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Females: Education

Question for Department for Education

UIN 154605, tabled on 19 February 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Government is taking to support women to access education to help their return to the labour market.

Answered on

1 March 2021

As we address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and prepare to seize the opportunities offered up by leaving the EU, it is vital that we support adults, irrespective of gender, to attain the skills that will be needed in the economy of the future. We recently published the white paper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth, focusing on giving people the skills they need so they can get great jobs in sectors the economy needs and boost this country’s productivity.

Starting this year, the government is investing £2.5 billion, rising to £3 billion when including Barnett funding for devolved administrations, in the National Skills Fund (NSF). This is a significant investment and has the potential to deliver new opportunities to generations of adults who may have been previously left behind, or who need to reskill and retrain. My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer also announced £375 million for the NSF at the Spending Review in November 2020, further information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/spending-review-2020. This includes £95 million funding for a new Level 3 adult offer and £43 million for Skills Bootcamps. Investment in skills through the NSF is vital, ensuring adults have the opportunity to progress into higher wage employment and to support those who need to retrain at different points throughout their lives.

From April 2021, we will be supporting any adult aged 24 and over who wants to achieve their first full Level 3 qualification – equivalent to two A-levels, or an advanced technical certificate or diploma – to access nearly 400 fully funded courses. Alongside the Level 3 adult offer, Skills Bootcamps offer free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, giving people the opportunity to build up sector-specific skills and fast-track to an interview with a local employer. We are seeing a demand for digital and technical Skills Bootcamps across many sectors and industries, including healthcare, where take up is higher amongst women than men. We have also introduced bootcamps that specifically aim to support women to access training in a range of digital and technical qualifications, including subjects known to be traditionally “male-dominated”. For example, the Software Engineering Academy for women in the West Midlands is designed to prepare women for careers in software engineering.

Through our lifelong loan entitlement, we will also make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly. This will allow them to space out their studies across their lifetimes, transfer credits between colleges and universities, and enable more part-time study.

We are also investing £1.34 billion in the 2020/21 academic year through the adult education budget (AEB), which will provide education and skills training for adults. The AEB fully funds or co-funds skills provision for eligible adults aged 19 and above from pre-entry to Level 3, helping them gain the skills they need for work, an apprenticeship or further learning.

Last year we introduced the Skills Toolkit, an online platform providing free courses to help individuals build the skills that are most sought after by employers. We have recently expanded the platform so that people can now choose from over 70 courses, covering digital, adult numeracy, employability, and work readiness skills, which have been identified as the skills employers need the most. These courses will help people stay in work or take up new jobs and opportunities.

In July last year, the Plan for Jobs was announced by my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which includes incentives for employers to take on new apprentices, including those over 25, and an additional £17 million to increase the number of sector-based work academy programme placements in the 2020/21 academic year.