Following on from the comments made by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the retiring head of Community Service Volunteering http://tinyurl.com/6y7ovnc the voluntary sector was delivered another kick in the teeth with the The Skills Funding Agency using a selection criteria that weighs heavily in favour of colleges despite many voluntary sector organisations having an extremely good record of delivering skills training to people who have disengaged from traditional training and education providers. This is at a time when cuts are severely affecting the funding opportunities available to the sector
In July 2010 The Skills Funding Agency changed its policy for selecting training providers from QPF (Qualified provider Framework) to something called ACTOR (Approved College and Training Organisation Register) and it is only from this register that they will be offering tenders to deliver skills training to specific areas of identified need, http://tinyurl.com/6fghnlm An example of this came to my attention last week they announced the chosen organisations who will deliver skills training to NEETs, or people not in employment, education or training. In the South West 4 of the 6 winning bids were made by colleges, which demonstrate a heavy bias towards colleges at the expense of voluntary sector providers.
The money for this training was provided by the European Social Fund who just over a year ago requested evidence on how voluntary sector training providers were engaging and being used in the subcontracting process of their funding. At roughly the same time, The Learning Curve, one of the major training and information bodies in the voluntary sector held their Voluntary Value Conference, where among other issues the discussion included the barriers faced by the voluntary sector which mainly focussed around the lack of financial incentive to work with people with more complex needs and voluntary sector organisations considering developing consortia to tender bids http://tinyurl.com/679povz
Why does this matter you may well ask, well these are sizable amounts of funding (between 2007-2010 over £1billion in UK alone) http://tinyurl.com/64b835j) supporting numerous projects aimed at those who are disengaged and disenfranchised from society who are more likely to have complex needs for whom, for whatever reasons school and college has not worked in the past so why would they go now?
I came across an example of this a few years ago with a European Social Fund project was run by a voluntary sector provider whose desk right next to mine. This project was aimed at teaching employment training and skills to people with mental health problems. I was amazed by the number of people who came to this project and benefitted hugely from it. Being a curious soul I engaged many of them in conversation asking them why they had joined this project and not more traditional educational providers. Without exception they all said they didn’t have the confidence to go to a big foreboding building where they would be surrounded by lots of people who were far cleverer than they were.
When the funding for the project ended all the participants were invited to the last day to share their experiences and let the trainer know what they were doing now. Many faces i was familiar with, one lady who had told me she couldn’t go to college because she was stupid was doing a degree in psychology at the Open University, another who had become self-conscious and depressed after losing her sight had taken the step of going to college and training in alternative therapy and is now self employed, another had become a drug and alcohol counsellor, this is just a few examples of the success a voluntary sector training provider can have and as I have liaised with other such organisations all of them have success stories of this nature.
In no way am I criticising schools and colleges who have provided me and thousands of others with an education that has served me well, but it has to be recognised that this educational route is not for everybody and that to those this funding is aimed at, offering what on paper will seem like just ‘another college course’ will not serve the purpose it was meant to, indeed a voluntary sector provider can often be the stepping stone to a college course and even higher education but under the current selection process there is a large risk of getting this wrong.
This means that in addition to the spending cuts from Local and Central government, the sector is now being restricted in placing tenders to provide services (not just skills training, which will in essence make David Cameron's vision of the Big Society undeliverable.