The application of AI to education, training and recruitment has already overtaken political thinking, let alone departmental policy.
Products and services based on AI, (including machine learning, now maturing as Generative AI) were being used by leading schools and employers for education, training and assessment before Covid. Adoption spread during lockdown as private sector schools went on-line or bankrupt. Practical experience then expedited the development of maturity models. But a massive gap between good practice and common practice opened up. Millions have been left behind, outside mainstream education, training and employment.
Meanwhile policy and planning stood still. They remain based on what was felt achievable and/or desirable a decade ago – before lockdown changed both.
Policy on AI is based on predictions for the future rather than how to make good use of what already works. In education the biggest benefits include enabling teachers to spend more time, educating more children, more enthusiastically and less on paperwork, preparation and marking.
But that is only part of the transformation likely to be under way within the year – before “regime change” reaches Westminster, let alone, Whitehall.
Those looking at policies to avoid the UK being left behind as a bureaucratically planned Cannery Row, need to identify, publicise and build on what is already happening around the world (as well as in the UK charitable and private sectors), with the aim of making good practice available to all who would benefit, at affordable cost (including to the taxpayer).
The Digital Policy Alliance therefore invited nearly 30 APPGs with interests in social inclusion, diversity, education, skills and recruitment to a Round Table on 13th November to look at what is already happening, the problems faced by those left behind and areas for co-operation in bridging the gaps – without having to wait for the priorities in the 2025 Budget and that which is actually funded in the small print.
I circulated a more detailed “convenors feed-back” (see below), for circulation in the New Year to the participating APPGs. The aim is to discuss co-operation agree ways forward before I hand over. I should add that several participants are already discussing practical co-operation to achieve shared objectives and I will be standing back before Easter.
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Convenor’s Feed-Back from DPA/APPG Skills Round Table
Thirty participants from a dozen APPGs and their supporters discussed:
- the consequences of the accelerating pace of change in education, training, skills and jobs
- how those changes should be harnessed to serve those currently excluded or left behind
- how we might co-operate to help our audiences improve policy formation and implementation
The Top Six findings were:
- Updating the skills of the existing work force, including with digital and green modules at all levels, needs to be given much higher priority to ease the pain of transition to a very different, AI enabled, low carbon, inclusive society – given that new national initiatives will not produce results much before 2028, even if given priority in the 2025 King’s Speech and Budget.
- AI-driven (variously defined), personalised content delivery and assessment products and services are already beginning to transform education and training around the world, at all levels. The UK policy issue is to enable affordable cost for those who would benefit most.
- Global competition means “on-line only” programmes commonly charge no more than 30% of their physical equivalent. This has consequences for those expecting income from accommodation, catering, research etc. to cross-subsidise teaching and assessment fees.
- The biggest obstacle to delivering service at scale and at affordable cost is the lack of reliable and usable information on what is already available, works and is relevant, accessible and/or usable, via which existing channels, to which audiences and what marginal cost.
- Somewhere over a million youngsters, plus at least twice as many adults, (often with undiagnosed needs) are currently excluded from mainstream education, training or employment. The talents of most could be harnessed were we to identity what already works and the means of joining up implementation at scale … and “inform” policy-makers accordingly.
- We need to look at how APPGs and their supporters might work via Local Enterprise Partnerships, Skills Improvement Plans, Smart City Initiatives and the other devolved Regional and Local groups seeking to drive the economic growth and the skills base on which it depends.
A number of embryonic partnerships are being explored by participants. The next step includes round tables to build on these. Topics might include how to:
- help students, parents and employers identify which of the bewildering variety of locally, nationally and internationally available initiatives are relevant to their needs.
- enable the local use of inter-operable digital lifelong learning and skills identities to transform access to funding and jobs.
- enable local access to the individually accredited micro-modules within globally interoperable taxonomies and frameworks that are transforming access to the skills and jobs of the future.
- help national interest groups better work with sector bodies and local skills providers to harness the diverse talents wanted by employers as devolution gathers pace.
