Technical education – reformed for whose benefit?

by Stacey Dingwall

The expansion of grammar schools may not have made it into this year’s delayed and reduced Queen’s Speech but another education policy did – the government’s planned ‘major’ reform of technical education.

As Her Majesty set out, the government’s plan is to ensure that people “have the skills they need” for high-skilled, well-paid jobs, facilitated through “a major reform of technical education”.

A reformed system

The Chancellor detailed plans for a new ‘T levels’ system in March’s Budget, which is being created with the aim of equalising technical and higher education in order to improve the country’s productivity levels. The Budget announcement promised an increase of 50% in the number of hours students train, as well as £500m of funding per year to deliver the new system. The reforms will also simplify the system, reducing the currently available 13,000 qualifications to a mere 15.

The Budget announcement followed the April 2016 publication of the findings from Lord Sainsbury’s review of technical education. The review found “serious” problems with the existing system, noting that British productivity levels lag behind countries including Germany and France by up to 36 percentage points. It also highlighted that the country is forecast to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills by 2020.

The Sainsbury Review made a series of recommendations, including the introduction of a framework of 15 qualifications, which the government accepted in full (where possible within existing budget commitments) in its July 2016 Post-16 skills plan. The plan details how the government plans to deliver its reformed technical education system, by working closely with employers and providers, and ensuring that the system is an inclusive one, accessible no matter someone’s social background, disability, race or sexual identity.

Investing and cutting

Also included in the planned reforms is the construction of new ‘Institutes of Technology’, which are intended to “enable more young people to take advanced technical qualifications and become key institutions for the development of the skills required by local, national and regional industry”. At a time when schools and colleges are facing continued cuts and pressures on resources, this is one part of the reformed system that’s come in for criticism.

Speaking to The Guardian, Marcus Fagent from design and consultancy firm Arcadis stated that capital investment is essential to the new technical education system, in terms of space to teach the new curriculum. He also highlighted how addressing the issue of space for teaching has enabled countries like the Netherlands to deliver successful technical education provision.

The fact that our continental neighbours do it better with regards to technical and vocational education is something that keeps coming up. Even the new system has come in for criticism for its continued focus on leaving it so ‘late’ to try and promote technical education as a potential path for pupils. While Britain sticks with starting at 16, countries like Germany offer vocational routes to pupils from as young as 10.

Decentralisation and young people

This week, the Local Government Association will publish a new report that argues that previous reforms within the skills system have failed due to a lack of progress in the devolution of powers to the local level. Written by the Learning and Work Institute, the report will also recommend the creation of “one-stop” services covering apprenticeships, technical education reform, local adult skills planning, the successor to the European Social Fund and oversight of employment services.

In amongst all the arguments over reforms and provision, it’s telling and worrying that the voice of those who will be most affected by the new system is rarely heard – that of the young people trying to navigate a complex and ever-changing education system. With more reforms to GCSE grading also announced in the last week, they have every right to be anxious about navigating an education system that’s supposed to support them to deliver the productivity gains the country needs.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other education articles. 

“Business is an act of citizenship”: using BIDs to promote inclusive economic growth in communities

The key to inclusive place based economic growth?

The principle of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is pretty straightforward, and the legislation in Scotland is flexible enough to ensure that pretty much anyone can create and act on a BID-based idea. There are currently over 30 live BID projects in Scotland, with BIDs Scotland stating in their latest annual report that they believe this number could almost double to 65 by the end of 2017 if upcoming and scheduled BIDs are also taken into account. The report found that, despite continuing tough economic conditions, there appears to be little evidence of a decline in interest in the BID model. If anything, more people are turning to BIDs as a way of improving local high streets using limited local funds, private investment from local businesses, and other local assets.

BIDs themselves can be seen as a cross section – a mix of the entire economic ecosystem of a place. They can encompass economic, business, local, political and social elements and bring them together in a strategic way to build revenue to support the different aspects of the BID area, including aesthetics, security and commerce. They are locally developed, locally managed, locally financed and locally delivered, giving a sense of authenticity which is becoming increasingly popular among consumers. This popularity is evidenced by the successful renewal of all of the BIDs in Scotland who have gone to reballot to date, with many actually increasing their majority in favour of the BID model.

Collaboration and embedding BIDS within their local communities

As BIDs have been developed, and new models, partnerships and ways of co- operating have been established, BID coordinators and councils in particular are thinking about how to ensure the legacy of the BID within their locality and, more importantly, how to ensure that the economic benefits of the BID are felt across the BID area, not just within the businesses.

This area-wide benefit can be created by for example, re-investing money in security, street lighting, Christmas lights, and flower baskets to improve the feel and aesthetics of a place – actions which are commonplace in BID areas. However, there are some who feel that BIDs could and should go even further in increasing their social value within a community, while not losing sight of the interests of levy payers. This balance, which requires recognition of the wider roles and responsibilities of BIDs, is something which will have to be carefully managed by BID managers in order to ensure that BIDs do not try to do too much, but at the same time act in a way which makes them a key part of their local community and economy. It is an interesting and, at times, difficult place for progressive BIDs to be.

