Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Fourth Report

1  Introduction

1.  The Draft Legislative Programme for the 2008-09 Parliamentary Session, published in May 2008, lists proposals for legislation to be brought before Parliament in the 2008-09 Session.[1] One of the flagship bills is to be a bill dealing with education and skills, with the following purposes:

  • To promote excellence in schools and help ensure that every school becomes a good school;
  • To ensure a customer-driven skills and apprenticeship system; and
  • To create a new regulator for qualifications and tests and a development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications.

2.  Clauses containing provisions relating to apprenticeships were published in draft on 16 July 2008, as the Draft Apprenticeships Bill.[2] The Secretaries of State at the Departments for Children, Schools and Families and for Innovation, Universities and Skills wrote to the respective Select Committee Chairmen on 15 July 2008 inviting the two Committees to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. We have been pleased to do so. We welcome the statement in The Draft Legislative Programme 2008/09 that publication of legislation in draft "can be extremely valuable where the subject matter is of particular interest to Parliament and where Committees can improve texts on the basis of expert evidence".[3] We encourage the Government to continue to publish legislation in draft in order to allow early Parliamentary scrutiny as well as greater public engagement with the law-making process. In the case of the forthcoming bill on education and skills, we encourage the Government to publish for pre-legislative scrutiny clauses relating to the promotion of excellence in schools and the achievement of the objective that every school becomes a good school.

3.  We urge the Government, however, to bear in mind that scrutiny of draft legislation takes time if it is to be done properly. We take issue with the statement made in the Foreword to the Draft Bill that this Committee (and the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee) would scrutinise it. We remind the Government that Committees decide upon their own programmes, and assumptions should not be made about how they will spend their time.

4.  Our Report should be read in conjunction with a parallel Report by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Committee, to be published at the same time as ours.[4] We did not issue a call for evidence on the Draft Bill. Our findings are based largely upon two oral evidence sessions held in October 2008[5] and two written submissions, from the Edge Foundation and from the British Chambers of Commerce. All the written and oral evidence is published with this Report. We have also taken into account certain points raised in responses to the Government's consultation exercise on the Draft Bill,[6] as well as the consolidated experience of Committee members themselves.

5.  This Report does not attempt to conduct an exhaustive appraisal of every aspect of the Draft Bill, partly as the policy lead for the Bill lies with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. We have instead concentrated upon those aspects specific to young people of school age; and we also make some general observations regarding the appropriateness of other changes affecting the 14-19 education and training field in the context of the present economic challenges.

Apprenticeships in England today

6.  The Government defines an apprenticeship as "a form of vocational training based on a mixture of work-based and theoretical learning".[7] There are four core participants in any Government-funded apprenticeship:

  • The employer, who offers a place, is the primary provider of learning in the workplace, pays the apprentice a wage, and supports their learning time requirements;
  • The apprentice, who is expected to contribute to the productivity of the employer and to undertake the requisite learning;
  • The training provider, which provides off-the-job tuition and often takes on much of the bureaucratic workload associated with the apprenticeship on behalf of the employer; and
  • The Government, which provides funds through the Learning and Skills Council to cover some of the training costs of the apprenticeship, although typically not the wage costs of training time.[8]

Many employers fund their own training programmes for staff: although not necessarily termed "apprenticeships", they often offer work-based training which bears all the characteristics of the best Government-funded apprenticeships and which meets or exceeds them in terms of quality.[9]

7.  The number of apprenticeships has not remained constant over the years. At times of economic recession and retrenchment, employers have often seen apprenticeships as investments which are difficult to justify.[10] Numbers of people in apprenticeships dropped dramatically in the early 1990s, prompting the Government to launch the Modern Apprenticeship scheme in 1994 and to commit public funding to apprenticeships.

Table 1: Apprentices in employment
Apprentices (in thousands)






































Female (figures in brackets are % of total)





55 (17%)

58 (18%)

73 (21%)

65 (17%)

59 (17%)

69 (20%)

63 (20%)

45 (19%)

42 (20%)

40 (22%)

36 (21%)

35 (20%)

37 (19%)

30 (15%)

35 (16%)



















* Figures from 1986 are compiled on a different basis from those for 1979 and

1983-85 and are not directly comparable.