- Education as a Service – the evolving schools “Marketplace”
- Engaging parents and pupils and teachers
- Enabling Further Education
- Harnessing Excluded Talent
- Meeting the Needs of Employers and Students
- Attracting the talent you really want
- Modernising recruitment and employment
- Where do we go from here?
We are at the start of the longest election campaign in recent history. The pace of change in education, training and recruitment has overtaken processes for policy formation, planning and implementation. How do we:
- make it easier to identify, publicise and adopt evolving good practice and remove the obstacles to making it common practice?
- find consensus on what could/should be done now, within existing policy and funding frameworks, and what requires political change with potential for cross party support?
- better inform those looking at policy and implementation so as to ease the pain and reduce the cost of transition, from where we are, to where we would like to be?
2 Education as a Service – the evolving schools “Marketplace”
Ian Bentinck was tasked to put a global chain of 70 schools operating in 30 jurisdictions (Inspired Education) on-line at the start of Covid. This was achieved inside six months thanks to the quality of the platforms, products and services already available. But parents expected lower fees and income from money making clubs and add-one services dried up. Meanwhile pressure from rivals led to the creation of a new and complementary, fully on-line, school, King’s InterHigh , as a defensive move.
“On-line only” cannot charge more than a third of the normal fees because it loses the social impact of learning together, even if this is increasingly at the pupil’s own pace with the teaching staff providing mentoring and pastoral care. This cost ratio has a similar potential impact on Universities expecting to charge £9,000 p.a. (or more for international students) for a largely on-line experience.
Augmented reality, Data Analytics and Generative artificial intelligence have a transformative effect on learning and assessment. They enable greatly increased personalisation and motivation, including for those with diverse talents. They do not replace teachers. Instead they enable the semi-automation of labour intensive back office tasks, including scheduling resources and assessing individual progress, to enable teachers to focus on education, pastoral care and socialisation.
Chinese parents were sceptical that online proctoring would be effective, saying their children would defeat tracking technology. They insisted on controlled, in situ examination environments. Meanwhile misinformation from Generative AI can be fast and effective. We owe pupils more than they can get over TikTok. There are major issues to be addressed with regard to cyber security, on-line safety, safeguarding and proctoring .
John Jackson is CEO of London Grid for Learning. This charity supports over 3,500 schools via the world’s largest learning network with nearly a million devices on-line – second only in the UK to the NHS. During Covid it procured over 200,000 devices for schools for £2 million – second only to HM Treasury – and at significantly lower cost. It brought the price of Lenovo Laptops down from $170 to $126, pre-installing operating systems and security at no extra charge. Its objectives are to save schools money, tackle inequality and promote well-being.
The pace of change is massive with major problems in keeping children safe in education, including the deployment of digital certification for over a million pupils, their parents, their teachers, the devices they use for secure access and the products and services they access. LGfL handles over 1.2bn URLs and works direct with the R&D labs of major suppliers and NCSC as well as via JISC.
The problems with Cybersecurity in schools have become significantly more serious since the Cybersecurity Schools Audit done last year with NCSC.
LGfL hosts communities of practice to support collaboration, including on the use of AI to reduce the workload on teachers via a national demonstrator programme involving 4,000 schools. LGfL also provides many other services such as a free schools meals checker which supported 40,000 claims.
Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland have a one size fits all approach to educational systems but this needs to be driven by teachers and pedagogy, not by technology.
LGfL is focussed on “PedTech” programmes to encourage better consideration of how the tech is used. The pace of “adoption” is less important that the pace of “absorption” … how it is used. Too often we look for simple indicators, but these only measure the 10% of the iceberg above the surface. The 90% below, the absorption, is far more important.
Ji Li (Volunteer, IET Education Officer for South London) said IET Education is supporting schools to prioritise STEM subjects in the curriculum. AI may mean we need fewer coders and more designers and engineers. Reference was made to value of a follow up round table involving IET Education and BCS Academy of Computing alongside London Grid for Learning
3 Engaging parents and pupils and teachers
Jason Elsom CEO of Parentkind (which provides the secretariat for the Parental Inclusion APPG) was CEO and CTO of an Internet Service Provider before retiring and becoming a teacher with responsibility for a college and liaising with tech companies on how they work with education and working during the pandemic to develop a virtual careers network advising young people. ParentKind works with 13,000 Parent Teacher Associations which have collectively raised £1.2 bn.
