In these times of austerity talking about funding in educational circles, particularly in FE, can be depressing. However, rather than spending time dwelling on the obvious problems I would like to take a few minutes to focus on upcoming opportunities. The new round of European Social Fund EU Structural and Investment Funds bidding is upon us and offers an alternative source of funding from the ever diminishing UK government pot. I will go through what is changing this round, what this means and highlight where I think some of the opportunities for centres and how their awarding organisations might be able to help.
What is changing?
For the 2014-2020 funding ESIF funding is being allocated to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in contrast to the preceding 2007-2013 period when they were distributed on a regional basis and through multiple programmes. The plan is that focussing delivery through the LEPs should reduce bureaucracy, duplication and ensure the money is targeted where it is really needed. It means organisations that know their areas and are able to link into local priorities should have a good chance of being able to access funding.
How will I access the funding?
As the funding is being devolved across the different areas it means that there is no easy answer to this question. All of the LEPs will have their own processes for tendering for projects and different timescales. Some are partnering with national initiatives such as the Big Lottery’s ‘Building Better Opportunities’ programme to coordinate the allocation of their funding, others might not. The most important thing is to find out about the LEP(s) covering your area, their priorities and build a relationship with them if possible.
What kinds of things are funded?
A wide range of activities are eligible. The Operational Programme details all the key priorities covering employment, social inclusion and education, which you can read about in full. Clearly, with these topics there are lots of opportunities for those of us working in the education sector.
Lack of qualifications and skills is cited as a major barrier to work. The Operational Programme states that “since the economic downturn in 2008, the employment rate has decreased most for those with qualifications at level 2 or below. Individuals with no qualifications have an employment rate of around 40%. Those with an additional disadvantage fare worst: e.g. 26% of disabled people without a level 2 qualification are employed, compared to 57.4% of disabled people with a qualification at level 2 or higher”.
As such the programme provides numerous opportunities for funding for the delivery of qualifications and accredited units. The guidance does not always stipulate that the qualifications need to be regulated, leaving the door open to other types of accreditation such as quality endorsed units.
Here are a few examples of objectives which specifically link to supporting learners to gain qualifications and/or accredited units:
- 2.1.2 To increase the skills levels of employed people from the existing level to the next level up, to encourage progression in employment. (p.93)
- 2.1.3 To increase the number of people with technical and job specific skills, particularly at level 3 and above and into higher and advanced level apprenticeships, to support business growth. (p. 93)
- 2.2.1 To promote improvements in the labour market relevance of skills provision through active engagement with relevant institutions and employers, particularly SMEs and Micro businesses. (p.103)
Other key hooks paraphrased from the document are statements include:
- ESF funding will focus on groups most at risk of discrimination….
- Disabled people. They are more than twice as likely not to hold any formal qualifications as are non-disabled people. Around half of disabled people of working age are not in employment
- Offenders and ex-offenders. Almost half of prisoners have no qualifications and 13% have never had a job (p.132)
- Lack of skills, particularly basic skills (English, maths and ICT) is a key barrier for many young people who are NEET. Despite some progress in recent years, a significant minority of young people do not have the necessary skills and qualifications to find work and/or progress to higher skills (p.9)
How can awarding organisations help?
Once you have had a chance to digest all of the information in funding specifications your awarding organisation makes an excellent first port of call. We all offer full ranges of qualifications that could be used to meet these requirements.
At Open Awards we specialise in the alternative curriculum and inclusive assessment. As such our staff would be able to support you in planning a curriculum to deliver your bid. We also have a range of less spoken about quality endorsed units that can be a useful resource for these types of projects. Not only that, we are well connected across the country and can help broker relationships to help you find that last delivery partner you are looking for.
If you want to know more about any point raised then please get in touch with me or the Open Awards Business Relationship Team. Our contact details can be found on the Open Awards website: www.openawards.org.uk.