Source: Labour Force Survey; HC Deb 14 June 1993 col. 450W and 10 November 2000 col. 438W

Numbers of people starting Government-supported apprenticeships rose rapidly up until recently, as Table 2 below shows:Table 2: Apprenticeship Starts, 1995/96 to 2006/07


1. These figures represent learners starting an apprenticeship or an advanced apprenticeship. Additionally, there are a very small number of higher level apprenticeships included in the 2006/07 total. Figures for 2005/06 and 2006/07 include participants in workplace-based programme-led Apprenticeships: 16,100 in 2005/06 and 14,000 in 2006/07.

2. Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.

3. Figures for 1995/96 and 1996/97 were compiled on a different basis and are not directly comparable.

Sources: HC Deb, 23 July 2002 col. 991W and 3 November 2008 col. 171W.

Significantly, completion rates have risen substantially, from 23% in 2001-02 to 63% in 2006-07.[11]

The Government's ambitions for apprenticeships

8.  The Government has ambitions to expand the number of apprenticeships yet further. It cites evidence that:

The Government also maintains that apprenticeships are "an important option for those who learn most successfully in work-based learning environments" and can "facilitate the often difficult transition between full-time learning and work".[12]

9.  The Leitch Review set out an aspiration for 400,000 apprentices in England by 2020, and the Government has committed over £1 billion to help achieve such an increase by 2010-11, if apprenticeship places of the requisite quality are available.[13] In 2006, the Government announced that, by 2013, each "suitably qualified young person" would be entitled to an apprenticeship place. In its most recent strategy review document, World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for all,[14] published jointly by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills in January 2008, the Government identified five barriers which needed to be overcome in order to permit the growth in the apprenticeship programme which would allow the objective to be met. Those barriers are:

  • the quality of apprenticeships, which is variable;
  • the planning and delivery system, which is distracted by competing policy priorities;
  • the supply of employer places, which is insufficient to meet demand;
  • the status of apprenticeships, which has suffered from a reluctance among the highest-performing learners to enter vocational and work-based learning structures; and
  • inequality of access to apprenticeships.[15]

10.  Before addressing the Draft Bill itself, we make one specific point on access to apprenticeships. The figures in Table 1 in paragraph 7 above demonstrate that the proportion of females engaged in apprenticeships up until 2000 was roughly stable, at about 20%. The Government recognises that there are serious inequalities apparent in the apprenticeship system, with females, black and ethnic minorities and disabled people seriously under-represented. In addition, female apprentices, for example, tend to receive lower pay and less training time and have more limited prospects of progression than their male counterparts.[16] The Government has some understanding of the causes of inequality but admits that its information is incomplete.[17] It argues, however, that the recent general initiatives in respect of apprenticeships will help to address inequalities.[18] In addition, the Government states that it will mandate the National Apprenticeship Service to undertake positive action to address these deeply entrenched problems.[19]

11.  We are concerned that, without a full understanding of the root causes of inequality in the apprenticeships system, any initiatives adopted by the Government to address the problem will be of limited effectiveness. We urge the Government to investigate further the reasons for entrenched inequalities in the apprenticeship system and to take specific, targeted action on the basis of a sophisticated system of monitoring participation.

The Draft Bill and its purpose

12.  The Government signalled in the Queen's Speech at the start of the 2007-08 Parliamentary Session that it intended to bring forward legislation on apprenticeships. The World-class Apprenticeships strategy review document published in January 2008 set out what legislation the Government's strategy implied; and the Draft Apprenticeships Bill is the result.

13.  The provisions of the Draft Bill include:

As the Explanatory Notes to the Draft Bill point out, implementation of the various provisions will involve a number of agencies and authorities, notably the Learning and Skills Council for England and, ultimately, the proposed National Apprenticeship Service.

14.  We record at the outset the general enthusiasm in evidence for apprenticeships in principle and for the Draft Bill in seeking to raise the status and standards of apprenticeships. Andy Powell, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation,[21] described apprenticeships as "one of the most powerful forms of learning"[22] and spoke of his "strong belief" that apprenticeships as a form of learning and development were "a good thing". He described as "absolutely sensible" the aspiration that, in ten years' time, 20% of young people should be placed in apprenticeships; and he welcomed the steps set out in the Bill which he believed strengthened and supported that aspiration.[23] He added that "if you want significant numbers of young people to learn in this way and have this path to success—which I think is important—it is probably unlikely to happen without some stimulation from Government".[24]

15.  Mr Bartley, Chief Executive of UK Skills,[25] welcomed the inclusion within the Draft Bill of a guarantee of an apprenticeship place for every suitably qualified young person who applies for one: he believed that it would help to achieve the target of 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020 set out in the Leitch Report.[26]

