Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Fourth Report

2  The Draft Bill and 14-19 education

21.  If take-up of apprenticeships is to increase to the levels necessary to meet the targets set out by the Government in its response to the Leitch Review, apprenticeships will need to become a mainstream element of the portfolio of options for young people in education and training. The Draft Bill arrives at a time of considerable flux for 14-19 education, not least because of the introduction of Diplomas and the increase in the age until which a young person must participate in education and training. The full implications of the proposed transfer of responsibility and funding for education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities, expected to form part of an education and skills bill in the 2008-09 Parliamentary Session, are not yet entirely clear and may be more far-reaching than is generally understood.

The relationship between apprenticeships and Diplomas

22.  We asked witnesses whether the Government's policies in raising to 18 the age to which young people must continue to participate in education or training, together with the introduction of Diplomas, were "joined up" with the provisions of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill. Replies were guarded. Mr Powell, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation, said that "I do not think we quite know yet" how a Diploma relates to an apprenticeship;[31] and Mr Edwards suggested that we were "asking for a challenging amount of coherence of Diplomas and apprenticeships".[32]

23.  Part of the difficulty is the uncertainty, expressed by this Committee and others, about exactly what type of education Diplomas offer. In April 2007, a previous Secretary of State distinguished between Diplomas and apprenticeships, saying that Diplomas were "not training for employment" and that "if someone wants to take a route to training for employment, that is the apprenticeship route".[33] Mr Bartley, Chief Executive of UK Skills, pointed out that Diplomas had not been designed as a pathway into a profession; and he made an important distinction between Diplomas, as academic qualifications which teach subjects in an applied manner, and apprenticeships, which teach theory and skills to do a particular job.[34] Mr Edwards said simply that "a diploma will give a knowledge of industry, while an apprenticeship will give the skills of industry".[35]

24.  The difference in learning methods used in Diplomas and in apprenticeships has been made reasonably clear to us, although we suspect that confusion persists in schools and amongst young people. Now that the first tranche of Diplomas is being taught, we would expect the characteristics and purpose of Diplomas to become more widely understood.


25.  Transferability between apprenticeships and other forms of education emerged as an issue during our inquiry. The British Chambers of Commerce stressed that apprenticeships should be "placed within the wider qualifications structure from the outset" and that core elements of different routes through education for 14 to 19-year-olds—apprenticeships, Diplomas and academic routes—should be related and interchangeable, to add cohesion.[36] Mary Curnock Cook, Director of Qualifications and Skills at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, in giving evidence on the National Curriculum, assured us that there was "a lot of commonality between units in the Diploma, in the apprenticeships and […] GCSEs and A-levels" and that "the outcome should make it easy for people to progress and transfer between the different suites of qualifications".[37]

26.  Certain witnesses, however, identified restrictions in transferability between apprenticeships and school-based qualifications (including Diplomas). For instance, Mr Edwards told us that a student who had completed a level 2 construction Diploma could not transfer to a level 3[38] construction apprenticeship but would first need to complete a level 2 construction apprenticeship.[39] Mr Bartley told us that it was his understanding that a person who had completed a year in sixth form or its equivalent, and who had reached AS level, could not transfer to an apprenticeship at level 3 but would have to start at a lower entry point.[40]

27.  Mr Powell, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation, was critical of the prescriptive nature of some of the provisions in the Draft Bill setting out the qualifications necessary for entry into an apprenticeship scheme. Clause 21 of the Draft Bill states that, in order to satisfy apprenticeship scheme requirements at level 2, a person must hold a specified level 1 qualification as well as functional skills in English and mathematics but should not satisfy the apprenticeship scheme requirements at level 3. The effect of these provisions appears to be to bar young people who hold a specified level 2 qualification (such as five GCSEs at A* to C or a Level 2 Diploma) and who hold level 2 functional skills in English and mathematics from having access to a level 2 apprenticeship, by virtue of their eligibility for a level 3 apprenticeship. Mr Powell described this as "one of the biggest flaws in the Bill" and "unhelpful".[41]

28.  The Minister of State for Schools and Learners questioned Mr Powell's interpretation of the draft legislation and said that "as far as I am concerned, and as far as I am advised, there is no block in the Bill". He added that he would be "extremely concerned if anything in the draft legislation prevented people from moving between Diplomas and apprenticeships".[42]

29.  On Mr Edwards' point, that a student who had completed a level 2 construction Diploma could not transfer to a level 3 construction apprenticeship without completing a level 2 construction apprenticeship, we see no de facto block in the Draft Bill; but nor do we see that holders of a level 2 Diploma or GCSE qualification would necessarily be equipped to undertake a level 3 apprenticeship. In certain cases, it would be unreasonable to expect employers to take on an apprentice who had achieved a qualification at one level but who lacked the requisite technical understanding for an apprenticeship at the next level. As Mr Bartley pointed out, "just because you have a Level 2 diploma, it should not automatically mean that you have the knowledge of a Level 2 apprenticeship. They could be two completely different areas of expertise and underpinning knowledge".[43] We agree. We believe that there cannot be an automatic right to progress from one form of learning at one level of qualification to another form at a higher qualification, although we would expect the Government and providers to make this as easy as possible.

30.  On Mr Powell's point, that young people are effectively barred from entry to a level 2 apprenticeship if they already hold a level 2 qualification and are thereby eligible for a level 3 apprenticeship, we agree that clause 21 of the Draft Bill, by inserting section 3I of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, appears to deny that person an entitlement to a level 2 apprenticeship even if it does not bar him or her from actually undertaking it. Unless the Government can justify denying a young person an entitlement to an apprenticeship at the same level as that of a qualification which they already hold, the Government should redraft clause 21 of the Draft Bill to remove any potential block to access.

