LGA response to DfE consultation: National Skills Fund

The DfE sought views on how remaining National Skills Funding could be used to help more people benefit from the new publicly funded level 3 qualifications offer, skills bootcamps and how it can meet critical skills needs. This LGA response considers the view of local authorities – councils and combined authorities – as place shapers and leaders and adult learning providers.

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Section 1: Free level 3 qualifications for adults

Q10. What are the key barriers to adults taking up the free level 3 qualifications?

The rationale behind the free Level 3 qualifications is right. Local authorities report the following barriers which could limit uptake:

  • Relevance of qualifications to the local economy – the national list of economically viable approved qualifications has not matched the needs of some local areas (specific employers or foundational sectors). One Mayoral Combined Authority area used its devolved AEB to widen access to upskill and support in-work progression with supplementary qualifications and funding flexibilities. As local government seeks to support recovery from the pandemic, all areas need to be able to use national programmes in a flexible and targeting way. Local authorities and the Employment and Skills Boards / Panels (or similar that they facilitate to bring businesses and educationalist in local areas) are uniquely placed to do this given its role working with incoming and existing businesses of all sizes: insight into current / pipeline employer skills demand, lead authority for infrastructure, and leadership of regeneration, employment, and trade and investment strategies. These are the organisations that know their people and economy the best and can really match qualifications to local jobs needs.
  • Location of flexible provision – adults generally have more call on their time – whether they are working (full time, part time, multiple jobs) and / or have caring responsibilities (carers, childcare) so freeing up time to undertake a qualification can be a difficult decision. Timings of courses should be flexible to fit with people’s lifestyles, and delivered in a range of learning centres (community based and larger provider settings) accessible by public transport with childcare facilities onsite or nearby. Local authorities cite accessibility and affordability of transport and childcare as significant barriers for different reasons in both rural and urban areas.
  • Cost, lost earnings and universal credit – Many may not have sufficient income to put towards the cost of learning and associated costs (kit, transport, childcare), wary of taking on a loan, or be reluctant to ask their employer for time off work if in precarious work. Consideration should be given to supporting adults with their income (paid time off work etc). For those out of work, universal credit rules which prevent people from gaining skills while receiving benefits should be reformed.
  • Lack of relevant advice and guidance – Many adults will be reticent to take up learning for several reasons (bad experience in education, low functional skills - literacy, numeracy, digital, low confidence / aspiration, perception of being too old to learn, financial reasons, time pressures). Adults need clear, accessible local careers advice and guidance to firstly, help them understand what skills they have, and how transferable they could be to move within or between sectors, and then secondly to understand how further learning will benefit them with a clear line of sight to a career transition, promotion, new job.
  • Lack of qualifications to enter onto the programme – this is a barrier for adults not yet qualified to Level 2, which is a springboard into further learning and an essential part of recognised progression routes. See response to question 25.

Q11 a. How do providers advertise their learner support offer (please specify colleges, councils etc)?

Local authority adult learning services promote their learner support offers on their website, at local jobs and skills fairs, and work collaboratively with other partners including DWP, colleges.

Q11 b. To what extent does the current learner support offer enable providers to address the financial barriers which could stop adults participating or continuing in learning?

Learners need a variety of support, including transport, equipment, childcare. Joint strategies at a national and local level could seek to address these barriers. 

Q11 c. Which financial barriers do providers find it hardest to address and why?


Q12. How easy is it for adults to find out whether they are eligible for the current learner support offer?


Q13. Are there any other ways to publicise learner support? If so, what? 

Yes. At present, support for this is done on an ad-hoc basis and often not a focus of providers delivering Level 3 and above. Collaboration between relevant bodies is essential in coordinating a support offer with clear and consistent messages across a subregion / travel to learn area. Local authorities have the expertise to coordinate this given their adult and community learning role, and because many adults already engage with local authority services such as housing and welfare support. The Government should empower and support local authorities to work with providers, DWP, housing associations, voluntary sector to develop new and enhance existing pathways into the Level 3 provision including for non-traditional learners.

