    2. The need to support self-help career development at all stages
    3. Turning IR35 from an obstacle into an opportunity
    4. Using AI to help deliver customised careers advice at scale
    5. Enrolling the excluded to help build full fibre digital infrastructures
    6. STEM Schooling for a World of Life-long learning
  10. John Penrose MP, Chairman CPF: Your call to action: join the CPF National Discussion Group

Invitation to Register Interest

Appendix: Relevant “Tell Number 10” Ideas:

  1. Lifelong Learning Accounts
  2. Street Corner Universities (local access hubs and networks)    
  3. Inter-operable skills identities, records and passports
  4. Focus on micro-modules to support flexible ”learn while you earn”
  5. Digital infrastructure construction skills as the key point of leverage


  1. Introduction

 1.1 From local discussions to national on-line meetings: Anna Firth and Chris Francis

The Conservative Policy Forum is the party’s in-house Think Tank. The CPF mission is to take members’ priorities and policy ideas and make sure they are fed into the top of government.

Over lockdown CPF has moved from small local meetings to large online meetings with 200 people (or more) joining from all over the country. While CPF will never move away from in person meetings, innovation adds a new dimension. The purpose of this meeting is to take the ideas in the hall and online, put them into the context of recent ministerial changes, and help to expedite equal, open, and local access to skills of the future.

The Conservative Science and Technology Forum is an associate group, with roots going back over 40 years. It covers issues from the skills of today to the future of nuclear fusion, bringing together members from industry and academia.

1.2 The emergence of lifelong training as a priority issue for voters: Philip Virgo

The Conservative Political Centre (forerunner to CPF) published “Cashing in on the Chips” in 1979. It called, inter alia, for a microcomputer in every school by 1982. It was one of the few government programmes to be delivered to time and budget with the expected impact.

In 1982 the Bow Group published “Learning for Change: Training and Retraining for Multi-Career Lives” on the implications for education of expert systems and robotics. It was highly controversial at the time and official policy has yet to catch up, though we have seen practical implementation of the recommendations accelerating around the world since the beginning of the covid lockdown.

In July 2020, CPF and CSTF co-operated in organising an on-line workshop on “How do we give the skills of the future to millions whose education has been disrupted and jobs destroyed?” The chairman’s report is available on-line.

Lifelong Education and Training was one of the priorities was one of the priorities identified during the “Tell Number 10” exercise organised by CPF with the Conservative Women’s  Organisation earlier this year. This led to a follow up exercise which generated, inter alia, the proposals published in the appendix to this report. They are also available on-line here.

This led to a proposal for further co-operation with CSTF. The first calling notice for this meeting was published here.  The agenda and notes on the speakers are here.

  1. Alex Burghart MP Skills Minister: Setting the start point for discussion 

Thank you so much to the Conservative Policy Forum for inviting me to what is my first event as a Minister of Education. It is also the first event which I’ve been allowed to speak at for several years at conference. I have to say it was something of a dream come true when the Prime Minister phoned me up and asked me to do this job only a fortnight ago. And it does feel like a lot longer than a fortnight already.

I was extremely interested to hear about the Tell Number 10 Survey that CPF had done because it is clear that lifelong training, lifelong learning and lifelong skills searching have got to be at the very core of the Prime Minister’s mission to level up the country. I have been lucky enough to walk into a department which has some extremely important moving policy pieces already in play.

We’ve got the digital entitlement for adults with low or no digital skills. We’ve got these intensive boot camps 16 weeks, intense training in things like digital skills. I’m visiting one in Manchester tomorrow. We’ve got the Level 3 offer, which will help people with no equivalent to go back and train and get new technical skills. Coming down the track we have the lifetime loan entitlement which will enable people to borrow money to go and get those much needed Level 4 and Level 5 skills, which will help improve their career chances and also improve productivity in the economy.

Overarching all of this is the great desire to build systems which better match up the needs of the economy with the needs of individual students, with local skills improvement plans plugging the needs of business into the skills that Further Education colleges and Adult Learning Services are providing.

This is a very exciting time for the skills agenda. But that’s enough from me.  One of the reasons I’m here today is to hear the ideas that other people are having so that I can feed them into my work. This is core to the government’s central mission to level up the country.

The Conservative Party is the party of the workers. It is the party of the learners. It is the party of the earners. And through the work that you’re all doing, and we’re doing together, we’re going to take that agenda to the country. Thank you.

  1. Chris Francis, Chairman CSTF: The scale and nature of the challenge

The technologies that make up the fourth industrial revolution, combined with wider ambitions, such as net zero mean that pretty much every job and career will be touched by a need for more skills, and different skills.

