Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Apprenticeship certificates, frameworks, standards and agreements (clauses 1-20)

Memorandum submitted by The Edge Foundation

  The draft Apprenticeships Bill underpins plans set out in World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, published by DIUS earlier this year.

Edge strongly supports Apprenticeships, which provide a vital opportunity to learn by doing.

  In this paper, we start by commenting on the Bill as it stands. We then outline other steps which we believe should be taken to secure the future success of apprenticeships.

  The Bill gives a statutory basis for arrangements which are already in place and/or available to those who wish to make use of them. As such, these provisions are largely symbolic. We do support them, because it is important to raise the status of apprenticeships. However, we are concerned that some employers will be reluctant to complete formal agreements, as they were when agreements were first introduced in the 1990s. If this happens, Apprentices will need reassurance that they will still be able to complete their Apprenticeship frameworks.

  We are pleased that the draft Bill explicitly extends to Crown Servants and Parliamentary staff. As we note below, we believe much more needs to be done to expand apprenticeships in all parts of the public sector.

Duties of the LSC and the Secretary of State (clauses 21 and 22)

  The Government wishes to make apprenticeship places available to every suitably-qualified young person who wants one. This is very welcome.

  Of course, the devil is in the detail. As presently drafted, the Bill suggests that each young person should select two sectors; the LSC should then make sure there is a suitable apprenticeship available in one or both of these sectors within reasonable travelling distance from the young person's home.

  However, the Bill is deliberately silent on a number of important points. "Sectors" will not be defined by the Bill, but by the Secretary of State. It is not clear whether sectors are to be defined broadly—eg "construction"—or narrowly—eg "bricklayer". We believe this should be spelled out more clearly. Our recommendation would be for a reasonably broad definition.

  The meaning of the word "reasonable" is also unclear. The draft says:

    "reasonable travel area", in relation to a person, means:

      (a)  the specified area in which the person lives, and

      (b)  any other area within which it is reasonable for the person's place of work, training or study to be located.

  What is "reasonable" may depend on distance, travelling time or the availability of public transport. What is reasonable in a rural area might be different from what is reasonable in an urban area. The word would even have different meaning when applied to different sectors of the economy: for example, it might be reasonable for apprenticeships in common occupations (retail, hair and beauty and so on) to be offered within a mile or two of home, but in less common occupations (say, stonemasonry) it might be reasonable to expect the apprentice to travel 40 miles. This is all far too vague, and could prove highly contentious if the Bill proceeds as drafted.

  Clause 21 also introduces minimum entry requirements for Apprenticeships (which lead to a Level 2 qualification) and Advanced Apprenticeships (which lead to a Level 3 qualification). We see two problems with the way this part of the Bill has been drafted.

  First, the Bill says that someone who has a Level 2 qualification (eg five GCSEs at A* to C) is, in effect, ineligible for a Level 2 Apprenticeship. We think this is fundamentally wrong. In fact, we think this is the biggest single weakness in the whole of the draft Bill.

  Let's take the example of a young person who has achieved grade C GCSE passes in—say—English, Maths, Design and Technology, Music and Geography. She now wants to be an Apprentice car mechanic. The skills and knowledge needed for success as a car mechanic are very different from the skills and knowledge she has gained by studying for GCSEs. She should have every right to enrol on a Level 2 Apprenticeship if that is what she wants to do, and especially if that is the only option currently available in her local area.

  In our view, it should be possible to move on from an Apprenticeship to an Advanced Apprenticeship—in fact, this should be strongly encouraged. However, talented young people should not be prevented from enrolling on a (Level 2) Apprenticeship if that's what best meets their needs.

  Secondly, the Bill accidentally creates a no-mans-land between Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. As drafted, this clause means young people who hold a Level 2 qualification and Level 1 functional skills are ineligible for either an Apprenticeship or an Advanced Apprenticeship. This cannot be right!

  Thirdly, we are concerned about opportunities for young people who have not yet achieved a Level 1 qualification and/or functional skills at Level 1. Clause 21 does not mention this group of young people at all, and accordingly they will not have the same statutory right to work-based training as people who do have Level 1 qualifications.

  This affects a significant number of young people, including some learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. It seems very surprising that the Government gives this group such a low priority. Accordingly, we believe the Bill should provide a right to pre-Apprenticeship training for all young people not yet qualified for a full Apprenticeship.

Assistance and support in relation to apprenticeship places (Clause 22)

  We fully support plans for an Apprenticeship matching service.

Careers education (Clause 23)

  There has been some growth in the numbers of Apprenticeships (leading to a Level 2 qualification) in recent years, but the same isn't true of Advanced Apprenticeships (Level 3).

  Young people who might once have left school at 16 to start an Advanced Apprenticeship are staying at school or college instead.