In many areas, BIDs have provided an opportunity for increased community development, and it has been suggested that there could be a formal role for BIDs to play in the wider community development partnerships within localities. BIDs are now being developed to sit alongside existing community anchor bodies, helping to create strong local partnerships and independent communities.

Through collaboration and co-ordination, BIDs are working alongside other services and organisations to help develop sustained community empowerment, helping communities to lobby, providing work experience placements to local young people and acting positively in the form of events to promote increased community cohesion and empowerment, as well as continuing with “normal practice”- increasing footfall in their local area to benefit businesses.

Not all about the money

While generating additional income for the local economy is one of the biggest drivers of support for BIDs in communities, in some instances one of the biggest assets they bring to a community (especially once they are firmly established) is their leverage and collective bargaining power. They have the power to campaign and support other groups in the community on issues that are important to them, as well as offering greater bargaining power with local authorities or other businesses.

As well as commitment to the levy payers’ interest and to improving the local area for people living nearby, another of the potential roles of BIDs is not to act as direct income generators, but as catalysts or facilitators, to encourage new investment and wider growth beyond the BID area – to engage strategically with other partners to encourage investment.

 

Where next for BIDs

As we have already seen, the flexibility of the BID model in Scotland (there are some legislative differences in England) is such that groups may only be limited by their own ambition. Currently Scotland has what is thought to be the world first food and drinks BID and the first tourism BID this side of the Atlantic. Another innovation is the Borders Railway BID, which seeks to maximise the collective benefit to businesses that are located along the railway route.

It has been suggested that the BID model could be used in a more flexible way to generate income for other public service projects, including the suggestion of a BID for health and a BID for schools. Although the intricacies of how these would work in practice are still being considered, there is much that can be taken from how the existing models use community empowerment, and engagement between the public, third and private sectors to create sustainable and inclusive local economic growth in an area.

As well as their commercial enterprising side, BIDs are also realising their potential as agents of community development and improvement beyond that of economic input. The future currently looks bright for BIDs, which will hopefully mean that it also looks brighter for our local communities.


Business Improvement Districts Scotland is the national organisation for BIDs in Scotland, providing support, advice and encouragement to business groups, communities and local authorities considering and developing a business improvement district.

BIDs Scotland held its Annual Gathering on 28th March 2017 at Perth Concert Hall  with the theme of People – Place – Business: Business Improvement Districts – the key to economic growth.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in our other article on BIDs.

Information Service members can also access a research briefing on BIDs here (login required).

Moving into the 21st century … the challenges and opportunities of digital culture

art gallery, kelvingrove glasgowBack in December, I attended the International Symposium on Evaluating Digital Cultural Resources at the newly refurbished Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.

The day provided an opportunity for researchers and professionals with an interest in culture and heritage in Scotland to come together to consider how digital technologies are transforming the sector. Key questions addressed included what digital culture means in practice, and how to demonstrate the benefits for both professionals and the public who experience culture and heritage in galleries, libraries, museums and other cultural spaces.

Whose ‘culture’ is it anyway?

A number of the studies presented during the day argued that making a collection ‘digital’ does not necessarily make it accessible. In some instances “preserving” collections by digitising them can actually make sources less accessible to members of the general public than if they had been kept in “hard copy” – raising the question of who exactly the material is being preserved for.

Is it for the benefit of researchers and archivists of the future? Or is the aim to present heritage and culture in a new way, preserving it, but in a way which makes it more engaging to the general public?

Questions were raised about public access, digital copyright, online availability, online cataloguing and digital databases – sometimes collections can remain as hidden as they had been before they were digitised, due to paywalls or complicated and over-elaborate online archives.

And it was clear throughout the day that delegates and speakers were wrestling with the notion of “ownership of digital cultural resources”. One example highlighted was that of Scotland’s Sounds, an audio archive of recordings which is held in the National Library of Scotland. These are resources captured in communities, donated by people and groups who want their local heritage to be preserved.

However, when it is held in a collection within a national institution, decisions about these resources are centralised with curators. They decide which elements of the collection should be exhibited and when. And they design the layout of the collection and the edited versions of recordings. Is the power of creation taken away from the original creators in this process? And does “going digital” actually make the resources, while preserving them, more inaccessible to local people who could be daunted by the prospect of visiting a national institution or may not be able to travel.

Researchers from the online archive database project ENUMERATE found that only 3-4% of digitised cultural heritage collections are available through Wikipedia (which is the world’s 7th most viewed website). What is the point, they asked, of investing in digitising if collections are as inaccessible as they were before?

This also ties in with the question of who the intended audience is. Publicly funded museums and galleries are increasingly asked about their “audience reach”. Digitising colections and making resources findable by anyone in the world may increase website visits and page hits but does this have the same value as engaging with targeted or local communities? It depends on the mission of the heritage organisation and what they view success to be.