The estimate for new digital skill roles alone per year for the next few years, is about the same as the entire combined output of higher education. So it’s essential for productivity growth, that we enhance the current workforce as we create more enriching roles in the economy.

The questions that come immediately to the fore are:

  • How do we help employers train those in work? Perhaps we can begin by using the tax system to nudge them into creating a better record of the training that does occur and using this to support employees’ career and employment prospects as well as the immediate role.
  • How do we incentivise those organising public sector programmes, not just those in further education, to provide flexible access to those in work, not just formal full-time retraining, exploiting the massive increase in digital training provision which we’ve seen in the pandemic?

 Anna Firth: as CEO Invicta: lessons from creating an on-line school during UK lock down

 As a District Councillor, faced by the closure of her voters’ schools, the Voluntary Director of CPF created the Invicta National Academy, initially supporting on-line access to those in rural communities like Brasted and/or in social housing in the Medway towns before going nationwide.

 My day job is running the  Invicta National Academy an academy specialising in teaching maths and English to 6 to 16 year olds, with around 40 teachers and lesson facilitators. What is different that we have no buildings.

We use market leading technology and highly qualified teachers to deliver first class live, free education direct into children’s homes, every holiday and after school. We are a digital company born of innovation.

We were set up just over a year ago when thousands of children were left stranded as a result of the COVID school closures. At the beginning of the lockdown it was very clear that some schools, but not all, were really struggling to provide live online lessons for children. We stepped in to help. Our objective was, and still is, to support the Prime Minister’s ambition to level up and give all children the opportunity to catch up on lost learning. But what started as a stop gap has exploded.

Since the first lockdown we’ve delivered some 220,000 free live and interactive lessons. Our main take up is in London, Kent and Essex, but we’ve taught around 20,000 children from all over the country. In line with our defining objective 94% of Invicta children come from state schools. Just over 26% are on free school meals. Over 80% come from BAME backgrounds.

The Invicta method works particularly well with excluded children: those who struggle in the normal school setting, who are shy, who are anxious, who are autistic, who suffer from acute anxiety, or attention deficit disorder. Students who are normally excluded can now be included.

We have shown that we can remove physical, economic and geographical boundaries to learning at any age at any stage. The method is very cost effective and Invicta lesson costs less than a pound per pupil. We can and should use technology to consign the education gap to history without breaking budgets.  The Invicta “magic dust”, if you will, is a top quality teacher, plus a lesson facilitator in every webinar to keep the lessons fun and engaging.

We learned three important lessons on the way:

  • The power of local connections and local support to deliver on shared community needs can never be underestimated. Invicta would never have got off the ground without the support of a large number of local schools and local trusts. Sevenoaks School provided not only teachers but funds, curriculum advice and critically, the designated safeguarding lead without which it never would have got off the ground. The Henry Oldfield Trust in Kent supported us generously and have supported us throughout.
  • The critical importance good broadband. We all talk about it, but we have to live with it every day that the school is running and the areas where we had the least take up correlate exactly with where the broadband cover is poor. And it’s fantastic that the government has got this clearly on their radar.
  • Not everybody lives in a four bedroom house with their own bedroom and personal computer. We have to turn every village hall, community centre and local library into safe, secure broadcasting centres, possibly using the public sector education networks (reference to JISC/Janet and the NEN/Grids for Learning), for those children who do not have a safe and secure personal space, let alone reliable broadband at home.

But we believe that with the help of the DFE, so I’m delighted that the minister is here today, and other government departments, we can transform education, lifelong learning, and training at all lessons at all levels. In short, we really can level up.

5 . Ian Bentinck: lessons from moving schools around the world on-line during global lockdown

Ian Bentinck was hired by the investors to move a global schools chain on-line to short order. He is now the neutral chairman of a group being organised by WCIT (the IT Livery Company) to host meetings across boundaries (departmental, organisational and professional as well as political) to help the UK lead the way in handling the scale and pace of educational cahnge.

Getting 50,000 students and around 7000 staff, online, across multiple countries with multiple jurisdictions and their own interpretations of the pandemic, some with very challenging infrastructures is not something I want to do again in the near future. We also had the challenge of building an online school, because we needed to replace revenue streams.  We designed, built and launched that school inside six months. That is testament to what the technology enables.

I was going to dwell on some of the limitations of technology, but Anna has covered much of what I would have said, including the need for safe study space. On-line is never going to replace in situ learning in my experience. But it can augment: it can solve certain use cases. And it can enable massive time savings in some areas. We did some market research on the price of online education in the private sector. The very best were charging about a third of the cost of their equivalent “in place” courses. Many universities need to consider this when charging £9000 pounds a year for online tuition.

