Fit for the Future: developing a post-school learning system to fuel economic transformation

Report of Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape provided to Scottish Ministers by James Withers. The Review considered skills functions and remits of Scotland's national public bodies, making 15 recommendations for future adaptations to support the National Strategy for Economic Transformation.


I was delighted to be asked by Scottish Ministers to lead this Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape. It comes at an opportune moment, as Scotland reaches a crossroads in the choices it makes about its future. The transformation facing our economy and society is enormous as changing technology, changing demographics, and a changing climate act as catalysts for the emergence of new industries and the reinvention of others. The opportunity is unique. Our choice is either to presume that what has gone before will continue to serve us or, as I advocate in this report, to invest now in reshaping the critical, national infrastructure that is our learning system so that it can equip our population with the skills and knowledge needed to fuel transformation; ensuring Scotland can capitalise on the opportunities ahead.

In taking forward this Review, I was clear that it should be evidence-led. It was important for me to understand the range of views and perspectives on what is working well in the current landscape, and what might need to change. This is why I put in place a call for written evidence at an early stage. This was supported by conversations with key stakeholders, businesses, users of the system and the national public bodies operating in the landscape. Through these discussions, webinars and submissions, I feel confident that those who wished to have their say have had the opportunity to do so and I want to thank all those who contributed and gave their views so freely and openly.

Before I started the work, I believed I knew the skills delivery landscape well having engaged with it in my posts as Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink and the National Farmers Union of Scotland. However, I quickly realised that the system was more complex and richer than I had experienced. After seven months of engagement, conversations and call for evidence submissions, I now have a deeper understanding of this multi-faceted landscape and its various actors and users. My eyes have been opened, for example, to the broad and pivotal role that colleges play in their regions and the critical importance of careers education in ensuring learners can make informed choices about their futures.

I have seen that there is much that is good in the current system and heard how it has served Scotland's needs well over the past fifteen years. However, this was never to be a Review with a rear-view mirror, nor an appraisal of past performance. My Terms of Reference were clear about the need for recommendations to be guided by future need and it is with that intent – to create a system that meets the needs of the opportunities and challenges ahead – that I submit these recommendations to Ministers. The scale of change I am proposing reflects the scale of transformation facing us and the magnitude of the opportunity for both success and failure in how Scotland chooses to respond.

The lack of consensus in the system means that change will not be easy. It may be uncomfortable for many people. My strong advice to Ministers is not to shape change based on the views of those with current delivery responsibilities. Instead, this change requires a ruthless focus on the users of the system; the people of Scotland for whom world-class lifelong learning can be the catalyst to unlock their potential and shape Scotland's economy and communities.

In the face of the challenges ahead, this may be the most important element of national infrastructure investment that Ministers could make over the next decade. Our skills delivery landscape should aspire to be world-class. It should be an area of distinct competitive advantage for Scotland. The recommendations in this report are developed to make a significant further step forward on that journey.

James Withers

Independent Advisor



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