UK National Delivery Plan 2023
By 2030, significantly reduce the proportion of individuals without essential digital skills and ensure the sustainability, and expansion, of these skills in response to changing technologies and needs.
What already exists
The ecosystem of digital skills provision is extensive. This includes education and skills providers, local authorities, community groups, awarding organisations, and more. There are a range of programmes and support offered by charities such as Digital Unite, Citizens Online, CAST, Good Things Foundation, and FutureDotNow. Digital skills support is provided by further education colleges, private training providers and social investment companies like We Are Digital.
Additionally, several private companies, including Google, Microsoft, BT and Barclays offer free online courses and resources aimed at enhancing people’s digital literacy and digital skills.
As technology continues to evolve, digital skills are becoming increasingly important in all aspects of daily life. The rapid digitisation of services highlights how vital these skills are to access government services, manage finances, and apply for jobs. They are also critical in the workplace, with approximately 82% of advertised jobs requiring some level of digital capability.45
It is crucial that digital skills interventions are adaptable to different contexts, capabilities, expectations, and needs, rather than being generic and discrete. Digital skills acquisition should not be limited to one-off interventions; instead, it should be an ongoing process that is customised to meet the requirements of each person.
Despite a full range of initiatives, programmes, and support for people to access digital skills support and training, the overall level of foundational digital skills across the UK population has not reduced significantly over time. It is imperative to establish a sustainable system that provides people with digital skills for both the present and the future.
Due to the devolution of powers over education and skills to the home nations, as well as significant powers over adult education devolved to combined authorities within England, it is unlikely that a unified approach will be feasible. However, this diversity also provides a significant opportunity to share knowledge and learning throughout all UK regions and nations.
Actions for 2023/24 Phase 1
4.1 Ensure Digital Skills Council prioritises action on essential digital skills.
4.2 Raise public awareness of the importance of digital skills and available support.
4.3 Expand digital champions programmes within organisations.
4.4 Undertake initial scoping review of high-priority areas where digital skills training can help reduce social inequalities.
Actions by 2030 Phase 2-4
4.5 Explore options for a pan-UK insight-sharing forum in relation to essential digital skills.
4.6 Ensure requirements to boost essential digital skills are integrated into local skills improvement plans.
4.7 Support programmes that build the digital skills of frontline public service staff, civil servants and third-sector staff.
4.8 Advocate for additional support to be provided to schools and colleges to embed digital across the curriculum.
4.9 Advocate for tech ambassadors programme within schools and FE colleges.
4.10 Advocate for a review of the essential digital skills landscape for adults across the UK.
Theory of Change
- UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review
- National Delivery Plan
- National Delivery Committee
- Digital inclusion ecosystem
- Stakeholder engagement and support
A joined-up review of essential digital skills
Essential Digital Skills across UK Nations
Source: Lloyds Bank Essential Digital Skills Index 2022
Equipping individuals with the skills to navigate digital services confidently is essential to addressing digital poverty. However, despite the widespread acknowledgement of the importance of digital skills in the workplace and daily life and the abundance of programs and initiatives designed to boost these skills, overall numbers have remained unchanged in recent times. Research conducted in 2014 estimated that around 21% of the UK population lacked basic digital skills.46 Fast forward almost nine years, and the 2022 Lloyds Essential Digital Skills index suggests that approximately 20% of the UK population still lack foundation-level digital skills.10 While direct comparability between these two data points is limited, they suggest a persistent skills gap over time that needs to be addressed.
The 2022 essential digital skills survey conducted by Lloyds Bank shows that the proportion of people without foundational essential digital skills is broadly similar across the four nations, albeit with slightly lower levels across Scotland and Northern Ireland and higher levels in Wales.10
To address this issue, it is essential to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers that are preventing people from developing digital skills. This plan proposes several policy mechanisms that must urgently be explored to improve support. However, it is important to note that the acquisition of digital skills depends on addressing the individual barriers and structural inequalities47 that impact the capacity of individuals to learn and acquire new skills. Closing the gap will not just rely on access to training but also on persuasion, flexibility in delivery, and working to address people’s concerns or uncertainties about whether digital is something for them.
