Written evidence submitted by the City and Guilds Group


Education Committee submission from the City & Guilds Group into the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services


This is a submission from City & Guilds Group, which is made up of City & Guilds, ILM, Kineo, The Oxford Group, Gen2 and Intertrain. Our vision is for a world in which everyone has the skills and opportunities to succeed and we support over 4 million people across the world each year to develop skills that help them into a job, develop on that job and to prepare for their next job. As a charity, we’re proud that everything we do is focused on achieving this purpose. 

Through our assessment and credentialing, corporate learning and technical training offers, we partner with our customers to deliver work-based learning programmes that build competency to support better prospects for people, organisations and wider society. We create flexible learning pathways that support lifelong employability, because we believe that people deserve the opportunity to (re)train and (re)learn again and again – gaining new skills at every stage of life, regardless of where they start. 


Our Foundation activities amplify our purpose by helping to remove barriers to getting into a job, celebrating best practice on the job, and advocating for jobs of the future.

We also work with our Industry Skills Board, a group of businesses of various sizes and from a range of sectors who hope to encourage successful employer adoption of skills policy and reform by using their experience and expertise to hold the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), government and other public bodies to account on policy implementation in relation to skills, training and education, to help develop the workforce of the future.

Given the nature of our work, this submission focuses on those areas of education and the education system which we work in and have experience and expertise in. Although many of the points raised here highlight steps which we believe should be taken as part of the recovery from Covid19, we believe that they are all things that as a sector, would need to be tackled anyway. From our perspective, it’s not wholesale change that’s needed in the sector. In skills and education this is too often the response where policies and initiatives are stopped before reviewing what is and is not working in the first instance. In respect to Covid19 and the future, we would recommend examining those policies already in the pipeline such as the National Skills Fund and the National Retraining Scheme, and look to adapt them to better meet the immediate challenges we know the sector will face.

Coming out of the Covid19 pandemic, many businesses will be looking at how they carry out their work, and hand in hand with this goes their skills and training requirements. As a business we know that there is no one size fits all approach to this, but we believe that businesses will now be starting to look at this much more closely and be looking for new delivery methods. Coming out of the crisis presents the opportunity to reset the ethos and structures of the FE and skills sectors to better help people retrain and reskill throughout their working lives and support businesses looking to support their employees.

It is also of the utmost importance that the FE and skills sector works together now with one voice and one purpose to ensure that the whole vocational and technical education supply chain is maintained throughout this difficult period and that learners are looked after now.  We will shift from in the space of 6 months from times of record low unemployment to a rise in unemployment the likes of which we have not seen for 30 years.  As the economy constricts so will employment opportunities and we labour market will shift from an employer ‘battle for skills’ to learner market ‘battle for jobs’

This learner market will also be a different mix of ages and abilities that will require alternative solutions not best served by conventional 16-24 Further and Higher Education models.  We know already that the blend of the labour market is shifting towards over 50s and the majority of those out of work by the Autumn will include skilled and experienced adults, young talent eager to enter the world of work, carers seeking to return to work through necessity and the perennially excluded cohort of NEETs and long term unemployed.  All of this may further damage progress towards addressing the challenge of social mobility and diversity within the workplace and some employment sectors will be hit much harder and for longer than others.  Indeed we must plan for the fact that some things will never be the same as they were before, and so recognising the value of transferable skills that allow learners to move from career A to career B will be vital.


Coronavirus is rewriting all the rules of what is possible across society, and we as an organisation, just like many other businesses have had to change our thinking and ways of working almost overnight. For us this meant not just our own staff but the many learners who we as an organisation help.

Whilst awaiting for clarification on how learners undertaking vocational and technical qualifications and apprenticeships would be assessed we worked with the Federation of Awarding Bodies to highlight the complexity of the post-16 skills landscape, made up of state-funded colleges and private training providers who between them cover an array of different specialisms, and offering a diverse range of courses and apprenticeships.

With these different specialisms also comes a variety of ways to assess and test the ability of learners on these different training pathways. Many vocational-technical qualifications (VTQs), for example, are non-linear or competency-based. Whilst teacher estimation is suitable for some vocational and technical qualifications and apprenticeships, this is by no means the case for all. It has also highlighted that an education and training model that favours one attempt at terminal end-weighted assessment has been hit hardest by the pandemic crisis.  Models of assessment that blend some continuous or phased achievements with terminal holistic assessment have found it easier to gather some evidence of capability and performance.

This means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for teaching or assessing vocational-technical qualifications or apprenticeships. Innovation and creative thinking were therefore required in order to attempt to progress as many learners as possible through the system.  We must not underestimate how vital a role technology has played in these solutions and without broadband, the internet and accessible communication devices many of these responses would not have been possible.  That is not to say it has been easy and so further investment in education and training technology infrastructures must be addressed as well as affordable and equitable access to technology devices and data tariffs for learners.