Achieve in Bath website is a one stop shop for adults run by local authority and is a good example of how a wealth of information can be gathered in one place. achieveinbathnes.co.uk

Q14. How do you think that government can support providers to deliver best practice in communicating and providing the current financial support for adults?

The Government should enable, support and incentivise the creation of networks and pathways to achieve alignment and coordination between providers and share good practice across the country.

Q15. For non-financial flexibilities below, please select which you think are valuable:

  • Flexible start dates
  • Breaks in learning
  • Flexible modes of delivery
  • Weekend and evening learning
  • Recognition of prior learning

All of the above plus delivery in bite-sized chunks, clear progression routes and a pipeline from basic skills to Level 3 needs to be in place.

Q16. Are there any barriers which might make it difficult to use or deliver the existing non-financial flexibilities, and are there ways these can be overcome?

Yes. The Government aims to reach those furthest from learning through these measures, but there is a lack of flexibility in the delivery and cost model to meet some of these. A genuine review of eligible spend and costs needs to be considered to meet the needs of today's learners.

  • Flexible start dates, modes of delivery, weekend and evening learning, breaks in learning: DfE / ESFA funding is geared towards academic year performance with hard targets in those periods and is based on completions. Providing roll on / roll off provision is often difficult and has to be pump primed due to the lack of flex in reporting and performance approaches. Blended offers are also more successful for adults than purely online provision. Requirements should be changed, and as these are costlier to deliver, the cost per learner should be increased.
  • Recognition of prior learning: there is no national system to enable this, and it is a lengthy process for a provider to deliver. 

Q17. What could encourage providers to deliver non-financial flexibilities?


Q18. Any further comments.


Q19. How do you think different sectors might make use of the offer and why?

Employers that have skills shortages. More support should be available locally for SMEs who may find it harder than a large employer to encourage employees to take up the offer.

Employer Involvement

Q20. How can we adapt the offer to better meet the employer needs, including those from different sectors / range of sizes?

Involvement of employers in FE and through MCAs and local authorities should mean that the offer fits what is needed, including through the mechanisms (employment and skills boards/ panels) they have set up which best fit their local need which involve representative  bodies of all employer sizes.

Q21. How else can we encourage employers to use the free level 3 qualifications for adults to train or upskill their workers?

Not all employers will have the capacity or capability to understand the need for and benefit of upskilling their workforce so some form of training needs analysis should be provided. his can best best be coordinated through local employer led partnerships (including local authorities) who should be given a role to facilitate and support smaller businesses and flex national provision based on local need. Q22. Add any further comments here.

Pathways to free level 3 qualifications for adults 

Q23. What prior learning requirements (if any) do providers have for someone taking a level 3 course, and how do these differ between different courses and sectors (if at all)?

This depends on varied approaches taken by awarding bodies and providers, but in the majority of cases, Level 3 providers require Level 2 English and Maths as a minimum, as well as digital literacy, normally checked at gateway stages.

Q24. For employers: Are there any particular requirements for learners looking to achieve a level 3 qualification in an area that supports your sector? 


Q25. How can providers support adults without a level 3 to access level 3 qualifications available through the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, given that they may lack some prior learning or experience?

Many adults are unable to take advantage of Level 3 courses. Thirteen million adults in the UK do not have a Level 2 - equivalent to a GCSE - (Nomis) and nine million adults in England lack functional literacy and numeracy skills (OECD), leaving them vulnerable to job loss and making it harder to secure work.

As explained in Q10, many adults making a step back into learning after a long period of time will have to manage other responsibilities and may be daunted about the journey ahead. To encourage someone to take on a level 3 course which they may not be ready for risks putting them off learning altogether, and we note current proposals to reform further education will oblige providers to meet the local skills improvement plans which are likely to cover Level 3 and above.

