Merton’s cabinet reaffirmed last night (16 February 2015) its commitment to ensuring adult education services should remain in the borough, and approved the recommendation to move to a commissioning model.
At the cabinet meeting, members recognised that, in the current financial climate, the council needs to change the way it makes adult education available to residents to ensure its financial resilience and sustainability for the future.
A commissioning model would mean a number of established learning institutions providing classes at various locations across the borough, making adult education more accessible to a greater number of people.
Key to the cabinet’s commitment to keeping adult education in Merton are 13 principles which reflect the residents’ responses to the council’s consultation. They will be used when identifying suitable providers. The principles, agreed at a cross-party scrutiny meeting, state that the new adult education service should retain the same breadth of courses, that courses should help with developing skills and boosting employment prospects and that adults with disabilities and their carers should be involved in the commissioning process for courses specifically tailored to them.
The council will work to ensure that the current tutors will transfer over to the new providers. It will also gradually phase in changes, allowing officers to work closely with groups who may have specific needs, so the process can be as smooth as possible.
Merton Council cabinet member for education Councillor Martin Whelton said: “We have always been committed to ensuring adult education remains in Merton, but we have to be practical in these tough financial times when we need to save £32 million across all services over the next four years. And that means not standing still. In order to realistically have a quality adult education service in Merton well into the future, we have to make it as financially resilient to funding decisions from the Skills Funding Agency which has seen a £430,000 reduction in our grant in recent years with further reductions that run the risk the of losing it altogether.
“From our consultation we know what’s important to people and will make every effort to ensure that there will continue to be a supportive and nurturing environment for learners and it is why we have agreed 13 commissioning principles for the adult education service which achieves value for money, protects learning and allows flexibility in the provision of the service.”
The 13 principles agreed by cabinet
The commissioning model needs to ensure that the newly commissioned service meets the expectations of residents and learners. Officers developed a series of commissioning principles to underpin future commissioning. These are derived from the consultation and are as follows:
- That commissioning should look to continue the same breadth of courses currently provided. This does not mean that the courses must be the exact same year to year as needs change but that the breadth and variety should be maintained
- That courses should continue to be delivered within the borough
- That the economic development and skills agendas of the council should be prevalent through the commissioning process
- That TUPE regulations will be followed and every effort made to retain the highly valued tutors
- That the environment and support of each provider should be assessed as part of the commissioning process
- That adults with disabilities and their carers should be involved in the commissioning process for courses specifically tailored for them
- That discussions about the provision of facilities for art and craft courses should involve user representatives from those courses
- That a focus on wellbeing and aging well and on helping learners to gain employment should be key elements of the commissioning process to go alongside any focus on qualifications and learning
- That hobbies, crafts and non-vocational skills courses should still be commissioned in line with SFA funding
- That fees should be set by the council as part of the commissioning process and controlled accordingly
- That effort should be made to ensure provision is spread around the borough and not just located at one site, although quality and cost will remain key considerations.
- That, where possible, services should be commissioned with not-for-profit organisations
- That the outcomes for learners should be closely monitored to ensure that job prospects, well-being, support for vulnerable learners and safeguarding aspects are all considered as part of the commissioning cycle.