Justifying spend and showing value

Project managers at the conference reported that they were facing a constant struggle to fund online developments. And in many cases, in the period of time from commissioning to implementation the technology and expectations moves on again.

Demonstrating value and impact are central to securing and reporting on how funds are spent in relation to digital collection projects. Funding bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund have a set of deliverable requirements which should be included in funding bids in order to exemplify good and sustainable use of funding, particularly in relation to digital projects. This includes creating resources which have a long life span (the favoured format is online PDF uploads, although they are trying inhouse to diversify their content); creating projects that will preserve heritage and benefit communities; and creating projects which have ambition and are easy to use, while also contributing to the organisation’s wider digital infrastructure and outcomes plan (which may also include interactive exhibitions and the provision of public Wi-Fi).

A unique opportunity to bring history and culture to life for new learners

When bidding for funding, cultural heritage organisations will often claim the project will support learning within their communities. However, many write this in their “digital strategy” without really knowing what it could or should mean in practice. How schools and other learners can engage with digital cultural projects is important not only to showing their value but to developing the collections in the future, making them representative or the interests and desires of their local communities.

Technology-enhanced learning was something which many delegates raised as one of the major potential benefits of digitising collections. In addition to the benefits for planners (particularly erosion and building management specialists) and the tourism industry (through virtual reality city tours which show what an area looked like hundreds of years ago) delegates stressed that one of the primary aims of digital collections was to make it easier for material to be used as a tool for learning. An example given at the conference was the REVISIT project which was run in Glasgow and focused on the British Empire Exhibition of 1938 which took place in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. The project created a 3D visualisation of over 100 buildings from the exhibition. The modellers worked from dozens of small-scale drawings, hundreds of photographs and many maps to recreate the 3D virtual Empire Exhibition as well as mapping roads, pathways and other transport systems in the area. These were then uploaded to an online repository, with accompanying text, where they could be viewed and “explored” using navigation tools.

bee-image

Image of the 3D recreation of the 1938 British Empire Exhibition, Glasgow

The aim of the project was to create a permanent resource for the exploration, research and public exhibition of the Empire Exhibition of 1938 in the context of Scottish and UK social and architectural history. Researchers used a variety of archived material, newspaper articles, photos and interviews with people who attended the exhibition to create the interactive map. They then invited local school children to use the resources to inform their learning on the topic through a series of guided workshop sessions and interactive group activities. The 3D maps were a learning resource but also a tool to generate discussion and questioning about the period and the exhibition itself.

Measuring the “impact of digital” in cultural spaces

One of the most interesting sessions of the day involved input from the V&A in London. It highlighted how mapping and analytics, as well as a more functional understanding of users and visitors to the museum, can be used to help during digital planning. The way that consumer research around digital cultural resources is done can help refine digital programmes in an efficient and cost effective way.

va-online-user-groups

Kati Price from the V&A led a discussion on the creation of new digital platforms and how important understanding user preference can be in design and functionality of digital resources in a museum setting. She highlighted their use of agile methods to test the usability and effectiveness of some of the new digital content produced by the V&A, including new audio guides. In terms of measuring outcomes in digital strategies, she stressed the importance of being flexible with your evaluation methods but also to consider what are you measuring, when in the process are you measuring it, and why and to what end are you measuring it.

Summing up

The day provided useful insight into the challenges and opportunities of digital for cultural and heritage organisations.

It highlighted the adaptability of cultural spaces to digital environments, and the value and benefit to collections of “going digital”. It also identified some potential directions for the future, such as 3D printing to create replicas and Virtual Reality platforms to create more immersive and interactive learning spaces.

It is clear, however, that if the cultural heritage sector is to make the most of what could potentially be game-changing technology, museums, libraries and other organisations need to work closely with communities to make sure they remain connected to their heritage and do not get left behind by this digital revolution.

Cultural spaces need to be mindful of potential exclusion and work to promote digital engagement, skills and education to allow people to access and contribute to the future growth of digital collections in Scotland and the UK.


Reading Room (an Idox company) is one of the UK’s leading digital agencies and has extensive experience working with museums and libraries on award-winning digital projects. Clients include the British Library, Arts Council England, The National Archives, and Durham Council (Durham at War archive). If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help your organisation with developing your digital strategy, contact info.uk@readingroom.com

Education Bill scrapped: the local government impact

by Stacey Dingwall

This week saw the UK government officially drop plans for the Education Bill it announced during the Queen’s Speech earlier this year. Initially announced by then Chancellor George Osborne during last year’s Autumn Statement, the Bill would have seen all state schools in England removed from local authority control and forced to become academies by 2020.

Academies: the government’s U-turn

As we reported at the time, reaction to the plans was broadly negative. Critics of academies point to the lack of evidence that academies are successful in raising attainment, particularly among pupils from deprived areas.

Despite tweeting in March that “Full academisation will empower great teachers & leaders giving them autonomy and accountability to let their schools succeed”, then education secretary Nicky Morgan announced only two months later that the negative reaction from the education sector had convinced the government to drop plans for total academisation.

