Third sector engagement and participation in the learning and skills sector

A research project to quantify the nature and extent of third sector involvement and participation in the delivery of learning and skills has produced its final reports and case studies.

Funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and delivered by a partnership of the Third Sector National Learning Alliance (TSNLA), Skills-Third Sector, NIACE, Fairtrain, HOLEX and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), the research set out to examine how the third sector can play a full role in learning and skills and in meeting wider government objectives. 

The research, which included a literature review, quantitative provider survey, focus groups and a statistical analysis of learner and provider records held by the Skills Funding Agency has been the largest study into the third sector and has provided a significant and rich source of evidence.

It has confirmed the many strengths of the third sector including its ability to take a holistic approach to delivery, providing an extensive role in outreach and learner support services, which are often the first step to engaging with ‘hard to reach’ learners and the capability to operate at a community or sub-regional level – all of which mean it well placed to contribute to the government’s priorities for learning and skills. Also confirmed was the ability of third sector providers in achieving high success and retention rates.

To demonstrate the benefits of working with the third sector, the report recommends: 

  • Improving and developing the evidence base. 
  • Utilising the unique expertise and strengths of the Third sector. 
  • Demonstrating the contribution the Third sector makes to social value and impact. 

To further developing the capability and capacity of the third sector to deliver learning and skills, the report recommends:

  • Enhancing the diversity of the learning and skills sector through the development of the third sector. 
  • Influencing the development of the supply chain, funding and contracting to take account of and to better support Third sector involvement and developing a range of income generation routes.
  • Developing the capacity of third sector organisations to lead, manage and deliver learning and skills provision and supporting activities. 

To improve third sector learning and skills delivery, the report recommends:

  • Improving participation, outcomes and achievements. 
  • Engaging more ‘hard to reach’ learners. 
  • Enhancing the quality of provision. 

To develop effective collaboration within and with the third sector, the report recommends:

  • Fostering effective engagement between the third sector, BIS and other Government departments. 
  • Encouraging more effective collaboration between the third sector and other providers including colleges, providers, and local authority adult education services. 
  • Supporting third sector providers to network, collaborate, pool resources and share.

This research work and collaboration between the third sector and government has led to the convening of a new Implementation Board to shape and oversee the development of a new strategic framework and implementation plan. The board will aim to maximize the potential of the VCS and third sectors to support disadvantaged people through learning and skills.

The Board will be chaired by an independent third sector representative and will include BIS, the Office for Civil Society, the Cabinet Office, the Skills Funding Agency, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, and Education Funding Agency. The board will be facilitated by NIACE as part of their ongoing work funded by BIS.

To download the executive summary and additional documents visit