Social technology is used as a back channel by students to subvert. Chinese students are the most surveilled in the world and therefore the best at gaming surveillance technology. Observing their behaviour was useful when thinking about proctoring and examinations. These have to be done in situ, in a controlled environment.

The combination of good technology, process automation, machine learning and analytics enables much that teachers do to be automated and sped, allowing them to spend more time on interventions and making an impact on children where it is most needed. Combine that with task management and marking, add in predictive analytics (including visual analytics) and there is a real opportunity to drive consistency, quality, and performance improvement.

Another learning experience was the sourcing and discovery of content. There are two broad routes. We took the route of high quality, highly invested and curated courses. But there is the alternative route of using the market to discover and evaluate, along the lines of Udemy, which I use for my own technology and personal development.  Teachers also need investment in their own training. It does not give children a good start, if the teacher cannot manage their own teams call.

It is now clear that on-line teaching can work at scale. But we need open technologies and architectures for courses and content. These are emerging and the processes were expedited by the pandemic. We also need to standardise performance records and identity data. That poses organisational and political, not technology problems. I hope to help try to solve these.

We can massively improve quality, delivering at scale where appropriate, including to address the post-pandemic catch up. But what really energised me was the opportunity to personalise education to individuals and deliver the best possible education to pupils, when and where they want it.

  1. Jon Hall: BHI & OU: Knowledge Volatility demands Lifelong Training

The Better Hiring Institute was created to identify and promote good practice now that job seeking, interviewing and credentials checking are all done on-line. Jon Hall of the Open University is on the Advisory Board and is currently in Tuscany. Rather than risk the broadband connection he videoed his comments on why planning cannot keep up and we have to help markets work better

By the time my three minutes are up, the 100 million lines of code in the Windows, Apple and Google operating systems will have changed, a bug will have been fixed and new features will have been added. This change will ripple throughout the software supply chain to the entrepreneurial app writers who will spend yet another day of getting their apps to work again. And to the businesses which rely on the apps for their customer interaction, where a bad change can cost a week’s business. Any change in the software supply chain increases someone’s risk of digital disaster. But you can’t ignore the change. The risks of falling behind and using old, less secure, software are even higher.

This is our world now. A world in which knowledge volatility (that the knowledge needed to be productive is constantly and rapidly changing) is a clear and present danger for everyone in the software supply chain. Knowing that the problem is caused by knowledge volatility tells us a lot about what a solution should look like. For instance, knowledge volatility affects everyone within a business or organisation from the board down. Lifelong training must therefore stretch organisation wide.

Knowledge volatility places great value on the ability to adapt. A key role of education in a world of knowledge volatility is to the lifelong skill of adaptability. Universities like mine, the Open University must be nudged to explore the skills that lead to adaptability and world leaders in curriculum that teaches it.

Knowledge volatility changes the hiring landscape as organisations perceive the increased value of the adaptable person, quickly employed. There is no solution to lifelong training, if there is no work seekers’ market between businesses. A critical feature of the Better Hiring Institute’s blueprint for the future of hiring will be to use all means possible to speed up the hiring process, without unnecessarily increasing the risks employers or work seekers face.

Knowledge volatility means that problems evolve more quickly than can be solved using traditional techniques. Knowledge volatility therefore introduces new risks into project and portfolio management that every project will deliver late.  Yes, we can’t give up our hard fought ability to manage the complexity. So hybrid project management skills are critical to fight knowledge volatility.

But the nature of knowledge volatility means there is no strategy that can cope. The only capable mechanism will be a fast market. Therefore, we must create a new disintermediated market economy between those with aspirations and those with the training products to meet them that moves at digital speed.

Knowledge volatility is here for the foreseeable future. And it is knowledge volatility that lifelong training must equip us to fight. Thank you.

  1. John Midgley: AWS: using partnerships at scale to meet customer and individual needs.

Amazon Web Services have tied their global skills programs to local partnerships, including with government agencies, to provide the skills needed by their customers to those on mature, entry conversion, welfare-to-work programs, many of which have been developed and piloted in the UK.  

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today. I have to say that I have been coming to Conservative Party Conferences since 2006 and I did not know that joining from Tuscany was an option. That is something I am going to have to consider in the future.

I have been asked here to talk about AWS Restart. For those who do not know, AWS provide Cloud Computing Services to a number of organizations across the private and public sectors. We take heavy lifting of the underlying infrastructure associated with running technology applications, such as  storage and computer databases so that our customers can provision that infrastructure with a click of the button and only pay for what they use. The consistent message we hear from our customers globally is the lack of skilled individuals who are familiar with cloud computing and our platform to enable them to take advantage of what is available.