All local authorities felt that there is now an urgent need to prioritise and fund activity to help adults progress from community-based, pre-entry level learning through to Level 2. Providers can best support adults to reach Level 3 equivalency by being encouraged to work with existing Level 2 and below fully funded provision, which are in the main provided by local authority adult and community learning (ACL) services who are expert in delivering community outreach and intensive work required to meet need below Level 3. Current FE reforms should enhance rather than restrict this activity. 

Funding for adult skills mainly comes from the £1.5 billion annual Adult Education Budget (AEB), which has been vital in providing support for those without Level 2 to improve their basic skills and gain essential qualifications, and we know that where it is devolved, MCAs have used it innovatively. However the overall AEB funding pot has reduced by 50 per cent over the last decade, which has coincided with a drop in learner numbers.  

We call on the Government to:

  • focus efforts on supporting and funding both parts of the training network (those specialising in below L3 and those delivering above level 3) to work together and better align their respective provision if we are to maximise the throughput to Level 3.
  • adult skills funding (Level 2 and below) should at the very least be restored to 2010 levels and devolved to all local authorities.
  • the complementary role of local authority adult education provision is integral to a joined up local provider base and recognised in proposals to reform the FE system.
  • With MCAs in the lead for adult skills in devolved areas, outside of devolution areas, councils should have a new ‘Community Skills Lead’ role with strategic responsibility for adult education planning and work with the proposed employer representative bodies and the provider base to align provision and ensure progression routes.

Q26. How else can we achieve the best impact for adults with the most to gain from the free level 3 qualifications for adults, alongside funding the courses? If the training landscape is properly aligned, and lead organisations in each element (below and above Level 3) are appropriately funded to provide the best outcomes for the next stage, the Government has more chance of levelling up people and places. 

Q27. Add any further comments here.


Q28. If you have any further comments or reflections on ‘Section 1: Free level 3 qualifications for adults’ you can add them here

Any support that can be given to adults to allow them to take the time needed to attend classroom-based training will support the overall success of the programme including additional funding for maintenance to allow adult learners to step away from employment to attend the learning or pay for transport needed to attend.

Section 2: Skills Bootcamps

Q29. Which aspects of the Skills Bootcamps do you think are most valuable? 

  • Short, intensive courses  
  • Industry-specific training, designed to meet the needs of employers
  • Focused on in-demand skills   
  • Fast-track to an interview  
  • Line of sight to a job  
  • Recruitment pipeline for employers   
  • Flexible delivery model  
  • Emphasis on improving diversity in technical skills
  • Other – please specify

All of the above.  

Q30. Add any further comments or reflections here

Skills Bootcamps are a welcome addition to the skills landscape, as a short intervention targeted at individuals looking for specific job roles. While the initial set up process has not been simple, there is a strong view from local authorities that they should continue, and not be overlooked in favour of ‘full’ qualifications. More should be done to clearly state the purpose of Bootcamps to employers, providers and students so that are embedded in the system.

Q31. What do providers find challenging in delivering Skills Bootcamps?

Local authorities told us that as lead contractors, the short timescales, wider economic conditions, business engagement and complexity of departmental procurement approaches created set up challenges before even reaching delivery.

Q32. How best can we help providers overcome challenges to delivering a Skills Bootcamp?

The Government should work with local authorities, as lead contractors, to develop ways in which these can be firmly embedded into the local offer, avoid competitive bidding, have a reasonable timetable for delivery that allows for early business engagement / learner engagement, a period of co-design, and then delivery and employment outcomes which are predesigned into the model with a clear line of sight to other qualifications, pathways and career options. 

Q33. Add any further comments or reflections here


Q34. Skills Bootcamps run for up to 16 weeks. Other than the length of the courses, do you think we could adapt Skills Bootcamps in any other way to:

Q34 a. Support adults to access this training more easily?

  • More alignment with other national and local interventions i.e. traineeships and Sector-based Work Academy Programmes, so learners and employers can decide which intervention would be more suited for their business / employee needs.
  • Provide learners with additional maintenance or welfare support whilst training, or via subsidised transport costs. 
  • Longer preparatory period to onboard and secure employers and learners.
  • Multi year funding would provide more certainty in planning provision.

