Staff of City of Bristol College stand with participants of a ‘Future of the Skills System’ roundtable
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City of Bristol College holds ‘Future of the Skills System’ roundtable discussion

The Skills Commission, Policy Connect and Learning and Work Institute’s Future of the Skills System inquiry held a special roundtable at the City of Bristol College on Thursday 23 May 2019.

The inquiry is grant funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership, and it looks at how to build a successful learning and skills ecosystem that can adapt to future economic and social priorities.

The Skills Commission wanted to reach out to the growing creative and technology industry, as Bristol’s small- and medium-sized-enterprises (SMEs) are forecast to contribute £5 billion to the UK economy by 2025. Plus, with the wealth of industries surrounding its higher education establishments, Bristol has a growing economy with one of the best employment rates of cities in the UK. The Commission gained a unique regional view of Bristol and the needs of the city to inform their inquiry and also investigated the role that further education and skills is playing in these developments.

Roundtable participants heard that local further education providers engaged in collaboration and long term partnership-building to provide high quality, learner-focused qualifications, engaging schools, employers and universities on the way.

Issues discussed included the increasingly complex centralised and devolved funding system that makes long-term and joined up planning across the education and skills system difficult to achieve. 

When talking about how Bristol manages to collaborate in a system that encourages competition, participants emphasised the crucial role of passionate people in the area focused on transforming life chances through education and training. The City’s Learning City Partnershipled by Bristol City Council, created a platform and context for discussion, clear common purpose and common values were also quoted as key for some of the local collaboration.

Crucially, speakers said that they wanted more power and flexible funding to allow these local partnerships to flourish.

The roundtable featured a number of local leaders:

  • Alex Richards, Operations Director, Western Training Provider Network
  • Dave Trounce, Deputy Principal, Weston College
  • Emma Jarman, Vice Principal, City of Bristol College
  • Henry Lawes, Adult Education Budget Programme Manager, West of England Combined Authority
  • Jane Taylor, Head of Skills, Bristol City Council
  • Mark Hawthorne, Councillor, Gloucestershire County Council
  • Sally Larkin, Delivery & Performance Manager, Access Creative Bristol
  • Susie Simon-Norris, Chief Executive, Somerset Skills and Learning

Emma Jarman, City of Bristol College’s Vice Principal Curriculum and Quality, discussed further education leaders being “custodians of the future” and the importance of colleges for communities, employers and families. She went onto say: “We are delighted to host the Future for Skills System roundtable and welcome so many or our key partners. Everyone here today shares a core purpose of providing access to high quality education and skills in the region. We do this through collaboration and partnership working across the education and skills system in order to support young people and adults into employment and sustainable careers.”

The panel included sector thought leaders: Professor Ewart Keep, Director of the Centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE), Oxford University; Jonathan Shaw, CEO, think tank Policy Connect; Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, and Chair of the Local Government Association’s People and Places Panel; Smita Jamdar, Partner at Shakespeare Martineau, and Skills Commissioner; and Heather Cross of the Further Education Trust for Leadership.

In a further education sector that is concurrently tackling national policy implementation such as the industrial strategy as well as the educational ambitions of local people, finding opportunities to share and reflect are incredibly important.

The roundtable gave local further education leaders the opportunity to share ideas with one another, to connect to local businesses and enterprise, and to have the space to reflect on their practices.

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