We worked to find ways to enable some tests to be undertaken online at home for Apprenticeships plus some vocational qualifications, and for our Technical Awards, Technical Certificates and Tech Levels across both one-year and two-year programmes of study we have provided detailed guidance on how best to estimate vocational skills ability through adapted assessment models. As part of this we worked with Ofqual and other key stakeholders on a proposal to estimate assessment grades combined with quality assurance validation.

The work with OfQual and regulators in Devolved Nations has seen the creation of an Extraordinary Regulatory Framework allowing the dispensations that innovation requires. It will be crucial now that the regulatory framework adapts long term to a digitally enabled skills and education system, as right now delivering assessments online and use of remote proctoring etc has to have special dispensation. This all stifles innovation and our ability to evolve more effective and efficient models of accreditation that match learner and employer need but also make better use of investment – whether from State, employer or the learner themselves.

Within a few weeks we have seen the sector undergo a rapid phase of digital transformation, something that otherwise might have taken a decade, at least. In this regard we have been able to innovate further and harness the benefit of the City & Guilds Group offer through the use of more digital methods of learning and assessment.  A range of our online learning content was provided free to ensure that we kept learning live and our centres and students could stay connected.

While classroom-based tests may have been carried out supported by e-assessment for many years, we’ve had to revolutionise our approach, working with partners to create assessments robust enough for learners to carry out tests alone in their own homes while being invigilated online.

We launched an initial pilot with 10 training providers, including a remote assessment pilot with Seetec Outsource. To date, we have 161 centres signed up, 17 apprenticeship standards approved for remote invigilation and over 71 endpoint-assessment knowledge tests have taken place for apprentices. This also included a period of time to seek approval from IfATE, sector External Quality Assurance Organisations and Regulators and so is a remarkable achievement in ten weeks.  Had such approaches already been embedded as options within acceptable modes of delivery, these services could have been switched overnight.

E-assessment includes using technology to create and deliver a test as well as to mark it, invigilate or make judgements on outcomes. This could range from automatically marking a multiple-choice test using computer software, through to using video conferencing to facilitate an online discussion or view evidence remotely. It could even involve using virtual reality to demonstrate a skill, such as welding, flight simulation or machinery maintenance.

As well as improving efficiency and effectiveness of testing for those setting the assessments, e-assessment removes many barriers faced by learners, businesses, colleges and awarding bodies. For instance, where learners might already be engaging in distance learning, e-assessments can remove the need to travel to test centres or simply make the choice of test location and time more flexible – and thus make sure that geography and availability are no longer such obstacles. Remote assessment can also improve flexibility in the timing of assessments. The freedom offered by digital assessment is especially beneficial for apprentices, where learners and employers lack spare time to travel to test centres.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone has the same access to technology, from lacking the funds to purchase sufficient data contracts through to not having good enough broadband coverage – something the government must change, and fast, as we increasingly live our lives online. So, while we want to invest in digital and remote testing and see it as something enriching that’s here to stay, until the technology is even more affordable and democratised, it must be seen as part of a blended, more flexible offer.

This mammoth move to online learning and assessment may have been born out of necessity, but it is not – and shouldn’t be – just a phase or temporary measure. For apprenticeships, rigorous online learning and assessment can bring a multitude of benefits for learners, training providers and businesses – and continued innovation will bring even more opportunities to improve the process for all involved.

Education often lags behind when it comes to digital adoption, yet these past few months have shown us all how possible it is to innovate at speed. Enhancements in AI mean we have the potential to continue pushing the boundaries of what can be judged and processed by a computer and there is so much more we can do together to drive this digital revolution. What we must avoid at all costs, as we come out of this current crisis, is any backwards steps to the familiarity of an old normal when the opportunity of a new normal could be so beneficial and appropriate.

Our Industry Skills Board (ISB) have been looking at the fact that the current skills system was designed to meet the requirements of employers struggling to find the right skills for their organisations.  Only a few months ago, the phrase ‘the battle for talent’ was still being used to describe how organisations competed for people in a jobs market where there were not enough people to satisfy demand. 

The ISB acknowledge that this has completely reversed.  The combination of a record fall in job vacancies (the fastest fall in 22 years) and record unemployment, means that it is now workers who are battling to find work.  Lower paid workers are the most affected; the Resolution Foundation reporting that one in three have either lost their job or have been furloughed.  Higher paid workers are also feeling the impact; the Harvard Business Review described it as an unprecedented opportunity to hire talent.  A sellers’ market (with fewer people than jobs) has flipped to a buyers’ market (with fewer jobs than people), overnight.

At the same time, the UK economy has experienced its largest contraction since records began.  The Office for Budget Responsibility and Bank of England have estimated GDP may fall by 13-14% this year.  In comparison, the largest single-year fall prior to this was 4.2% during the financial crisis.  In this shrunken economy, it may take some time for jobs to return.

