1. Summary



The election in May 2015 will be unlike any other in living memory. The permutations of parties that may be involved in forming the next government are manifold, and so some may argue that we live in challenging times as we try to gaze into our crystal ball and see what might be on the horizon.

There is an ongoing focus on reform, with talk of new qualifications in English and mathematics and reviews of the efficacy of vocational qualifications now set to be a regular occurrence. New institutions have become an established part of the landscape, and continued deregulation – or ‘freedom and flexibility’ – is an accepted part of the political script in the arena of post-16 education.

It is in this complex context that the 157 Group, with the expert help of Nick Saunders and Glynne Stanfield from our friends at Eversheds LLP, has set out to explore the true nature of ‘freedom and flexibility’ in the skills system as we approach the general election.

Through the words of the business secretary, Dr Vince Cable MP, the party manifestos and a number of key stakeholders, we examine policy development in a number of critical domains. While the input is from politicians, external stakeholders, unions, staff and students in the skills system and employer organisations, the commentary is that of the 157 Group. We believe that challenging circumstances offer some real opportunities for colleges and all those in the skills system, as well as for our society to begin to produce the kind of world-class skills system we all want to see. This survey presents those opportunities within the context of where we find ourselves at the start of 2015


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