Two of the North East’s three combined authorities are leading way in adult education, but still have a way to go before catching up their peer authorities in other parts of England, according to new government statistics.
More people in Tees Valley and the North East were successful in completing further education (FE) and skills courses in 2021-22 (latest available) than in any other of the ten comparable authorities in England, according to figures from the Office for Local Government (Oflog).
But the statistics show that as of 2021 the proportion of their adult populations with NVQ3 and above remained below the average for England’s combined authorities and London, and the region continued to lag behind the nation as a whole.
North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) by contrast had marginally above the national average of adults with this level of qualification, in spite of having one of the poorest records for successful completions of FE and courses in 2021-22. It was doing no more than maintaining the relative position it has held since records began in 2004.
NTCA said that other government datasets tell a different story. One showed North of Tyne above the UK average for achievement and above the North East as a whole. Another dataset compiled by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) showed North of Tyne comparing similarly with other parts of the region.
An NTCA spokesperson said: “We are committed to increasing access to further education and pleased with our recent progress. Data published by DfE shows that achievement rates in education and training has risen from 83% in the academic year 2020-21 to 84% in 2021-22 in the North of Tyne region. There are many datasets used to compare the work of combined and local authority FE and skills achievements…(C)are should be taken in comparing and interpreting the data.”
Overall, the three parts of the region have held roughly the same positions relative to each other for two decades, with North of Tyne leading, Tees Valley in second place and the North East Combined Authority area trailing
All this while the region as whole has trailed behind the rest of the country. It came close to catching up in the latter years of the Labour government but has now fallen further than ever behind.
The Oflog figures show that the number of 19-plus further education and skills achievements in England’s ten combined authorities and London in 2021-22 averaged 3,652 per 100,000 population. Tees Valley topped the table with 5,635 and the North East came second with 4,574 – even though it has not yet received devolved responsibility and funding for adult education. North of Tyne was below average with 3,435.
The equivalent statistics excluding apprenticeships show a similar picture, with Tees Valley (5,248) and the North East (4,196) again occupying the two top spots with North of Tyne (3,097) below the national average of 3,329.*
Achievements in this context are defined as successful course completions with at least a pass grade. Apprenticeships come under the central control of the Department for Education and the Education (DfE) and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). Under devolution, responsibility and funding for adult education is divided between ESFA and mayoral combined authorities (MCAs).
Tees Valley and six other MCAs took over their FE functions on 1 August 2019, and North of Tyne a year later. Tees Valley Combined Authority controls a devolved adult education budget of around £30mn a year and North of Tyne about £25mn. The new North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA), covering the current North of Tyne (mayoral) and North East (non-mayoral) combined authorities will get an annual adult education budget of about £60mn when it comes into formal existence next year.
The Oflog statistics come at a time when the North East England Chamber of Commerce is working with 3,500 regional business and the North of Tyne and Tees Valley MCAs, with government backing, to implement Local Skills Improvement Plans, which will run until March 2025.
Education and skills, alongside regional and local transport, are the two aspects of the economy where improvement is most needed if the North East as a region is to be levelled up. The Oflog statistics show a mixed picture. It is encouraging that Tees Valley and the North East had good records of success in 2021, but they still lag comparable parts of the country, according to Oflog.
These are early days in the devolution of adult education, particularly in the case of North of Tyne, so it would be hasty to come to conclusions about performance in this area yet. What is more, the pandemic will doubtless have affected outcomes in 2022. But when results for 2023 are published we will be hoping to see improvement.
As North East Bylines pointed out on 4 November in relation to a report on council debt, Oflog is a new body, aiming to empower citizens with information about their local authority, enabling them to hold local leaders to account. Its statistics still need to be treated with care, as NTCA says; other official datasets are available. Nevertheless, the Oflog figures are a reasonably straightforward, accessible and authoritative starting point for those wishing to explore a complex topic.