Delivering the Skills and Productivity Promises in the Party Manifestos: The Janet and John Strategy

Titanic hurtling through the fog to reach New York  before the coal runs out

Levelling up access to skills and job and breaking out of decades of stagnation in UK productivity per head requires a radical new approaches.

The campaign promises to date are like shuffling the deck-chairs on the Titanic while hurtling through the fog to reach New York before the coal runs out. We need a less risky strategy that builds on our strengths, not our weaknesses.

Even if action is in the King’s Speech with spend in the emergency budget implementation, that which requires legislative change and new money will not begin to make a difference much before 2028. By then another generation of students will have mortgaged their futures without acquiring the skills they need for a world of change and uncertainty


The JANET and JOHN Strategy for creating a World-class 21st Century UK Lifelong Education, Training and Employment Infrastructure


JANET (the UK National Research and Education network connecting Universities, Colleges and Research Centres) is funded by the Department of Education to offer secure connectivity to the  Schools regional broadband consortia (like London Grid for Learning). Their combined services have the ability to transform education including via low cost bulk procurement to make better use of the funds available.

That combination could, and should, be extended to transform local access to world-class training and lifelong learning, in co-operation with the relevant BDUK programmes (including the Shared Rural Network, while not forgetting the need to also address inner city not spots), to ensure that reliable, secure and affordable broadband connectivity is available to all schools and reliable and affordable 4G remote access to lifelong learning and careers advice and support is available to pupils and students (all ages), via community learning and safe spaces (libraries, community centres, village halls etc.).

Without such joined up access the campaign promises of levelling up and productivity growth cannot be delivered. With such access, local employer-driven partnerships, could transform the ability of the majority of the population, not just the favoured few, to acquire the skills and jobs of the future.       

 The Opportunity/Problem/Constraints Include: 

  • We have a myriad of organisations (from Government Departments and Agencies, through Examination Bodies, Education/Training providers, Professional Bodies and Trade Associations to Charities and Funding bodies) competing for authority, credibility, funding, status and survival. Most have no time to look at cross boundary co-operation to achieve better results for pupils, students and employers at low cost.
  • Several million adults on benefits are classed as unfit for full time work because of the long term effects of social isolation during lockdown. Many, perhaps most, are unable to locate and access, let alone navigate, suitable welfare-to-work pathways (perhaps beginning with volunteering and part-time work as “therapy”) and/or to afford on-line access (charges not just equipment). 
  • The social, political and media pressure to address widening digital divides (cultural, economic, geographic, social etc.) that have opened up with problems of safe, secure and reliable access to on-line services (equipment, broadband, privacy etc.) and the closure of home work clubs, safe study spaces and other remedial programmes.

The  JOHN (the Joint Occupational Hosting Network) Strategy

  • Assemble a package which brings BDUK broadband/mobile plans to improve business/consumer access (vouchers, shared rural network etc) alongside those looking to connect schools without high spend access and/or provide dual-sourcing to reduce vulnerability to disruption, making use of currently expected underspend in the period to 2025.
  • Require departments to look at what is already available via JISC, the Grids for Learning, the Career Hubs before planning new initiatives to replicate existing services which reach wider audiences (schools, colleges, universities and employers) at lower cost.
  • Allow HEDD, perhaps in co-operation with UCAS and major Recruitment Firms and Assessment/Vetting Agencies, to offer a service, using pupil and student numbering systems (and other sources) to offer joined-up access to records of experience and achievement – including for regulated industries like Financial Services and Health.
  • Permit JANET and the Grids for Learning to offer “uncharged” (alias paid for by employers and/or welfare to work or digital inclusion programmes) home, workplace and study centre access to life-long learning and careers advice activities (from home-schooling, through apprenticeship, training and professional updating) using existing secure addressing to enable such access to be constrained to accredited content, services and/websites.
  • Use the JISC procurement processes (arguable the most cost-effective in the UK) to agree bulk deals for access via those providing full-fibre broadband to social housing complexes, the shared rural network and inner city equivalents (mobile/wifi cover cannot be taken for granted in many university towns (link to Intel report) let alone others.
  • Agree, mandate and publicise employer-driven (as opposed to academic) performance measures for publicly funded and co-funded content programmes made available over the infrastructure and/or funded by (local, national or sectoral) Singapore style learning accounts (with employer contributions tax free and individual contributions tax exempt.

Implementation Programme

Begin with cross-party workshops to explore the formation of cross-boundary consortia (central and local government silos as well as employer sectors and professional bodies) to organise scalable pilots which demonstrate the potential of joining up and building on existing services and content to provide practical benefits on positive cash flow.

Topics include: 

  • Improving awareness of what is already happening and current access routines.
  • Cross referencing pupil, student, work experience, training and professional development records to enable better informed decisions (e.g. right to work, exemptions, job offers etc)
  • Content curation, access control, safeguarding and informed consent processes to improve quality/relevance, security against fraud and abuse and user confidence/support.
  • Moving assessments, including public examinations, on-line in an AI world.
  • Providing the skills to assemble and deliver flexible and/or customised hybrid programmes (some pupils/students physically present, other on-line with a variety of equipment, access and support/supervision) programmes from libraries of modules.
  • Processes for pooling and publicising funding sources and resources, both public and private.


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