The challenges during the pandemic made Parents much more interested in what schools are doing and what is happening: see Parent-Voice-Report-2022 The most recent National Parent survey showed frustrations with the support children are receiving on future careers: 48% felt children would have a better career than they would, but only 38% felt they would have a better standard of living. Only 33% felt they were being supported for future jobs markets. Many felt that felt that those with vested interests in preserving current slow changing skills are dragging their feet with regard to preparing young people for the future, including by using innovations in the curriculum.
Becki Morris of AchieveAbility (involved with the Dyslexia and SLD APPG) contributed via Chat on conversations around the use of Digital Learner Profiles in rethinking exam assessment to capture skills which are attractive to the employment market such as creative problem solving, collaboration and communication. This was recently discussed at the last meeting of the APPG for SPLD. For many neurodivergent people, assessment within formal education across all profiles and other co-occurring challenges including sensory processing challenges (sensitivity and lack of freedom from distractibility of factors such as touch, light, noise) causes difficulties which affect academic performance. By exploring key methods of assessment such as the Digital Learner Profiles, we would introduce new ways to identify strengths, reduce pressure of exams and support wellbeing.
Formal education support needs to be reviewed within mainstream schools to reflect the diversity of requirements of neurodiversity and reduce risk of exclusion. AchieveAbility supported the Young Londoners Motivational Skills Project for young people who are neurodivergent. This programme, based in East London continued over lockdown and raises concerns about young people who had been excluded from formal education. It was unclear where they had gone or any progression or support. The organisations able to pinpoint this information were the Youth Offending Teams.
Jake Runacres (National Autistic Soc) said that only 29% autistic adults were in employment with wide barriers coming from a lack of understanding among employers and preconceived notions that they lack skills.
We also had a comment from a blind engineer on the problems he had in participating in the event, caused by the incompatibility of the latest ZOOM upgrade with existing software to enable blind participants to take a full part in teleconferences, including accessing supporting materials.
Hannah Russell CEO of the British Science Association, (which provides the secretariat for the diversity in STEM APPG) referred to the national Equity in STEM education report and also that on Regional STEM Skills Inequity (with analyses by constituency). BSA has the aim that science is for everyone and representative of society, with support for schools in challenging circumstances. 50,000 pupils take part in the CREST Awards project-based learning programme each year.
The UK curriculum is very knowledge focused, but employers want a broad range of young people through careers in STEM. Bringing together skills and knowledge is more effective.
BSA have worked with 45% of secondary schools in England over the last four years, including 43% of schools in England working in challenging circumstances (defined as having at least 30% of pupils eligible for pupil premium (or equivalent), at least 30% of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds and/or being in a designated rural postcode). Across both CREST and British Science Week, the BSA works with a growing network of >1,600 schools in challenging circumstances across the UK, who help to shape their programmes. These schools often face particular barriers to engaging with programmes, such as funding, time, teacher turnover and fewer opportunities for teachers to access continuing professional development.
Barely 5% of primary school teachers have a background in science.
Jo Cornish, CEO of CILIP: the library and information association (which supports the libraries APPG) spoke on information literacy and the critical evaluation of information as vital cross-cutting skills, alongside digital literacy education. Libraries, in all settings, can teach information literacy skills. It is a core skill of librarianship and the information professions. Librarians are already deployed and trusted within schools, FE and HE as well as the public library system. They care passionately about this work, are accessible and approachable and a gateway to help access and explore learning, linking closely to the Fosil advancing inquiry learning approach delivered through school libraries.
FE can play a really important role in building skills within regions. People who have been through FE routes are much more likely to stay within their region than graduates, who are much more likely to move. Based on the BSA regional analysis, there is a strong relationship between deprivation and the take up of FE. The most deprived constituencies have around three times the take up of STEM FE courses and twice the apprenticeship starts of the least deprived constituencies.