Of course, a matter of mere months can be a long time in politics, particularly in a year that has seen the country divided by Brexit and the complete overhaul of a government that was only elected one year prior. While the scrapping of the Education Bill could seem abrupt, in fact it fits in with the wider determination Theresa May has shown in trying to shape policy direction since she took office six months ago. Indeed, the Education Bill is just one of the policies – and departments – that the new PM has scrapped so far.

What does this have to do with grammar schools?

Aside from academies and free schools, the other key issue dominating English education policy is that of grammar schools. Overturning the Labour government’s ban on introducing new grammars is one of four proposals in education secretary Justine Greening’s ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation paper. Ever since the government’s proposal to bring back grammar schools was leaked in September, the plans have been met with widespread criticism, including by outgoing Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw.

Current education secretary Justine Greening says that scrapping the Education Bill is not directly linked to the grammar schools plans. However, others, including the Labour opposition benches, suspect that it indicates that the government is having second thoughts again – this time on reintroducing grammars.

Funding cuts

While the scrapping of the Bill means that local authorities will retain control over state schools, it has created an issue in terms of funding. When the government announced its plans for total academisation, cuts of £600m to the Education Services Grant awarded to local authorities were also planned. Sir Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, has urged the government to reverse this decision, stating that while the Board is pleased that councils’ concerns over education reform have been listened to, implementing the cuts would seriously hamper local authorities’ ability to ensure children are able to access a range of educational services.

Aside from providing access to things like speech therapy and music lessons, the funding also helps councils to plan for new school places each term. A lack of school places is an ongoing concern in England, with a predicted shortfall of 10,000 primary places across the country within four years. Research published last week also indicted that half of secondary schools are oversubscribed, particularly those rated the highest by Ofsted.

The looming funding cut has also been criticised by Conservative-led councils, who argue that the funding is vital to their provision of school improvement services. Following the scrapping of the Bill, schools will be legally required to run school improvement services from next year. It remains to be seen just how they will be able to achieve this following yet another reduction on funding from central government.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Local Enterprise Partnerships – the story so far

 

Business strategyBy Heather Cameron

Following the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies in 2010, 39 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) were established in England by 2012. Each was designed to represent a functional economic area and steer growth strategically in local communities. These business-led partnerships between the private sector and local authorities are central to government plans for local economic growth.

According to a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), the role and remit of LEPs has expanded both significantly and rapidly but there are concerns over whether they have the capacity and capability to deliver.

Rapid growth

Since their inception, LEPs have rapidly developed from new start-up organisations to bidders and delivery managers for substantial amounts of national and European funding initiatives to strategic leaders of their local economies.

Between 2010 and 2015 total central government funding directed through LEPs was approximately £1.5 billion. Through the Local Growth Fund, £12 billion will be available from 2015-16 to 2020-21. Growth Deals were agreed with each of the 39 LEPs in 2014, through which £6.3 billion of the Local Growth Fund was allocated. With a further £1 billion allocated in January 2015, the total to date is £7.3 billion. LEPs estimate that the Growth Deals combined will create up to 419,500 jobs and 224,300 housing units.

On the whole, LEPs have been perceived positively and are well established as the main agencies for promoting local growth.

Development has been anything but uniform, however, with a varied pace of evolution. Considering the differing levels of size, urbanisation, population, and existing infrastructure within the LEPs, this is no surprise.

The most advanced LEPs have been identified as those with a history of collaborative working. Greater Manchester leads the way, having already been given powers over skills, welfare and transport, and to be given new powers over the criminal justice system as announced in the 2016 Budget. Greater Manchester has been working in partnership since the 1980s through its local government association, and formally through its Combined Authority since 2011.

And according to a recent Localis report, including London, there are at least a third of LEPs based in and around urban areas which are or could soon be in a position to take on greater powers, with 2017/18 a feasible timeline for them to assume greater powers.

Uncertainty

Despite their rapid development and increased responsibility for substantial amounts of government funding, concerns have been raised over LEPs’ power, resources and accountability.

The NAO report found that only 5% of LEPs agreed that resources available to them are enough to meet government expectations. Additionally, 69% of LEPs reported that they did not have sufficient staff and 28% did not think that they had sufficiently skilled staff.

A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses in 2014 found that: there is a disparity in the levels of funding and capacity across LEPs; a lack of clarity on the remit, purpose and function of LEPs from government has resulted in widespread misunderstanding and friction in practice; and inconsistencies in performance monitoring across LEPs is hampering accountability to local stakeholders and hindering assessment of LEP performance nationally.

Further recent analysis argues that their role and influence are being compromised by a fragmented and changing landscape of economic development governance and the absence of any longer term vision and plan for their evolution.

Given this lack of long term vision and strategy, the fundamental tensions yet to be resolved and their institutional shortfalls and limitations in authority, accountability, capability and resources, the analysis concludes that many LEPs will struggle to exercise substantive influence on economic development at the local level.