Obviously we have a number of programs to help support our customers but we also see this as an opportunity to pull into the underemployed and unemployed into the workforce and create Pathways for them to build careers in the tech sector.

AWS Restart was launched here in the UK in 2016 and has subsequently been deployed globally. It’s a 12 Week, Workforce Development program. We take people who do not need to have had any  experience of the tech sector and we take them through to understand the core concepts around cloud computing, familiarize them with coding languages and also blend in the employment skills  we need, and we know they will need, for the roles we look to place them into within our customer and partner network.

That is all delivered through partnerships with what we call “collaborating organizations”. A great  example is a UK charity called Generation with an aptitude for engaging young people. They support  the restart “graduates” through the program and then on into employment. But they also help us to go into specific communities and find the people with the passion to launch a career in technology.

We’ve got cohorts running across the UK at the moment: Edinburgh, Blackpool, Leeds, Newcastle, and here in Manchester, as many as well as many other cities.

We’re very proud of our restart graduates. An example in Manchester is Charlotte Wilkins. She was working in a fast food chain, just around the corner and fact and during the pandemic she was on furlough and she thought this was an opportunity to upskill and find an entirely new career. So she found restart and is now working as a software engineer for a local cybersecurity firm. There are many stories like that which bring a huge amount of joy when we think the impact on people’s lives.

We are still scaling our programs it. We think they can get much bigger and there are many more opportunities ahead of us.

There are three main lessons to date:

  • Local networks and local partnerships are important for these kind of programme to have a meaningful impact. We rely upon collaborating partners to access particular communities and to identify and support the kind of talent that are trying to reach.
  • The importance of the support that we have had from Government, both through the partnerships with DWP, their network of local job coaches and the support they provide on an ongoing basis, but also DCMS and DFE, who have helped build capability within our partner networks, through funding and other routes.
  • The importance of employer recognised qualifications. We are trying to give people specific industry skills and qualifications that we know are in high demand from within our customers. Government is sometimes rightly cautious about getting too involved in specific vendor type schemes, but we are trying to create a quick pathway to employment, equipping people with the specific skills they need in order to get that first role. Then we can think about how to broaden those skills, leveraging our apprenticeship levy, once they are within our customer base.

It would be remiss of me not to also mention “Career Choice” run by the Amazon retail business with local chambers of commerce to identify the high demand qualifications. Then we fund our fulfilment centre workers to help staff obtain those qualifications. We think that is core to being a good employer in the 21st century, even if it means that, ultimately, some of those people will take those qualifications and leave Amazon to start a new career.

  1. Lord Lucas; Good Schools Guide: The crazy paving of apprenticeships to meet local needs

Lord Lucas is Editor in Chief of Good Schools Guide and Patron of Jobs Aware , the charity which provides guidance on avoiding employment scams.

I’m a member of the House of Lords among other things. I am absolutely delighted by what I’ve just been listening to because I live in Eastbourne. The fate of Eastbourne is to be trained as waiters, hoteliers and hotel staff – unless all these things that you’re talking about come to pass, and our young people become can become engineers like the rest of the country, which is I what I would like to see. So I am really hoping that this is the direction we want to go down.

The minister has a great opportunity waiting for him with regard to the apprenticeships for the creative industries, because to make apprenticeships work in the creative industries he has to fracture the whole structure of apprenticeships. He has to break it from its current nice and neat arrangements into a sort of crazy paving where you fit in bits and try and make them work and add up to a whole apprenticeship. And to make that work, he’s going to have to create a good structure for pastoral care and looking after the needs of job seekers, because there will not been an identifiable employer to do that for many, perhaps most.

Delivering that structure will enable an immense step forward for the whole of training. The minister mentioned support for boot camps: a 12 week course. But what happens to the person afterwards? How are they connected to some-one who will advise them what to do? The next step should include a support structure, because at the heart of apprenticeships is the need to look after the career of individual. To do that in a crazy paving world is going to need facilities which will deliver much wider benefits.

So, I am optimistic that we will find that structure and we will also find ways of including vendor qualifications and UK-wide qualifications, everything from cyber to accountancy, where fast moving, employer recognised standards need to be part of the offer.

  1. Just A Minute Ideas

9.1 Jock Wright: inter-operable skills records/passports to support life-long learning/training

As the world gets smaller eyes get larger and people chase their dreams through developing skills. Often skills are represented by certificates as a proxy in a rather poor way. Think about those that go to university to study for three years. Their degree certificate says more about the Institute they went to, than the skills that they have themselves developed, not just in their formal academic learning, but in other areas, throughout the university life.