Q34 b. Support self-employed adults access this training and use learning to benefit their business?

Some form of maintenance grant, tax rebate or financial relief to cover loss of earnings and support time away from their business. Providers should not be penalised for not offering a job interview if their training does not require it.

Q34 c. Better meet employers needs, including those in different sectors, and a range of sizes?

As we move into economic recovery from the pandemic, there should be far more local discretion on which Bootcamps are needed to meet local demand.

Q35. Skills Bootcamps give adult learners the skills which fast-track them to an interview for a specific job. Do you think these should continue to be a max of 16 weeks long?

Where they can, Bootcamps should be aligned with a usable qualification, with modules allowed. This may require longer periods in some instances but would broaden the courses and onboarding offer involved for employers.

Q36. What should be the minimum length of a Skills Bootcamp?

12 Weeks

Q37. Add any further comments or reflections here

Local authorities told us that maintenance funding was important to ensure training is not economically punitive to learners. 

Q38. Are there ways to make it easier for employers to make a financial contribution e.g. change upfront payment?


Q39. In addition to the 30% financial contribution, which non-financial contributions do you think employers could make that would be most valuable:

  • Providing space for training.  
  • Providing technical equipment for learning.  
  • Helping delivery of the training.
  • Giving their workers time to learn.  
  • Any other additional non-financial contributions  

Any of the above ‘non-financial’ contributions will have an impact on employer finances, particularly smaller employers. 

Q40. Do you think employers would be willing to make a non-financial contribution to training?

Depends on the employer (and their size).  

Q41. How can we encourage more employers to make non-financial contributions?

By incentivising outcomes through funding, progression and uptake. More widely highlighting the commercial benefits of skills and training of the workforce. Ideally this would be achieved through a single local skills advisory / support approach for business in each area which could promote opportunities and benefits, as well as provide support and advice. 

Q42. Add any further comments here.


Q43. What further learning do you think a Skills Bootcamp should enable adults to progress onto?

  • Job-based training in the workplace.  
  • A higher technical qualification.
  • An apprenticeship.

Q44. Any further comments on how to enable progression from Bootcamps onto further training and/or learning, such as apprenticeships or higher technical education

The stated purpose of Bootcamps is to get the learner interview-ready for a stated job role or occupational sector. Bootcamps are often not enough to enable that next step alone but a pathway to progression and wider roles internally. If a learner is unsuccessful at interview, there should be a referral process to an integrated local IAG offer to go through interview feedback and works with the participant to identify next steps including routes into further learning.

Q45. Add any further comment here.


Section 3: Meeting critical skills needs

Q47. Are there any current critical skills gaps below degree level and in particular sectors, occupations, or locations that you think the skills system will not meet, either now or in five years?

This varies widely and local authorities are responding directly.

What are these skills gaps (sector, occupation, or location)? 

Local green jobsResearch for the LGA showed up to 700,000 direct full time jobs could be required by the low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030 in England, rising to over 1.18 million by 2050, compared to 185,000 in 2018. These are total, direct jobs covering the value chain from manufacturing, construction and installation, to operation and maintenance. Importantly these jobs are projected to be generated across England’s local authorities and regions as the table below sets out and are further broken down by sub sector.


2030 total jobs

2050 total jobs

East of England



East Midlands



North West






North East



South West



West Midlands






South East



England total jobs




Investment in green technology must be coupled with measures to support residents access careers guidance and training opportunities so they can benefit from these jobs. As the Government has now published findings of its national Green Jobs Taskforce, we have a real opportunity to join up the dots in policy and funding decisions and look forward to discussing next steps with the Government.

Alongside this, local authorities can enhance the proposed Further Education reforms if they are given a core and strategic role to work alongside employers to plan provision across a local area of which net zero will be key. In addition many councils help to improve the local FE estate to ensure providers have sufficient facilities to meet local skills priorities such as net zero. More local autonomy is needed to be able to meet these priorities. 

b. What level are these skills gaps at?