Indeed, LEPs reported to the NAO that they were uncertain about their place in the wider devolved landscape. LEPs were also concerned that the government had not made clear their role in economic planning and development as devolution progresses.

Further concerns were raised over funding in terms of pressure to spend their allocation within the year at the risk of not receiving future funding, which could potentially lead to LEPs not funding projects most suited to long-term economic development. And the sustainability of reliance on local authority support at a time of reduced local government funding was another worry.

Future direction

Going forward, the NAO report recommends that the government:

  • clarifies how LEPs fit with other bodies to which it is devolving power and spending
  • distributes Local Growth Funding to LEPs in a form that will give them medium to long-term funding flexibility, subject to performance, to reduce risk of funds being spent on projects that LEPs do not regard as offering the best value for money
  • sets out specific quantifiable objectives and performance indicators for the success of Growth Deals
  • ensures that there is sufficient local capacity within LEPs to deliver Growth Deals by taking a more explicit and consistent account of the financial sustainability of local authority partners
  • uses its approach to monitoring Growth Deals as an opportunity to standardise output metrics for future local growth initiatives, allowing for comparative performance assessment and reducing reporting burdens
  • tests the implementation of local assurance frameworks before confirming future funding allocations, and works with LEPs to ensure that the required standards of governance and transparency are being met.

Only time will tell whether the government expectation of LEPs to deliver Growth Deals effectively and sustainably will become a reality.


If you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our previous post on innovation districts and sustainable growth

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Budget 2016 – 5 messages for local government

One pound coin on fluctuating graph. Rate of the pound sterling

By Heather Cameron

Last week George Osborne revealed the details of his 2016 Budget, at the centre of which was a major deterioration of the forecast for productivity growth. Last year, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) projected an average growth in productivity per hour of 1.9% between 2015-16 and 2020-21; that average is now 1.7%.

As a result, a further £3.5 billion of savings from public spending is to be found in 2019/20. While Osborne has suggested these savings are equivalent to 50p in every £100 the government spends, experts have warned that the figure is closer to £2 or £3 for services that haven’t been protected.

What does it mean for local government?

Despite no direct cuts for local government, it remains unclear where these savings will come from. And with ring fencing of much public spending, local government may yet again bear the brunt of these cuts one way or another.

Business rates

Concerns have been raised over the announcement to extend business rate relief, the revenue from which is 50% retained by councils. It was revealed that this will remove £7 billion from the total take in England over the next five years; 600,000 small businesses will pay no rates at all from next year.

While good news for small businesses, there are fears it could leave a huge hole in local government finances as all locally raised business rates are to be fully devolved by the end of 2020. This will be accompanied by the phasing out of central government grants, and the devolution of additional spending responsibilities.

The government says that “local government will be compensated for the loss of income as a result … and the impact considered as part of the government’s consultation on the implementation of 100% business rate retention in summer 2016.”

But details of how such compensation will work remain unknown. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has suggested that the government’s plans for reimbursing local government is “nigh on impossible”.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), if protection for council budgets isn’t extended to beyond the devolution of business rates, councils stand to lose £1.9bn per year, or 2.9% of their total revenues.

Benefits cuts

Further cuts to welfare spending could also have a knock-on effect. The Chancellor outlined controversial plans to reform Personal Independent Payments (PIP) for disabled people, to save £1.3 billion. Overall, £4.4 billion will be cut from benefits for disabled people over the course of the parliament.

The cuts to PIP have been described as ‘devastating’ for disabled people, with many relying on them to live independently. They could therefore lead to increasing pressure on already stretched local services.

Even the government’s own party members criticised these cuts, which have since led to the shock resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and a government U-turn on the reforms to PIP, which will now not go ahead.

But there is no alternative plan to fill the hole left by this U-turn so local government may still need to brace themselves for cuts elsewhere.

Education

Under the education reforms, every state school in England is to become an academy by 2020 or have a plan in place to do so by 2022, ending the century-old role of local authorities as providers of education.

But, as our recent blog has highlighted, there are ongoing concerns over the academy programme with little evidence to justify it.

The plans have been criticised by councils and teaching unions. Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA) children and young people board, said:

We have serious concerns that regional schools commissioners still lack the capacity and local knowledge to have oversight of such a large, diverse and remote range of schools.”

Ofsted rated 82% of council maintained schools as good or outstanding, while the results of recent HMI inspections of academies has been described as “worrying”. The findings also highlighted a “poor use of public money”, something that has been reiterated by the LGA.

In response, the LGA noted that “councils have been forced to spend millions of pounds to cover the cost of schools becoming academies in recent years”.

Devolution deals

There was some better news for local government in the form of new devolution deals with the West of England, East Anglia, and Greater Lincolnshire. The West of England and East Anglia will each receive a £900 million investment fund over 30 years to boost economic growth, while Greater Lincolnshire’s deal is worth £450 million.

New powers over the criminal justice system are also to be transferred to Greater Manchester and business rates are to be fully devolved to the Greater London Authority next year, 3 years before everyone else.