4 Enabling Further Education
Carlos Cubillo-Barsi CEO of OCN London (created to accredit FE access programmes to Ofqual requirements) has worked in FE for 30 years, including bring schools and Universities to address the needs of those in deprived areas of East London with multi-generational worklessness. Those with poor English and Maths were commonly denied access to higher level digital skills until players like Barclays began taking on digital apprentices without requiring prior qualifications.
The main focus of OCN has been the provision of access qualifications. Last year they registered over 30,000 students seeking these. 75% were from those resident in the 50 most deprived wards in UK. They were predominantly female & BAME. Over half the OCN work load is delivering accreditations via schools and colleges but over half the revenue is from employers wanting accreditation for skills packages to meet their own needs.
A current OCN priority is to help colleges (and others) use the implementation of the Local Skills Improvement plan for London to join welfare to work and other inclusion plans to the career paths of employers – at all levels, including workforce updating, cross-training and returner programmes.
The key to the implementation strategy is the use of individually accredited micro-modules that fit within internationally recognised skills taxonomies (e.g. SFIA) to reduce the cost and time for trainees to acquire marketable skills and “earn while they learn”.
This approach, akin to that used for updating and redeploying skilled mechanical engineers made redundant from Longbridge (the main UK home of motor manufacturing during the last millennium), makes it much easier and cheaper to accredit the acquisition and updating of new/higher level skills and/or to accredit hybrid skills (e.g. adding the installation and maintenance of green and/or digital controls to traditional construction, electrician, plumbing etc certifications).
If predictions for the impact of AI are correct, there will soon be a similar need to cross-train large numbers of white-collar technicians and professionals. A key problem area and emerging bottleneck is the lack of programmes to “train the trainers” in more than presentation and motivation skills.
in 1990, Ian Stewart developed a UK ‘Synergistic Social Partnership Model’ (SSP) that was applied to harmonise vocational, education, training and skills in the EU Food Sector. In 1990, this was the first EU-funded Synergistic Social Partnership in the UK and also the first Trade Union-led Social Partnership in the EU. Arising out of that EU-funded ‘UK SSP project’ came the concept of ‘Statutory Trade Union Learning Representatives’ which was incorporated into the Employment Act 2002.
In 2012, the TUC reported that there were 42,000 TULRs trained to carry out training needs analysis in their workplace, research vocational education and training topics, produce relevant training materials and deliver the training in their workplace in partnership with their company’s training officers and Unionlearn. This training can be accredited by further or higher education partners and play a bridging role between their employer and further and higher education.
Chris Butcher, WEA ( Workers Education Association) which provides the secretariat for the Adult Education APPG) said we need to move to a more aspirational space. The recently published Learning & Work Institute annual participation survey showed 50% of the adult population not involved in learning. We need to address the barriers as to why (caring, transport etc.).
We need to go beyond Local Skills Improvement Plans and the Level 3 focus, to look at broader outcomes including communication and team working skills. The “boot camp” language and concepts will be unattractive for many especially the over 50s. We need to look at the wider benefits of adult learning. Those engaged with lifelong learning are more likely to volunteer for community activities and also show health benefits (such as fewer visits to GP).
Mark Pearce, Regulatory and Government Affairs Director for the London Chapter of ISACA (the professional body for the Audit of Information Systems, including digital and AI) ) said they have 170,000 members globally, 5,000 in London. Jon France for ISC, the worlds largest Cyber Security Professional body, said there were 75,000 open positions in the UK for cybersecurity practitioners.
5 Harnessing Excluded Talent
Laura Jane Rawlings CEO of Youth Employment UK (which provides the Secretariat for the Youth Employment APPG) spoke to the findings of the Youth Voice Census 2023 on the problems faced by two million young people, half of them not in mainstream education, training or employment.
The dials are not shifting. The recognition of employer assessed practice is critical to the provision of realistic advice. We need to make this work for young people, based on evidence. Less than 50% of those eligible are currently included in apprenticeships or T Levels. 4 in 10 feel unsafe in their learning environment and anxiety is commonly blamed as a barrier.