The oil in the engine that allows people to develop skills to follow their dreams and make an impact will be the credentials and what those credentials say about them and the skills that they’ve developed. A piece of paper will no longer cut it in the 21st century. We must look towards a digital solution with digital credentials. But digital credentials must follow a few principles.

They must be trusted. If the credential is shared with a third party, be it an employer or someone wishing to admit them to a course, the latter must be able to have faith that these credentials are true and accurate. And that relies on technology. They need interoperability. There is a need to move the credential away from the organization that provides learning to the individual themselves so enable the latter to aggregate a lifelong learning whereby they develop skills, whether it be in long term courses (in a University degree) or short micro credentials (e.g. in 12  week courses). And providers will range from long-standing (ancient universities) to new organizations yet to be formed.

So it is important to put the learner at the centre of the digital credentials sector. Verify Ed the organization I work for,  believes that one of the solutions is to utilize blockchain technology to provide trust that the credential is immutable and really does indicate the skills and experience of the individual who bears them.

9.2 Sally Everist: Careers Collective: the need to support self-help career development at all stages

Career development is vital and should be an ongoing process for all from students at school to apprentices or graduates in their first job, even for those, at the pointy end of their career.

At Careers Collective we believe that lifelong learning is incomplete and ineffective without an element of direct self-development. We consciously build social capital. We use a blend of teaching and coaching to ensure information led, self-determination. An essential aspect of contemporary career development is facilitating the development of interpersonal skills and supporting participants to build on their own career development, from the inside out, lifelong for adult learners. CPD can add finesse to teacher’s current skills while offering opportunities to expand and develop new ones.

We provide a unique CPD system, building capacity resilience and goal-setting, developed for one of West Yorkshire combined authorities boot camps focused on the skills and behaviours to build a STEM mindset and understand the benefits of decision-making in relation to personal leadership.

The accompanying workbooks are valuable tools and the provision of ongoing opportunities for reflection and development during and after the course career development for all ages and stages should be something that we all consider essential if we wish our workforce to comprise independent and healthy thinkers, who can cope under stress, understand the value that they bring to a business and are skilled.

9.3 Councillor Glenn Bluff: Doncaster: Turning IR35 from an obstacle into an opportunity

We need to turn IR35 from an obstacle to lifelong training skills and careers and into a means of causing those who can work online anywhere in the world, to choose to do so based in UK and pay their fair amount of tax.

Recently we have read about how IR35 has been partly responsible for driving half of all HGV drivers away from the industry. The same is true for the IT industry, particularly in shortage areas like cloud-related cyber and devops – where the best can work from anywhere in the world with fast and reliable broadband good. We are now thousands short in key areas and are losing the position of the UK as one of the best places to be an IT freelancer.

The main changes to the IR35 legislation are not actually bad, but the response by big corporates has been a knee-jerk reaction and inappropriate in many instances. It is now preventing young freelancers from joining the industry or, if they do, choosing to base themselves in the UK. We are quite literally running them out of the country.

We need urgent action and a CPF working group to look at how to change the direction of implementation to the benefit of the UK as a whole.

9.4 Michaela Eshbach: Founders4Schools : using AI to deliver customised careers advice at scale

.I’m managing director of Founders4schools, an award-winning UK charity, dedicated to furthering the government’s levelling up agenda by addressing the “transition to work” skills gap, which hampers our economic growth and prosperity as a nation. We bring inspirational volunteer business leaders into classrooms to improve the employment chance of young people.

We are different because our services use AI ethnically to provide personalized guidance programs for each teacher who uses us to help their students understand and acquire the skills they need to succeed and the rapidly evolving needs of employers, regardless of their location, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background.

Since 2012 we have worked in partnership with businesses, local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Central government and with leading mainstream careers organizations, such as the Careers and Enterprise company.

Our reporting services allow them to ethically select and monitor the skills, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic characteristics of role models, chosen by the educators across the country, and to adjust if there appears to be an unintended bias. We help build inclusion, support social mobility, and enable employers to build a diverse skills talent pipeline, enabling the economy to thrive.

We inform and inspire 450,000 students with role models and drawn from more than 6,000 businesses, national and local, in partnership with teachers from 3,000 schools. We work at scale and are ready to scale even further. We are in a position to support every young person in every LEP every local Authority in the country to achieve this, given more awareness and support from business and government.