The LGA welcomes these deals as recognition of the economic potential of all local areas and calls for a return to the early momentum in which similar deals were announced last year.

Flood defences

Another positive for local government was the £700 million funding boost for flood defences by 2020-21, including projects in York, Leeds, Calder Valley, Carlisle and across Cumbria, to be funded by a 0.5% increase in the standard rate of Insurance Premium Tax.

Considering the extent of recent winter flooding, this was welcomed by local government as a “step in the right direction”.

However, the LGA has stated that councils will need further help from government once the full cost of recent damage emerges. It has also called for flood defence funding to be devolved to local areas so the money can be spent on where it is really needed.

Final thoughts

So despite no direct cuts for local government, and the welcome boost to local economies and flood defences, it remains to be seen whether local government will lose out financially in the longer term.


Read our related blog on the total academisation of schools.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

 

What is Reablement in healthcare and how is it done?

By Rebecca Jackson

Reablement, or enablement is the process of rehabilitating people to allow them to regain some or all of their independence. Often promoted as a form of intermediary care, reablement programmes are recommended for patients who have had a stay in hospital, in order to reduce dependence on the local social care system or traditional ‘care at home’ programmes.

They often result in longer periods of one-to-one contact than ‘care at home’ programmes  – trained professionals work with patients and their family to encourage and promote the achievement of personal goals. It also provides an intermediary stage between health care and social care, which can help the patient transition. Effective reablement programmes are an example of health and social care bodies working together to deliver holistic, person-centred care.

Cooking Together

What makes an effective reablement programme?

Reablement programmes cover a range of everyday tasks such as how to tackle stairs, how to wash and dress and how to prepare and cook meals. It encourages service users to develop the confidence and skills to carry out these activities themselves in order to continue to live at home.

The programmes are planned and delivered by trained reablement professionals – they involve home care staff working in tandem with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other health professionals.

Much of the literature around reablement (enablement) practice centres on core issues which are vital to ensure success:

  • focus on early intervention and prevention;
  • a positive, enabling, co-productive approach adopted by all;
  • a workforce with an ethos of working with people, rather than doing something to them;
  • the active participation of the service user and their family in reablement;
  • ongoing training for staff;
  • information and support for families and carers;
  • integration and collaborative working between health, housing and social services;
  • strong leadership in commissioning, and adequate funding of services to deliver sustainable outcomes;
  • evaluation that incorporates both social and financial service outcomes to demonstrate value;
  • good quality assessment by a practitioner with the right skills and abilities to determine an effective programme.

Senior resting in a wheelchair

Reablement in local authorities

Research has shown that these intensive programmes are effective. A 2007 study for the Department of Health’s Care Services Efficiency Delivery Network found that up to 68% of people no longer needed a home care package after a period of reablement, and up to 48% continued not to need home care two years later.

Almost all of England’s councils are planning, implementing or running a reablement service. One driver is that it is seen as a tool for managing the costs of an ageing population. In the UK, reablement programmes usually last for 6 weeks, at which time care is either passed to a social worker, adult social care team, or patients are asked to pay for the continuation of the programme themselves.

Reablement has been criticised as expensive, and time- and resource-intensive. Like any service working with vulnerable people, it can also be difficult to demonstrate value as there are differing success rates for different patients. However, interviews conducted with people who have received reablement packages have suggested the emotional and long term benefits are significant as are potential savings to care budgets in the future. This is especially the case in terms of the cost of readmission to hospital, which studies have found is reduced in cases where people received effective reablement care.

The local authority in Croydon was recognised in 2013 for its work in promoting and expanding reablement practices. They also developed a programme of pre-ablement, which saw training delivered to vulnerable people before they became unable to carry out tasks. By showing them alternative ways to do tasks, they were able to change things before being forced to. This preventative approach worked within the local authority and is something which could be considered more widely as pressure increases on local authority funding and care capacity.

There is a growing consensus that properly funded and effective preventative services, such as reablement, can deliver cost-savings to health and social care services, as well as improving the lives of patients.


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Read some of our other bogs on health and social care:

Overworked and under-resourced – ‘mission impossible’ for social workers?

By Heather Cameron

A year on from my previous blog on the emotional pressures facing social workers, have the headlines improved any?

Going by a new Guardian survey of social workers, it would seem that the answer is a resounding no.

The Social Lives Survey revealed that while the majority of social workers enjoy their job, two-thirds say they can’t focus on what really matters and only a quarter feel their workload is manageable. Almost 80% work overtime every day, and 86% don’t get paid for doing so.

Heavy and increasingly complex caseloads was the most common reason given for stress among social workers in last year’s Community Care survey.

Unmanageable caseloads

Unison surveyed social work staff from across the UK about their work at the end of a day in April 2014. Just over half (52%) said their caseload size was affected by covering for staff shortages and nearly three quarters highlighted that there was no formal system in place to help manage their caseloads and ensure they are at a safe level. A significant minority (42%) noted that they left work with serious concerns, the main reason for which was being unable to complete paperwork, followed by being unable to speak to other agencies or professionals involved.