Looking forward, bold policymaking and commitment from government will be essential, so that together we can create the future of more blended, flexible and digital learning and assessment. For apprenticeships, the concern is the drop in starts which we saw with the most recent data, a trend which is predicted to continue. There are critical decisions that that the Government can take as it relaxes containment measures and the economy begins to reopen.

Our suggestions for these actions, are:


What contingency planning can be done to ensure the resilience of the sector in case of any future national emergency

To help the FE and apprenticeships sectors remain resilient coming out of the crisis, into the future and in the eventuality of any future national emergency we need to establish a lifelong learning culture in this country. Further protections to FE and skills shouldn’t need a contingency plan in place if the time is taken to build a lifelong learning system which encompasses educational and skills requirements throughout peoples’ lives and which includes measures for retraining and reskilling in the eventuality of future national emergencies, economic downturns or recessions. This will also provide a more robust lifelong learning system as the reality of multiple careers and lifelong learning becomes the new normal.

The City & Guilds’ ISB have also explored what future challenges there could be in the FE and apprenticeships sector as we see the easing of containment measures. They note that the different environment will test the very assumptions that underpin the current skills system as well as proposing what focus and direction shouldn’t be lost as we look to the future:

Looking in more detail at lifelong learning, the solution must be able to accommodate an aggregated (two-year study programmes) and disaggregated (smaller but meaningful chunks of learning) curriculum model.  The skills curriculum remains common and can be accessed at any stage and age of learning but the shape of size of engagement is dictated by learner and employer needs not convenience of educational and training organisations or ease of funding models.  It is this model that allows linear progression from age16 onwards, but more vitally it supports sideways and backwards movement as lifelong learners navigate multiple careers and a longer working life.

We need to look at the transition period from 16 to 24, and then what happens beyond that, so that individuals have a lifelong entitlement to learning in some shape or form. That isn't to say this means that the state is going to pay for it all, but there is an argument to be had to look at:

Before the crisis struck it was clear that there were already skills challenges across many sectors, and as we found in our Missing Millions research, underemployment was a huge problem.   The OECD has predicted that the number of people who will need to retrain sits at 38-42% given the impending impact of Artificial Intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution and this in the UK was set against a decade of cuts to adult education and under investment in the TVET Further Education sector.

The Learning and Work Institute noted in its Adult Participation in Learning survey published in January 2020 that the number of adults taking part in learning has fallen to a record low and has dropped by nearly 4 million since 2010.

As we look to the future of learning, the concept of a linear, three-stage life, where you move from education into a job that then takes you through to retirement, is a thing of the past. Acquiring new skills once in your lifetime, to see you through an entire career, is just not realistic anymore. Our Learning Next research revealed that while 81% of workers believe the skills they need to do their job will change over the next five years, a quarter (24%) of GB workers are not getting sufficient feedback from their managers or colleagues on the skills they should be learning.

This is not to say that this should be done at the expense of younger learners, however the Government must consider the ambitions and aspirations of our young and adult population alike. We also know there will be a cohort of people leaving education and training without the options previous generations have enjoyed given the rapidly rising unemployment rates as a result of Covid19. Therefore, the creation of a long-term sustainable system, which recognises that most people don’t take a linear education pathway to employment is needed. To do this however requires targeted and consistent investment and associated success measures and deliverables. One suggestion for helping this investment to be more effective is by devolving more skills and education budget to local areas and Combined Authorities, a suggestion proposed by the LGA in its recent Local Skills Deficits and Spare Capacity report. This would then allow local areas to look at their needs, and problems on a more localized basis.

Our Missing Millions report, published earlier this year touched on many of these points. Points which are still relevant but will be even more stark now with the impact of Covid19 taken into account.

The report is based on findings from labour market economists Emsi and a poll of 5,000 working age people which indicated only half (53%) have received workplace training in the last three years, and a third (34%) have either never received training, or did so more than five years ago. The lack of opportunity for skills development leads to only a third (33%) of the UK working age population feeling positive about their future career prospects.

In addition to this, 60% of respondents stated that they felt the skills they did have were underutilised at least 50% of the time, suggesting that employers are not fully capitalising on the skills they already have within their businesses.

Our research also found:

Concluding our report, to help address these problems and to build a lifelong learning system which is robust enough to withstand future national emergencies and recessions:

The rise in unemployment will be largely filled by the underutilised adult workers we highlight in the Missing Millions report, who will need development support more than ever if they are to return quickly into employment.  It will also be filled by skilled workers who may never be able to return to their old profession as the shape of the labour market changes – they will need swift and effective support to reskill and consider new professions that match their transferable skills and experience.  A modern and renewed lifelong learning system drawing on the recommendations we have made will offer a more sustainable education and training model that is both fit for purpose and more able to sustain a crisis of the level we are experiencing just now.

June 2020