Business needs to take further ownership of training, young people. The UK Government should play an active role to accelerate this. With increased Central and Local Government involvement and hosting, plus continued support from the key players, DCMS, DWP and DFE we can make this ambition a reality. The return on investment is enormous and will help the government achieve it levelling up strategic targets. We look forward to working with you to meet our common goal.

9.5 Tim Stranack: Community Fibre: Enrolling the excluded to help build full fibre infrastructures. 

Hi, I’m Tim Stranack. One of the founders of Community fibre. We’ve upgraded over 300,000 homes in London, with full fiber, optic Broadband. 200,000 of those voters homes are in social housing. By the end of 2023 we will have upgraded over 1 million homes with full fibre Broadband.

We’re already working with the DWP on sector-based. Academies and we’re hoping to start our first course later this month in October. We want to work with other government, departments, and academic institutions to attract more people into our industry. We need short online courses to get people up to speed fast. So we know what we want. Who would like to work with us on this?

9.6 Professor Adrian Oldknow: STEM Schooling for a World of Lifelong Learning

This was received on-line and this link is to the back-up paper.

Education commonly comes before training because it is easier to train those who have been educated but the processes are symbiotic, as in schooling horses.  The `STEM Cohesion Strategy’ which ran from 2009 to 2011 divided the task down into separate bite-sized chunks, intended to raise numbers of entries to A-level maths and to triple science GCSEs.

These failed to win the hearts and minds of schools and teachers and lacked engagement with employers other than through the STEM Ambassadors programme.  They did, however, establish a first-class legacy in a wealth of digital resources, supported by Gatsby Foundation, maintained at the National STEM Centre. But these were little used until Covid because most did not directly relate to the curriculum and its assessment in English schools.

  1. We need to integrate the lessons learned since March 2020 and build on the existing abundance of material to “construct a really cracking educational experience to ensure that lifelong learning is given a first-class send-off pre-16.”

10. John Penrose MP, Chairman CPF: Your call to action: join the CPF National Discussion Group

Good afternoon everyone. I am John Penrose MP. I’m the chairman of the CPF and can I start with a huge thank you both to Anna as my voluntary director at Conservative Policy Forum but also to Philip Virgo and everybody on his team for what has been a mind-expanding session, as it absolutely should be.

We are talking about Science and Technology but the whole point of CPF is to blow your mind. Otherwise what on earth is a think tank for in the first place?

So, thank you to Philip’s team. Thank you to Anna and my team as well for helping arrange the event.  And we’ve had great contributions, not just from Philip and Anna but also from Ian Bentinck, giving us the international perspective and from Jon Hall about knowledge volatility from Tuscany – this is going to be a new way of contributing to the Party Conference in future! And from John Midgley, talking about restart programmes and the importance of local partners, plus Lord Lucas talking on turning apprenticeships into crazy paving – an idea which has got mileage I’m sure.

This is far too big a topic to leave here. It is something which needs to be driven forward. It is something which needs to be turned from thought and idea into action.

And there is an enormous number of people participating online who can help with this. So what we want to do is to capture these thoughts, not just from our panel and the contributors in the room, but also online.

So if you are watching online, you want to participate, you have some thoughts, you have some input which you’re frustrated that you can’t contribute and wondering why you have been excluded – you have not been.

We want you to be part of this and therefore we’re going to set up something on the Conservative Policy Forum website. It will be free to join and called a National Discussion Group and will be mediated and led by people from both the CPF and CSTF.

We want to ensure that everybody’s ideas and offers of help can be captured and developed so that we can push this agenda forward – because we all know that over the course of the last year or 18 months the idea of online learning has gone from something which was theoretical and starting to happen a little bit into something which has been pushed forward by about 10 years in as many months.

But that has happened not just in the UK but in dozens and dozens and dozens of other countries too.  We do not necessarily have an International Leadership position. We are one of many countries that had to scramble to get this done over the course of the lockdown.

If we can now move better and faster as we come out of the pandemic and develop what we’ve all learned and include it in the DNA of the way we teach, the way we learn, the way we run our society, the way we develop ourselves throughout our careers, if we can capture and embed it better than other countries, then we will have a leadership position. Then British education will be equipped for the next generation and the next set of challenges.

But, equally, if we do not do this, some other so and so is going to overtake us. They will leapfrog us and the UK’s enviable position in international education and professional development will be under threat.

So there is a huge opportunity, but we cannot afford to pause or wait. It’s up to us to grab it. So we particularly want to hear from you. We want you to take part. Please go to our website. Sign up, take part submit your ideas through the “contact” facility, become part of the new National Discussion Group.