Similarly, in May 2012 the British Association of Social Workers published the findings of its State of social work survey which indicated that 77% of the social workers surveyed said their caseloads were unmanageable. One child protection social worker said “the team I work in currently is working at dangerous caseload levels in terms of child protection work”.

The emotional impact of the challenges of social work were highlighted by a number of respondents, as one mental health social worker described:

It makes me so sad that this job seems only to be possible if you sacrifice your own health and wellbeing

The subsequent inquiry into the state of social work report by the All Parliamentary Working Group at the end of 2013 also emphasised the extent of stress among social workers who are overloaded and under-resourced. It heard from a local authority social worker who said:

 “the more cases we have, the more corners we have to cut, and the more corners we have to cut the more we have significant numbers of children for whom we haven’t had the time to do a thorough assessment”.

Another social worker said that as a result of budget cuts, “the conditions for child-centred practice and safe working are being eroded”.

Impact of austerity

A little over two years on from the inquiry, it would seem there is no let up on the impact of austerity on the social work profession.

A huge majority (92%) of social workers who took part in the Guardian’s survey highlighted that spending cuts are affecting services and putting more pressure on care professionals. And it was felt by 88% of respondents that social work isn’t as high on the political agenda as other public services.

With further cuts to hit local authorities from April this year, following the government’s announcement of a 6.7% funding cut for councils, things may get worse before they get better.

To help offset the impact on social care, local authorities will be able to raise an extra £2 billion through a 2% Council Tax precept and the £1.5 billion Better Care Fund.

Nevertheless, it has been argued that this will not be enough to address the immediate social care crisis or to prevent an estimated £3.5 billion funding shortfall by the end of the decade.

‘Bad press’

As well as spending cuts increasing pressure on social workers, the negative perception of the profession was also raised by the Guardian’s survey:

“The government and media need to stop portraying social workers as child-snatchers and do-gooders. They should sometimes focus on the lives we have saved and positively changed.”

It was suggested that newspapers should also focus on the pressures put on social workers rather than always on when things go wrong, and the government should be supportive of the role and address the lack of recognition and support at the national level.

Way forward?

Perhaps the rest of the UK should be looking to Wales for good practice, where the happiest social workers reside.

In Wales there are lower caseloads, more support from managers and better integration with health. According to one social worker, “it’s a better place to be a social worker. Social work is recognised and valued; in England I don’t think it is.”

Social services in Wales have also been more protected from cuts than elsewhere. And you don’t see the same negative language about social workers in Wales as you do in some parts of the media in England, according to the Welsh Government’s minister for Health and Social Services.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Heather’s other article on engaging fathers with social work.

Higher education – widening access or widening inequality?

college graduates groupBy Heather Cameron

While the government maintains its commitment to widening participation to higher education, newly published government statistics suggest that the gap between private and state pupils is actually widening.

Widening gap

The statistics show that 85% of school-leavers from English private schools who turned 19 in 2012-13 were in higher education, compared to 66% of students from state schools – a gap of 19 percentage points, which is six points wider than it was in 2008-09.

A new report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has similarly highlighted the gap between the most and least advantaged groups.

Professor of international higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, Simon Marginson, recently argued that equality of opportunity in higher education is “further off than ever”, despite participation rates around the world being at a record high. Marginson suggests that universities should not be left responsible for social mobility as other factors are also at play.

Indeed, a new report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission indicates that the wealthiest families are using their wealth and status to ‘hoard opportunities’ for their children with less academic ability. It argued that this is creating a ‘glass floor’, protecting some children from downward social mobility.

Budget impact

With the recent budget reforms, it would seem that addressing the inequality issue will be far from easy.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the loss of maintenance grants, which are to be replaced with loans, will increase the average debt incurred for the poorest 40% of students to over £50,000. And debt will be highest among those from the lowest-income families.

If given the go ahead, the decision to freeze the repayment threshold for student loans at £21,000 is estimated to increase loan repayments for graduates, hitting middle-income graduates hardest.

In addition to this, the proposal to allow ‘high teaching quality’ institutions to raise tuition fees is predicted to increase the cost to government of teaching undergraduates as not all loans are estimated to be repaid in full.

This could also impact on students from poorer backgrounds applying to such institutions. While it has been acknowledged that the increase in fees in 2012 didn’t result in a reduction in participation among students from poorer backgrounds, it does seem to have had an impact on the choices these students make.

The IFS suggests that if the proposed changes in the budget are all introduced, the likelihood of a negative impact on higher education participation is stronger, while there will be little improvement in government finances in the long-term.

So what can be done?

There are examples of good practice across schools, colleges and universities where they have engaged in activities designed to raise aspirations and encourage young people from disadvantaged areas to access higher education. Such activities include outreach work, early intervention, quality careers advice, summer schools and focused mentoring.

Indeed, intergenerational mentoring has recently been highlighted as beneficial for raising attainment among socially disadvantaged young people and improving their access to higher education.