Structural issues need to be addressed in order to achieve success, recognising that too few are comfortable and know what skills they could/should be looking to acquire. Meanwhile the expectation that all young people are digital and tech savvy is not always well founded.
We had an excellent presentation of her journey by Rylie Sweeney, now an apprentice construction industry site manager after a 13 work experience rotation using projects to develop core skills, demonstrate knowledge and make more informed decision about what to do next.
Sapna Chadha is CEO of London Tech Futures a not for profit enabling access to digital skills for 16-24 year olds by mapping what is already available in Digital Skills courses in London. Their focus is on short courses as these are most accessible and have achievable outcomes. 90% of digital jobs do not need degrees. They promote their services via social media. 83% of those they work with use mobile phones, not laptops, although they have programmes to loan laptops donated by companies that are upcycling.
Among their innovative programmes are one with Football academies. These attract those who are physically fit but neurodiverse and disruptive, including multi-dimensional vision and thought. The academies currently offer BTEC sports but little else beyond remedial Maths and English. The objective is to empower kids and engage them with digital skills. Micro-modular courses and credentials help as the audience is fast thinking and with short attention spans.
6 Meeting the Needs of Employers and Students
The way ahead requires a flexible convergence of Employer Accredited Apprenticeships, Degrees and other programmes. Why is it so difficult to secure employer engagement and what happens in practice when employers do come together to specify their collective needs?
Tech Skills took over and greatly expanded the higher level (degrees and degree-level apprenticeships) accreditation operations of e-Skills (the digital sector skills council). These now cover courses granted the Tech Industry Gold (TIG) accreditation at over 40 Colleges, Universities and private training providers.
Juliet Leach made the point that all their programmes from short form courses, apprenticeships, undergraduate and masters degrees to degree- linked apprenticeships are employer led, meaning that employers identify the key skills and learning outcomes required of the graduates to be immediately employable. These are then fed into the course content and framework and independently assessed in order to achieve TIG accreditation for both the course and the graduates. Employers are then closely involved with the course directors at every stage, including competitions and practical work experience on live projects with over 200 participating employers.
The programmes are popular and graduates outperform their peers in terms of 1st class degrees and job offers. They also appear to be above average for diversity of intake, including for those without previous higher level educational qualifications.
Tech skills is part of the techUK “family” and before the meeting Nimmi Patel (techUK) drew attention to the Local Digital Index 2023 for graphic analysis of the disparity of local access to higher level digital skills that needs to be addressed.
7 Attracting the talent you really want
Most careers materials are not based on needs analysis with regard to the attitudes and aptitudes that the employers in that industry are seeking to attract and recruit. Nor are they based on understanding how materials are used by careers advisors and/or teachers or accessed by pupils, students and parents … let alone by mature entrants and returners.
The Careers Collective (Tina Harrigan-James ) has been commissioned by the CITB to create and pilot material using inclusive pedagogical approaches to attract the talents that construction employers really want, with a suite of differentiated multimedia learning resources that is easy for teaching, careers professionals and support assistants to use, including with those who have cognitive difficulties or additional learning needs.
The objective is to raise awareness of and interest in careers in construction is a very much more accessible, and time and cost- effective way than the conventional year group assembly or traditional careers fair – where 85% of those gathered to listen to the supposedly inspiring speaker or meet local employers have “zoned out” because they are not interested, have already chosen a career path, have not been prepared for the employer engagement experience, or simply want a free stress toy. Young people access material digitally and the materials can be used as a starting point for in-person guidance. Education providers can provide digital access to these materials for the student and parent community, as well as wider stakeholders.
8 Modernising recruitment and employment
Recruitment and employment practice changed during Covid lockdown. The pace of change has since accelerated. A speaker at a recent meeting of the Modernising Employment APPG said that over 80% of recruitment was based on copying other job adverts, not needs analysis. Keith Rosser Chair of the Better Hiring Institute which supports the APPG provided a brief on the current state of the work being done by its 6000 employers. Skills issues are the main barrier to faster progress.