And in the meantime, thank you all for taking part. Thank you to Anna and my team. Thank you to Philip and his team. And wasn’t it great to have the new Minister of Skills, breaking his ministerial duck right here, on the CPF inaugural event of Conservative Party Conference 2021. Thank you all. Enjoy the rest of conference.

Invitation to Register Interest

The CPF National Discussion Group will focus on discussing how to turn ideas into reality with regard to “Skills and Employment” in a world where top down planning and consultation cannot cope with the pace of change. There are many overlapping discussion groups, albeit few appear to recognise the scale and nature of the challenges that arise from the pace of change.

What is “different” about this group, which I have agreed to lead during the initial set up period, is that we plan to focus on the political dimension of creating partnerships across cultural, disciplinary and organisational boundaries.

The first step is to identify those willing to lead/moderate on topics where they want to to see practical action, not  merely discussion.

These might include:

  • How do we turn every village school/hall into a community life-long learning/training hub?
  • How do we focus education on creative skills as a foundation for a world of lifelong learning/training/change?
  • How do we ensure UK education and training are globally competitive?
  • How do we turn IR35 from a problem into an opportunity?
  • How do we better enable individuals to “prove” their skills/right-to-work to employers and employers to check them?
  • How do we improve/smooth the path from welfare to work?
  • How do we help employers/individuals make sense of the options available to them?

I look forward to hearing from those interested. [until such time as a new e-mail address is created you can use that for this blog].

The Conservative Policy Forum is free to join

Appendix: Relevant “Tell Number 10” Ideas:

  1. Lifelong Learning Accounts

Statement of Problem – Confusion over programmes, policies and opportunities (from work experience, through apprenticeships and degree course to update programmes), including which are relevant, reputable and lead to employment and which are a waste of time/money or even scams. Student loans are expensive and take too long to pay off, if ever. Meanwhile programmes fail to address shortages of key skills, like engineers, construction workers, HGV drivers, customer services, health or care-workers.

Proposal – An incremental programme to bring student loans, advanced learner loans  and the many other support programmes together via “Lifelong learning Accounts” akin to the Singaporean “Skills Credits” accounts, which are topped up from a variety of sources (including loans and grants from central and local government and employers) for spending only on programmes recognised by registered professional bodies, trade associations and employers seeking to recruit from them. Validated (including DNS checking) access to the database of recognised programmes would be via JISC and the Grids for Learning (as currently for UCAS, HEDD and Schools placements).

Contributions from employers and from individuals would be fully offsetable against corporate or personal tax, replacing other more complex regimes (e.g. IR35) which limit which training is eligible to that related to current employment.

To avoid the problems of fraud which destroyed the Individual learning accounts introduced by the last Labour Government, the accounts should be administered by HMRC with National Insurance, NHS, Pupil Student and other reference numbers “mapped”, after “validation”, onto the taxpayer reference number.

Potential Unintended Consequences – Those wanting to, for example, learn languages for leisure purposes, could use the accounts, provided they sign up to professionally accredited courses. The risk that such abuse might result in significant costs would be mitigated if the bulk of top up funds from government and other employers were restricted to subjects in current shortages.

2. Street Corner Universities – alias Local Lifelong Learning Access Hubs and Networks

 Statement of Problem – Lack of safe local and/or on-line access to lifelong learning. Many of those living in social housing, young or old, have limited access to comfortable, quiet, safe, learning spaces with equipment and broadband adequate for on-line learning. Often they also have limited access to safe and reliable public transport to local Colleges and Universities.

Our constituency [London] does not have local access to FE/HE. Travel to the nearest facilities requires teenagers to cross post code gang boundaries.  Local private sector secondary schools earn considerable amounts from hosting training activities in the evening, weekend and holidays. Local public sector schools also have modern premises and facilities but these are commonly little used in the evenings and at week-ends. Most also have parking facilities. The local libraries are similarly under-used and one local borough used Covid to introduce a Library Tax (books could only be taken out if reserved, books cost 50p each to reserve).

Proposal Lifelong learning hubs in every community based on local schools, libraries and community centres as necessary. [The term “Street Corner Universities” is lifted from New Labour which failed to deliver them. The DFE Select Committee has called for Lifelong Learning Centres in Every Town. This goes further. The Prince’s Trust “Safe Learning Centres” overlap. There is also a “Janet & John” proposal to use the Joint Academic network and the Schools Grids for Learning to provide such centres with secure, inter-operable, on-line access to the wealth of on-line content]

Potential unintended consequences – There will be a need to address staffing, safeguarding and insurance issues but local private sector schools have all found ways round these and derive serious revenues from out-of-hours lifelong training, learning and leisure activities.