A mentoring project conducted in Scotland aimed to support S5 and S6 pupils taking their highers and considering going on to higher education. The programme aimed to help young people in their studies, help them navigate the higher education landscape, support them through the application process and discuss opportunities open to them. The results indicate that this model of mentoring presents an affordable opportunity for intervening to support widening access to higher education.

However, as HEFCE has indicated, despite isolated work in individual institutions that is undoubtedly having a positive impact, it is fragmented and not well evidenced.

HEFCE therefore recommends a joined up sector wide response to ensure that all students can truly fulfil their potential regardless of their background.


Idox supports universities and students in their bid for funding via a dedicated suite of funding solutions including GRANTfinder 4 Education and Open 4 Learning. For further information, please contact our Grants team here.

Further reading

Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 (House of Commons Library briefing no 07258) (2015, House of Commons Library)

College-based degrees ‘reflect inequality’, IN Times Educational Supplement, No 5154 10 Jul 2015

Widening participation to higher education of under-represented groups in Scotland: the challenges of using performance indicators (Working paper 1) (2014, Economic and Social Research Council)

Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (2014, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission)

Breaking the cycle of disadvantage: early childhood interventions and progression to higher education in Europe (2014, RAND Europe)

Limited access (widening university access), IN Holyrood, No 316 14 Apr 2014, pp50-51

School and college-level strategies to raise aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education investigation (Research report no 296) (2014, Department for Education)

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A bleak future for UK arts funding?

5349310766_ea97e0ee88_bBy Stacey Dingwall

At the moment, it seems like hardly a week goes by without the announcement of cuts to funding for arts organisations across the country. In July 2014, it was announced that, due to changes in the way it distributes its funding, Arts Council England would be reducing the amount of annual funding it provides to the English National Opera by 29%. On top of this, 33 organisations were informed that their funding would be stopped altogether, and 670 that the amount they receive would be frozen for the time being.

Cuts across the regions

The picture is similar across the country. In October, it was revealed that Arts Council Wales’ 2015/16 budget would be reduced by £300,000 on the previous year. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is facing an 11.2% reduction in its own budget for the year ahead. And in Scotland, more than half of the organisations, including the Scottish Youth Theatre, who applied to Creative Scotland for long-term funding at the end of 2014 had their bids turned down.

Reactions to these announcements have been widely negative, from the public, leading arts figures and the organisations themselves. Accepting a theatre award last week, the actor David Tennant argued that providing funding to the UK creative industries is an “investment” rather than an “expense”, and that “the arts bring in so much more money to this economy than they take out”.

This was backed up a couple of days later in a report published by the Warwick Commission, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, after a year-long examination of the UK creative arts sector. According to the Commission, the sector represents 5% of the total UK economy, valued at £76.9 billion.

Despite this, the sector presently receives just 0.3% of public spend annually, a figure which many involved in the sector expect will only decrease; new analysis carried out for the London School of Economics has predicted that English local council spending on the arts could fall by as much as 33% over the next five years. In real terms, this would represents a fall in funding of £750 million between 2014 and 2019, making arts the fourth hardest hit service during that period, behind planning, transport and housing.

Unfair distribution?

Aside from the actual amount of funding provided to the arts, another key issue is its distribution across the regions. In October 2014, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the report of its enquiry into the work of Arts Council England, which criticised the “clear funding imbalance” in favour of London in the Council’s distribution of grants and aid.

Many have argued that this has been an issue for some time; a 2013 report, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, argued that of the £320 million allocated by Arts Council England in 2012/13, £20 per capita went to London, with only £3.60 per head given to the rest of England.

Separate analysis of Arts Council England’s national investment plans for 2015-2018 by GPS Culture, Hard Facts to Swallow, placed the overall balance of investment from the Council’s grant-in-aid and lottery income streams over this period at 4.1:1 in London’s favour. According to this analysis, £689 million (43.4%) will be invested in the London arts scene, providing a per capita return of £81.87 per head of population (php); £900 million will be provided for arts in the rest of England, generating a per capita return of £19.80 php.

Things can only get….worse?

Should there be a change in government at the upcoming general election, it doesn’t look like this will improve the funding situation for the arts. In January this year, the Labour Party was criticised for ‘bragging’ that it wouldn’t reverse the arts funding cuts announced by the coalition government, should it gain office in May. Although she has criticised cuts to arts funding imposed by the current government in the past, the deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman indicated that as “this government has failed on living standards and failed on the deficit”, a future Labour Government would be unable to reverse all of their decisions made regarding cuts going forward, including on arts.

In the meantime, many UK arts organisations are turning to an alternative means of financing their projects: crowdfunding. The last few years have seen many filmmakers and musicians across the world turn to platforms such as Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground, and last year The Art Fund launched its own platform, Art Happens, to help UK museums and galleries raise money for creative projects. Through this, it is intended that British museums will be able to continue to present the innovative projects which they, and the entire UK arts sector, are globally renowned for.


This article was originally published on 3 March on the Idox Grantfinder expert blog.

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