The BHI is working on a skills landing page for employers, bringing together information on available skills frameworks (such as SFIA), the importance of consistency in skills definitions, ensuring only necessary skills are included in job adverts/job descriptions, removing unnecessary barriers and encouraging employers to upskill once in employment.
By end of Q1 next calendar year, BHI Toolkits (sector by sector, free to use, best practice guides, produced in conjunction with UK Government, industry and relevant regulators) will cover 80% of the UK workforce. They will include information for employers on the relevant skills and how to check the claims of job applicants. The aim is to help employers rationalise what they ask for and cut down on requests for skills and/or certifications that are not relevant.
The long term BHI objective is to be a “portal” of information for employers on skills, bringing together good guidance, such as the Gatsby Foundation information, and putting everything in one place for employers.
Around 20% of UK residents do not have current passports and therefore cannot use the current Home Office on-line right to work processes. Many current systems to “prove” skills, competence and/or right to work in regulated sectors (e.g. Health, Care, Construction, Finance) involve paperchases and check against multiple fragmented registers.
The BHI sector working parties are seeking to develop better, more intelligible systems including to address fraud and improve access to employment. Digital and Cyber are not regulated and the means of arranging co-operation are not obvious, should it be according to the application or the technical discipline?
The “bringing together” of standards to enable the inter-operability of digital identities and records/registers of achievement and experiences (beginning with pupil and student records) would have a transformative effect on the recruitment process. It also, however, raises issues with regard to the quality, accuracy and relevance of the information in those files.
9 Where do we go from here?
Derek Wyatt raised the issue of whether forward effort should be focussed at the national or regional level. Economic regeneration around the world is normally driven by Regional and/or Smart City agendas. There are signs that the electorate no longer has confidence in competence of Westminster – regardless of the party in office.
The ability and authority of central government to “drive” change are consequently being eroded.
Schools, for example, used to be “regulated” by Local Authorities and Ofsted in addressing National Curricula and meeting the entrance requirements of UK Universities. Post Covid they increasingly follow the requirements of a Multi-Academy Trust (Local or National), Franchise or Network (from Montessori to University Technical College (UTC) supported via a variety of School Partnerships (again local, national and international).
There are also exercises to co-locate and otherwise link Universities, FE Colleges and Schools in integrated and cross-fertilised networks (e.g. Bolton, Birmingham …. Salford and Southampton).
The Local Skills Improvement Plans, as currently drafted, often talk about basic digital skills but not higher level skills. Meanwhile private post graduate tech science universities are thriving in Silicon Valley and India and providing hubs for economic regeneration. The recent global AI summit fringe meetings could usefully have looked explicitly at this model with strategies to support and exploit the super-computer hubs announced for Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh.
Ian Stewart drew on his experience as Mayor of Salford and said that local authorities should look at whole spectrum of learning experience. If they did not they would never have a sustainable skills strategy.
The Salford media city, acknowledged as success, co-located the skills training campus with the content creating centres of the big media companies (not “just” the BBC) and the “business escalator” facilities to support the development chain from concept to market. It works alongside the newer City of Manchester – which gives scale for success.
That raises the issue of how APPGs should work with their supporters, usually national interest groups, to help constituency MPs better address the local implementation of national policy in an increasingly devolved world.
Meanwhile all of us are on a journey of life-long learning to remain employable, perhaps through a continuous supply of micro-credentials.
Continuous skills development is a necessity in modern world.
Employers should help people understand what to do,
Children (of all ages, including graduates and post-graduates) have to find “apprenticeships” to become employable.
It should not be impossible to coordinate the process.
Perhaps we need a revival of individual learning accounts. This time with Singapore style quality control to avoid the fraud that destroyed English scheme. This would enable individuals to fit together the crazy paving of courses to support the employment in a world in which employers no longer invest in them in the expectation they will stay. The OECD comparison of local/nation programmes is here Individual Learning Accounts : Panacea or Pandora’s Box?
Digital Identity and AI are the great enablers. We need to promote discussion based on practice not just theory, dreams and nightmares.
Lighthouse projects start small but achieve big change.