As above

c. Is this a current skill gap, or something that you see emerging in the future?

As above

d. Why do you think the skills system does not meet this skills gap? 

As above

Q48. Add any further comments here

It is widely acknowledged, (Skills for Jobs White Paper, January 2021), that the skills system fails to respond to local need. This is not a new problem. Even before the pandemic, research for the LGA showed that the skills gaps within and between local areas was significant, nine million adults lacked functional skills (Building Skills for All: A Review of England, OECD), and many industries had skills gaps and shortages impacting areas differently (reduced local growth, lack of opportunity, poor productivity and low pay).

Democratically elected local authorities, working in partnership with local and national partners should have the powers and funding to design a locally determined offer which would plan, commission and oversee a joined-up careers advice and guidance, employment, skills, apprenticeships and business support service for individuals and employers. It would be underpinned by outcome agreements.

The LGA has a framework for this to happen. Now is the time to put Work Local into action. The Government should use it to back and fund pathfinders across rural, coastal and metropolitan areas and deepen existing devolution deals. For a medium-sized combined authority each year, our Work Local model could lead to an additional 8,500 people leaving benefits and 5,700 people increasing their qualification levels, with additional local fiscal benefits of £280 million per year and £420 million to the economy.

In the meantime, the Government should combine resources and expertise with local government and co-design new or repurpose existing support contained in the Plans for Jobs and Growth and trust them to coordinate provision across their areas. 

Q49. Are there particular sectors or occupations which may benefit from improved access to shorter courses

Prior to the UK’s exit from the EU, the qualification recognition process recognised UK qualifications across the EU. However now each qualification has to be recognised by the individual state. We need to ensure all qualifications add value to an individual’s employability and access to opportunities. Local authorities told us that these should include Catering, Engineering, Food Manufacturing, Digital Occupations, Construction, Green Jobs, HGV and Logistics. Some of these are high need, EU dependent occupation groups which will now need to be backfilled to avoid immediate and medium-term economic impacts.

Q50. Could more options for shorter courses or more modular learning opportunities help adults to overcome barriers to learning?


Q51. Are providers currently delivering short courses (under 12 months) or modules outside of full qualifications? If you answered yes, please specify:

a. What courses/modules you are delivering.


b. What level these short courses/modules are.


c. Why you chose to deliver these short courses or modules.


d. How you designed these short courses or modules e.g. with employers?


Q52. Have employers funded short courses (under 12 months) or modules outside of full qualifications? If yes, please specify:

a. What short courses/modules you have funded, and why.


b. Whether you worked with the provider on the design of any of these courses.


Q53. Do employers have any skills needs that you think might be met by a short course or module outside of a full qualification? If yes, please specify.


Q54. Considering the provision we have already made available through National Skills Fund investment, are there any further gaps below degree level in adult skills provision which would benefit from targeted support? If yes, please specify and describe how they can be met.


Q54.a) Specify what these gaps are:

Basic Skills, Functional Skills, Level 2 Progression

Q54. b) Provide evidence for your answer, including evidence on the impact of this gap:

Funding of adult basic skills, the group which the economy is most reliant on to backfill economic gaps left by COVID and EU Exit, has been cut over the years, forcing the adult learning sector to do more with less. Combined with the end of European Social Fund and no detail on the replacement Shared Prosperity Fund to date, the current landscape for supporting those with the lowest skills is more uncertain than ever before. 

Q54.c) Suggest ways that these gaps in provision might best be met:

Devolution of AEB funding to all areas; better alignment of funding under a lead body / bodies within each local areas; work with DWP to ensure they are aligning and delivering provision where it is needed; a ringfenced, longer term settlement for Level 2 and below providers which allows them to invest and work with partners over the medium term to get people ready for work and gives employers and colleges the individuals they need to employ and train. This is essential to levelling up, social mobility and economic recovery. 

Q55. Add any further comment here