In England, the Government has introduced free qualifications for adults with low digital skills. This is a positive step, but it is important to acknowledge that not everyone will benefit from a formal qualification. In fact, for individuals who have had negative experiences with formal education or have complex needs, formal learning and qualifications may be unsuitable. As such, policymakers across the UK should explore how funding usually attached to full digital qualifications can support informal learning for essential digital skills.
Yet it is also vital to consider how the ecosystem for essential digital skills support can be improved, whether this relates to the long-term saliency of the essential digital skills framework, a lack of signposting and motivation among the digitally excluded, insufficient employer investment in training or the position of digital skills within the education system. To examine these issues, we advocate for an independent review of the essential digital skills landscape across each of the four nations. This review could examine trends over time, regional and demographic differences, the composition of providers, courses, funding and the sustainability of the EDS framework. This should also investigate the cohorts of individuals that are most likely to need support and the interventions that can be most effective in their contexts.
Both the Digital Skills Council and the Digital Skills All-Party Parliamentary Group could provide important vehicles to help build up support for this kind of systemic review. Alongside this, there is a strong case to create a pan-UK digital skills forum to share insights and information from across the UK in terms of developing approaches to build essential digital skills.
In addition to developing individuals’ digital skills, it’s crucial to build support solutions that are accessible and convenient for everyone. This requires diverse options catering to different needs and preferences, such as remote tech support, home-based support or assistance at public places like community centres, libraries or supermarkets. The demand for digital skills can vary significantly, and digital capability can change over time, so it is essential to provide flexible and customised support that meets individuals where they are.
Digital skills in the workplace
In today’s modern workplace, digital skills are becoming increasingly crucial, and employers must invest in building these skills across their workforce to stay competitive. Employers must take an active role in training their employees and investing in digital skills programmes. By doing so, they will be able to provide their employees with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed, ultimately resulting in a stronger, more innovative, and adaptable workforce.
Several alliance members, including Digital Unite, Cast, We Are Digital, Citizens Online, and FutureDotNow, are actively engaged in creating digital champions programs and raising awareness about the importance of digital skills in the workplace. There is a great opportunity to build on this work and encourage more employers to create digital champions programmes. These programmes help employees improve their digital skills and foster a culture of knowledge-sharing and collaboration within the workplace. For private companies, creating digital champions can lead to developing employees for customer-facing and community volunteering roles. Additionally, this support must extend to supporting the development of digital skills across the workforce within the public sector, civil service and within the charity and third sectors.
Potentially, a greater focus on essential digital skills may be facilitated by incentivising employers. One option could be to advocate for government to repurpose the Apprenticeship Levy into a broader skills and training levy48, which could be utilised to provide digital skills programmes. However, this approach could impact the amount of funding available for apprenticeships overall, particularly among smaller businesses. Furthermore, broadening the Levy would not necessarily guarantee that the funds would be allocated to digital skills training unless specific restrictions were put in place. Alternatively, the government could incentivise employers to invest in non-apprenticeship training programs, such as tax credits or grants for digital skills training. This approach would encourage businesses to invest in a wider range of training programmes, leading to the development of a more skilled and diverse digital workforce.
What are essential digital skills?
The most widely used definition of essential digital skills is provided by the essential digital skills framework.
This framework breaks down essential digital skills for life and work across five areas. These include:
- Handling information and content
- Problem Solving
- Being safe and legal online
Essential digital skills at foundation level include capabilities such as:
- Turning on a device
- Using the available controls on a device
- Making use of accessibility tools on a device to make it easier to use
- Interacting with the home screen on a device
- Understanding that the internet allows access to information and content and that it connects through Wi-Fi
- Connect a device to a safe and secure Wi-Fi network
- Connect to the internet and open a browser to find and use websites
- Understand that passwords and personal information need to be kept safely as they have value to others
- Update and change password when prompted to do so.
Within the education system
Ensuring that young people are prepared for their future careers requires an active focus on teaching digital literacy and skills. Governments across the UK must support the development of digital skills among young people while also enabling education providers to integrate technology across the curriculum. It is imperative that schools, colleges, and universities are adequately supported to meet technology standards and are given the resources necessary to adopt digital strategies.
