01Policy 1: Invest in adult education and skills to open up opportunities and increase productivity in the combined authority

Policy 1: Invest in adult education and skills to open up opportunities and increase productivity in the combined authority

  • Target support for adult education in areas where it is most needed. Bradford and Wakefield need the most support for adult education. The mayor should also establish a UCAS-like portal for apprenticeships, similar to that created by the mayor of the Liverpool City Region.
  • Use influence to shine a spotlight on underperformance in education. Children’s learning is a major priority in West Yorkshire, and the mayor, despite not having direct power over schools, can do a lot using their ‘soft power’ to highlight this issue and support extracurricular learning.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority makes a significant contribution to the national economy of more than £55 billion a year. However, productivity sits below the national average, which is in part a result of challenges around education and skills.

In Bradford and Wakefield in particular, the key issue is the lack of skills among workers and poor GCSE performance. While this is a problem across the combined authority, it is a particular issue in Bradford — despite making improvements over the past decade, it still has a share of people with no qualifications that sits six percentage points above the national average. Educational attainment for those with qualifications is an even greater issue with the share of the population achieving good GCSEs in the city sitting 10 percentage points below the national average. Improving in these two areas will be a key first step in improving the productivity of the combined authority by allowing people to access the employment opportunities that it offers as well as attracting new businesses.

The new mayor should approach these issues in two ways. The first is to use the new £63 million Annual Adult Education Budget to target support towards Bradford and Wakefield where it is most needed. The challenge in these places is to upskill those who may not have access to or information about the courses that are on offer. Support should therefore focus on ensuring that the courses available are as accessible as possible, for example by expanding the option of evening and weekend classes as well as shorter and more informal qualifications. In addition to this, providing more guidance and information on the courses and options on offer may help to increase uptake. To help this the new mayor should consider rolling out a system similar to the UCAS-like portal Be More that the Liverpool City Region put in place for apprenticeships.

The second is to use their ‘soft power’ to shine a spotlight on the relative underperformance of pupils at a GCSE level. While the Mayor will not have formal powers in this area, the office will bring with it influence to help shape school performance. In policy terms, this can be done by extending support for extracurricular learning through replicating programmes such as Sheffield’s Children’s University] as championed by neighbouring mayor Dan Jarvis for his city region, which gives credits for certain activities undertaken outside of school time.