Young Apprenticeships

31.  Young Apprenticeships enable young people from the age of 14 to go to work or to training providers for two days per week, with 50 days being spent in work. Mr Powell spoke of the attraction of the scheme to 14 to 16-year-olds: he said that young people were "motivated by it" and found it "enormously helpful", and he noted that young people on the scheme felt that they were treated with respect and grew in maturity as a result.[44]

32.  The Edge Foundation pointed out that responsibility for funding Young Apprenticeships would pass from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities in 2010. The Foundation warned of "anecdotal" evidence that local authorities might close Young Apprenticeship programmes on the basis that Diplomas offered a viable and cheaper alternative. It proposed that the draft Bill should provide an entitlement to a Young Apprenticeship for any 14 to 16-year-old who wanted one.[45]

33.  We put the Edge Foundation's proposal to the Minister of State for Schools and Learners. In reply, he pointed out that Young Apprenticeships were not true apprenticeships, in that they did not have to conform to the standards or frameworks set out in the Draft Bill. Lord Young, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, added that there was no form of contract between "apprentice" and employer in a Young Apprenticeship: the workplace learning element was more akin to work experience.[46]

34.  We acknowledge that to introduce an entitlement to a Young Apprenticeship for any 14 to 16-year-old who wanted one would not be legislatively simple: it could require a definition in statute of the characteristics of a Young Apprenticeship and of the standards which each placement should meet. We suspect that to introduce such an entitlement would be difficult. Nevertheless we agree that the Young Apprenticeship scheme is a valuable one and should be encouraged and well resourced, independently of Diplomas.

Careers advice

35.  Clause 23 of the Draft Bill proposes an amendment to section 43 of the Education Act 1997, which requires maintained secondary schools to provide all pupils with a programme of careers education. Clause 23 would oblige the governing body (or proprietor) and the head teacher of a secondary school, in considering what careers advice would promote the best interests of the pupils concerned, "to include consideration of whether it would be in their best interests […] to receive advice which relates to apprenticeships".

36.  The Draft Bill has been criticised for not going far enough in ensuring that apprenticeships are given prominence in careers advice provided by schools for young people.[47] Mr Edwards told us that it was "not a part of the portfolio" offered by the information, advice and guidance service in schools[48] and that a school would often provide information at open evenings for parents about what it can offer but not about what it cannot offer.[49] Mr Powell told us that "there is a lot of evidence that there is no impartial advice and guidance" and that "it is in the schools' interest, if they have a sixth form, for anyone who has reasonable GCSEs to stay in the sixth form".[50] We note the wide-ranging recommendations on careers services made by the Skills Commission.[51]

37.  The Government's strategy paper World-class Apprenticeships stated an intention to include in the Draft Bill measures "to require schools to include comprehensive information about Apprenticeships in the materials they make available".[52] No such requirement appears in the draft Bill, which merely specifies that careers advice given to school pupils should take into account whether apprenticeships would be in the best interests of those concerned.

38.  The obligations placed upon school-based careers advisers by the Draft Apprenticeships Bill have a stronger basis than it might at first appear. We note that provisions within the Education and Skills Bill currently before Parliament would require anyone presenting careers education to registered pupils at applicable schools (as designated under section 43 of the Education Act 1997) to do so "in an impartial manner" and to give consideration to what advice "will promote the best interests of the pupils concerned". The same provisions require that a person giving such advice "must not seek to promote, contrary to the pupils' best interests, the interests or aspirations of the school or of other persons or institutions". Schools would therefore become vulnerable to legal challenge if they fail to act with impartiality;[53] and clause 23 of the Draft Apprenticeships Bill would build on this base.

39.  Despite the greater stringency of the requirements placed upon schools by the Education and Skills Bill shortly to complete its passage through Parliament, we nonetheless believe that any approach which leaves discretion to schools-based careers advisers as to what would be in a particular young person's best interests is an unnecessarily risky one. In the short term, the effects of the obligations on schools imposed by legislation now before Parliament should be assessed; but we fear that the issue may need to be revisited if experience shows that they do not have the necessary traction. We believe that legislation should be made stronger, by requiring schools to include clear and comprehensive information about apprenticeships in the materials made available to learners.

31   Q 18 Back

32   Q 19 Back

33   14-19 Diplomas, Fifth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, HC 249, Session 2006-07, evidence given by the Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson MP on 18 April 2007, Q 309 Back

34   Q 50 Back

35   Q 50 Back

36   British Chambers of Commerce memorandum, para 5.1, Ev 42 Back

37   Evidence taken on 10 November 2008, HC 651-vi, Q 420 Back

38   Level 2 refers to a standard equivalent to five GCSEs at A*-C or a National Vocational Qualification at level 2. Level 3 refers to a standard equivalent to two A levels or a National Vocational Qualification at level 3. A Level 4 qualification includes first degree, "other" degree and sub-degree higher education qualifications such as teaching and nursing certificates, HNC/HNDs, and other HE diplomas. See Back

39   Q 19 Back

40   Q 21 Back

41   Q 22 Back

42   QQ 137 and 138 Back

43   Q 20. See also Mr Powell, Q 51. Back

44   Q 31 Back

45   Ev 3 Back

46   Q 128 Back

47   For example the Edge Foundation: Ev 2, British Chambers of Commerce: Ev 42, and responses from EEF and the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network to the Government's consultation on the Draft Bill.  Back

48   Q 16 Back

49   Q 60 Back

50   Q 60 Back

51   Skills Commission: Inspiration and Aspiration: Realising our Potential in the 21st Century (2008): Back

52   World-class Apprenticeships, DIUS, paragraph 6.6 Back

53   Q 153 Back

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