3. Inter-operable skills identities, records and passports

Statement of Problem – The current multiplicity of pupil/student identities, achievement recording systems and skill passports is confusing to students and employers, a barrier to co-operation and career planning and an aid to skills and employment fraud.

Employers commonly expect staff to acquire skills on the job, as required to meet client needs, in order to avoid eating into billable time. Few record the training they provide, let alone map it onto common standards, lest it make it easier for them to leave. The exception is training required to be recorded for regulatory purposes (e.g Health and Safety).  In consequence the skills inventory of the existing workforce is under-recorded, leading to unnecessary external recruitment and duplication.

Proposals – Require those bidding for Government contracts to record the training and skills of their staff using published definitions/standards and require those bidding for funding to support skills programmes to similarly publish the standards for the “micro-modules” they cover.

Require bidders to also show how the standards used relate to those used by others, including the two main emerging “standards”, Europass (driving towards publication by the end of the year) and IMS Global a US not for profit supporting the protocols behind Open Badges and Comprehensive Learning Record.

A tax credit (or offset against the apprenticeship levy) for recorded inhouse training, whether or not part of a formal training programme to encourage the recording and visibility, of training and of skills acquisition.

Potential unintended consequences – Many trades and professions are grappling with definitions for skills that are in flux or evolving, e.g. Cybok for cybersecurity. There is therefore a temptation to put effort into “generic” definitions (as for NVQs) and academic “equivalences”. These may have a value to government funding agencies but are not meaningful to employers or students looking to acquire marketable skills.

4. Focus public funding/support and performance monitoring on the delivery of micro-modules to get trainees into jobs rather apprenticeships, degrees and qualifications

Statement of Problem – public funding and performance monitoring is focused on the successful completion of apprenticeship and degrees that may take years. Most employer demand is for specific skills and competences that can be acquired and demonstrated within days or weeks and upgraded incrementally using packaged micro-modules. These are now available for most construction, customer service skills in current demand and many digital skills.

Professional Bodies and Trade Associations are responding by repackaging their programmes, including degree-linked apprenticeships, into modules. Those delivering publicly funded programmes are, however, penalised if participants get jobs and leave the programme before completing the end point assessment.

The prime value of many “into work” programmes is to enable prospective employers to assess whether individuals are likely to have the necessary attitude and aptitude to invest in taking them on, given that interviews are not a good predictor for some of the talents in most demand. Such assessments can often be done within days of the start of the programme, enabling students to “drop out” and join an expedited, employer-funded programmes, penalising those who prepared them for mainstream employment.

Proposal – The measurement of performance for most publicly funded programmes should be based on the delivery of short course modules to acquire specific skills, whether or not the full course (e.g. apprenticeship or degree) into which they might (or might not) is completed.

Leaving a publicly course prematurely s to go into employment should be counted as success, not failure.

Schools should be encouraged and supported (including co-funding with employers, both public and private sector) to organise experiential workshops in co-operation with local employers to enable the latter to  watch pupils working together and decide to whom they would like to offer work experience opportunities.

Potential Unintended Consequences – There is a need to ensure a variety of tasks and projects so that potentially disruptive pupils and mature students who are not academically experienced or gifted are engaged with tasks that demonstrate their talents and aptitudes, not their problems.

5. Address full fibre broadband construction skills as the point of leverage for levelling up access

Problem – Lockdown opened up economic and social divides between those with good, safe access to on-line learning and those without. The competitors to BT, including the fast-growing SMEs who provide most of the full fibre access to multiple dwelling units and rural communities have problems connecting with those in Government (DWP/DfE etc.) who provide skills and training support and funding to meet their own needs. The BT Equinox Discounts are intended to deter ISPs from dealing with them to deliver on-line content (including education and training) over full fibre to those who would benefit most.

Proposal – DWP, DfE, DCMS, BEIS and their agencies to provide single points of contact for those wishing to use skills programmes (e.g. DWP Job Centres, Restart contractors, Careers and Enterprise Company LEP Hubs etc.) to recruit suitable trainees onto short course modules which will make them immediately employable as well as put them onto the first rungs of some of the best career paths of the future.

DfE, BEIS and DCMS to support the provision of secure inter-operability (across all UK network providers) for lifelong training content of known provenance, building on the work of JISC, the Grids for Learning and the new BCS CAS platform (due for launch on 22nd September) to develop and implement the necessary processes. CSTF to work with those involved to help inform Ministers and Officials of progress and plans.

Potential Unintended Consequences – Enhanced competition to BT may lead to its break-up, into content, infrastructure and network operation and security businesses, requiring Treasury to pick up underfunded pension obligations.

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