16.  Mr Nick Edwards, Vice-Principal with responsibility for Learning and Skills at Lewisham College, welcomed the Bill as a measure which would "give momentum" to the Government's commitment to apprenticeships and "give actual leverage" to delivering them.[27] He argued forcefully for apprenticeships as an option for young people for whom a school environment was not stimulating:

"Apprenticeships will help young people to stay at school and train until 16 to 18. A lot of young people whom we deal with are school sick. They want to leave school and go into the world of work. Putting them on an academic or on an applied learning programme in a school will not help them. They are ready to go out into the world of work. An apprenticeship is exactly the right programme for them. People learn quicker in the world of work than in colleges and schools."[28]

17.  Much of the Bill is devoted to enshrining in legislation a framework, already partly in existence, for ensuring that the quality of Government-funded apprenticeships is high. The question arises, however, as to whether the laudable aims of the Draft Bill could be achieved without legislation and the attendant demands upon Parliamentary time. The Minister of State for Schools and Learners, the Rt Hon Jim Knight MP, gave a series of reasons why legislation was justified, one being that there was a need for a more focused delivery body for apprenticeships—the National Apprenticeship Service.[29] Although we welcome the intention to establish the National Apprenticeship Service as a co-ordinating body, and although some of the functions to be undertaken by the Service are set out in the Draft Bill, we note that there is no explicit reference to the Service itself in any of the clauses. The Minister's argument on this count is therefore not entirely convincing.

18.  We are somewhat more persuaded by the Minister's argument that a statutory basis for the apprenticeship guarantee will create leverage over providers to ensure that young people do indeed have an option to pursue an apprenticeship in one of two chosen sectors. We do, however, have reservations about this aspect of the Draft Bill; these are set out in paragraphs 42 to 47 below.

19.  In evidence to us, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills and Apprenticeships at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, spoke of the "symbolic importance" of embedding in legislation the value of developing the skills base.[30] This appears to us to be perhaps the driving force behind the Draft Bill. We question whether it is a good use of Parliamentary time to consider "symbolic" legislation.

20.  We make no detailed comment in this Report on clauses 1 to 20 of the Draft Bill, which deal with apprenticeship frameworks, agreements, standards and certificates. These matters are addressed by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee in its Report. We have focused instead on the apprenticeship programme from the view of young people aged 14 to 19. The main part of this short Report therefore examines:

—  The relationship between apprenticeships and other routes through education and training at age 14-19, particularly Diplomas, and transferability between these routes;

—  Whether Young Apprenticeships should be drawn within the scope of the Draft Bill; and

—  The impact of the Draft Bill upon the profile accorded to apprenticeships in careers advice provided by schools.

We conclude with views on the supply of apprenticeship placements with employers.

1   The Government's Draft Legislative Programme 2008/09, Cm 7372 Back

2   Cm 7452 Back

3   Cm 7372, Chapter 4, paragraph 10 Back

4   HC 1062 (Session 2007-08) Back

5   8 October 2008: Mr Simon Bartley, Chief Executive, UK Skills, Mr Nick Edwards, Vice-Principal, Learning and Skills, Lewisham College, Andy Powell, Chief Executive, Edge Foundation. 27 October: Rt Hon Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and Families, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills and Apprenticeships, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Back

6   See Back

7   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, para 2.1 Back

8   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, para 2.2 Back

9   Those offered by John Lewis and Vosper Thornycroft were cited as good examples: Qq 26 and 37. Back

10   Mr Edwards Q 24 Back

11   Statistical First Release ILR/SFR16, 22 May 2008,  Back

12   World-class Apprenticeships, page 15 Back

13   DIUS press release, 16 November 2007 Back

14   DCSF/DIUS, March 2008 Back

15   The Government notes that English apprenticeships "suffer from serious diversity problems" World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, paragraph 2.18. Back

16   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, paragraph 7.1 Back

17   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, paragraph 7.3 Back

18   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, paragraphs 7.4-7.5 Back

19   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, paragraph 7.6 Back

20   See Explanatory Notes to the Draft Apprenticeships Bill , Cm 7452. Back

21   The Edge Foundation is an independent education foundation dedicated to raising the status of vocational and practical learning.  Back

22   Q 25 Back

23   Q 2 Back

24   Q 25 Back

25   UK Skills is an organisation set up to champion vocational education. 80% of its funds come from central Government or Government-funded agencies; 20% comes from sponsorship. See Q 28 and 29. Back

26   See Mr Bartley Q 5 Back

27   Q 3 Back

28   Q 21 Back

29   Q 75 Back

30   Q 75 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 5 December 2008