While efforts have been made to integrate technology into classrooms, one area that requires attention is teacher capacity and capability in relation to digital skills. Without teachers possessing the necessary skills and tools to integrate technology, transformative digital teaching cannot be achieved. To address these issues, it is crucial to provide training and ongoing support to teachers to enhance their digital skills and access to technology. Employers can play a critical role in increasing the capability and capacity of schools by offering volunteer support through a digital ambassadors programme. This programme would engage technology experts to work alongside teachers in schools to demonstrate digital skills and increase the competencies of young people. It would be particularly beneficial for teachers who may not be well-versed in technology and require additional support.
Ensuring that young people are prepared for their future careers requires an active focus on teaching digital literacy and skills. Governments across the UK must support the development of digital skills among young people while also enabling education providers to integrate technology across the curriculum.
Furthermore, the low uptake of GCSE Computer Science courses in schools and colleges, and declining levels of ICT apprenticeships,49 highlight the need for greater prioritisation of these courses alongside core subjects like maths and english. To prepare young people for the digital age, it is crucial to embed digital skills across the curriculum of schools and colleges. Digital skills encompass a range of competencies, including using digital tools for communication and collaboration, developing critical thinking skills when consuming and creating digital content, and understanding how to engage in safe and secure online practices. Encouraging the use of the upcoming functional digital skills qualification can be a practical way to promote and develop digital skills among young people.
In addition, Local Skills Improvement Plans50 can be used to ensure that a focus is given to digital skills development. This process brings together local authorities, education providers, employers, and other stakeholders to identify skills needs in their local area and develop plans to address those needs. By including digital skills in this process, local areas can ensure that their workforce is equipped with the skills needed in the economy.
Why digital access matters:
Unlocking opportunities through education.
Why digital access matters to schools:
The digital journey that we’re on is really helping to enhance students’ exposure to these key personal skills and helping them to prepare more fully and more readily for future study and the workplace. Student and staff audits are now demonstrating this increasing impact. We’ve still got some way to go, but access to digital resources and new ways of approaching teaching and learning is certainly having an impact.
– Selwyn Thompson, Duke’s Secondary School
I think the further we’ve progressed with our digital journey, the more we’ve realised that digital shouldn’t be an optional extra,. It should actually be at the heart of a healthy curriculum, at the heart of good teaching and learning. Digital performs a key role, albeit as part of a wider approach to personalising learning. It provides increasingly engaging learning opportunities, helps with raising student achievement, their confidence in learning and an openness in terms of communication, and reflects the significance and impact of digital technologies in today’s society and workplace.
– Selwyn Thompson, Duke’s Secondary School
Access to technology is becoming more important in all aspects of education, and it is crucial that schools, colleges and universities are given the support they need to embed digital skills.
In the North East of England, Duke’s Secondary School faced significant challenges when it came to digital access and skills. Prior to the pandemic, digital was viewed as an add-on rather than a necessity. However, when the lockdown hit, the school realised the importance of digital skills to ensure that pupils could continue their studies.
A significant proportion of the school’s students lacked access to suitable digital devices, creating a significant barrier to learning. However, the school recognised the benefits that digital skills could bring to its students’ education and decided to develop a digital strategy. To do so, the school consulted with stakeholders and developed key performance indicators and strategic aims.
With the help of the Learning Foundation, the school was able to start providing digital support and secure device donations. However, one of the challenges that the school faced was that many students lacked an appropriate workspace or quiet space to work away from school. This proved to be difficult and impacted the quality of their engagement with online learning.
Despite these challenges, students’ engagement and performance have improved since the school implemented its digital strategy. The school has discovered new and exciting ways to engage students in their learning. Tools like Google Classroom and Google Suite have empowered students to take charge of their learning and to develop essential digital skills like using Google Sheets, Slides, Docs and other subject-specific apps and packages.
The impact of the school’s digital strategy has been significant. Students are now more engaged in their learning, and their performance has improved. Moreover, they feel more independent in their learning and have developed essential digital skills that will be useful in future employment.
Investing in digital skills and access can have a significant impact on students’ engagement and performance. While challenges may arise, it is essential to provide access to digital resources and to prioritise digital skills in education to prepare students for the modern world.
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Read the overview
We have condensed the following National Delivery Plan 2023 into a 10 page PDF. This provides an overview of our approach, the six missions and their suggested actions.