  The single biggest challenge is information, advice and guidance. In principle, therefore, we welcome clause 23. This amends section 43 of the Education Act 1997, which requires state secondary schools to provide all pupils with a programme of careers education.

  However, the Clause does not go far enough. It simply requires schools to consider whether it is in the best interests of their pupils to receive advice about apprenticeships. Schools should not have this discretion: they should be required to provide information and advice about apprenticeships to all pupils and their parents or guardians.

  At present, nowhere near enough is done to promote Apprenticeships to young people, parents and teachers. In fact, many teachers actively discourage bright young people from taking an Apprenticeship.

  In addition to providing information in print and on-line, we believe young people should be able to find out about Apprenticeships straight from the horse's mouth. In its report, Inspiration and Aspiration: Realising our Potential in the 21st Century, the Skills Commission recommended that:

    The Government must make sure that people have access to websites where they can find information about training routes and use forums to discuss different careers with those who have experienced them.

  Better still, every young person should meet Apprentices and employers while they are still at school, as well as visiting colleges and other learning providers, so they can see and hear for themselves exactly what it means to be an Apprentice in the 21st century.


Enable more young people to start before the age of 16

  Last year, Ofsted published a glowing report on the success of Young Apprenticeships, which enable young people to get started on a genuinely practical approach to learning from the age of 14. Ofsted said:

    Of the 311 students | in the partnerships inspected in 2006-07, only 17 withdrew.

    The students were highly motivated, well behaved, enthusiastic and enjoyed the programme.

    Students in one partnership, which provided retail as a vocational area, could not stop saying how good their experience was and how different it was from school.

  When the LSC is abolished in 2010, local authorities will take over responsibility for funding Young Apprenticeships. Anecdotally, we hear some local authorities plan to close Young Apprenticeship programmes, on the basis that Diplomas are a viable (and cheaper) alternative. They're not. Diplomas are not vocational programmes and don't provide the same access to practical learning in the workplace. We believe that Young Apprenticeships should be expanded significantly over the next five to 10 years, and that:

    —  The Bill should provide an entitlement to a Young Apprenticeship for any 14-16 year old who wants one.

Make it easier for Apprentices to get placements in small businesses and voluntary organisations

  Many small firms and voluntary organisations find it difficult to guarantee continuous employment. Others can offer some—but not all—of the experience an Apprentice needs to complete a qualification.

  In these circumstances, it should be possible for young people to move from one employer to another during their Apprenticeship. One way to achieve this is for Apprentices to be employed by a third party—a kind of employment agency—who would arrange each placement in turn.

  Working with the Young Foundation, Edge is providing seed-corn funding for a Group Apprenticeship Scheme in London, to be run jointly by two colleges (City of Westminster and Westminster Kingsway), two third sector organisations (Vital and PDT) and an Australian group apprenticeship provider, Central West Group Apprentices.

  The Government should support Group Apprenticeship Schemes in all parts of the country, learning from experience in Australia and early experience of the London scheme. Accordingly:

    —  The Bill should place a responsibility on the Secretary of State to encourage and support the formation of Group Apprenticeship Schemes in England.

  The Government should also consider wage subsidies for small and micro-businesses, recognising the extra burden small firms face when taking on Apprentices. Wage subsidies have already been offered as part of the Train to Gain programme for adults—so why not for Apprentices?

Make it easier for Apprentices to get placements in the public sector

  All parts of the public sector—government departments, local authorities, Non-Departmental Public Bodies, the NHS, and so on—can and should take on very many more Apprentices, across a whole range of occupations including business administration, customer service, health and care, landscape gardening, electrical maintenance, engineering, landscape gardening—even hairdressing (in council-run care homes). All parts of the public sector should be set a target to recruit Apprentices.

    —  The Bill should place a duty on the Secretary of State to set targets for the recruitment of Apprentices by public sector employers.

Offer the right Programme-Led Apprenticeships

  Programme-Led Apprenticeships (PLAs) have had a bad press, which is only partly deserved.

  The theory is that a young person should start a full-time course at college or with a work-based learning provider. This provides a basic level of knowledge and understanding, making it easier to become a full Apprentice with a local employer. There are several benefits: it helps young people decide if they've made the right choice, and it helps employers recruit young people who have already grasped some of the basics, such as safe ways of working.

  The problem arises if young people don't move on from college. If the whole PLA is delivered in college, the lack of work experience presents a big barrier later on.

  The LSC has acknowledged this. We welcome their approach, which is to limit PLAs to those programmes which are a genuinely valuable stepping stone into a full-time Apprenticeship, which might be termed pre-apprenticeship training.

    —  The Bill should define a pre-apprenticeship, or enable the Secretary of State to do so by order.

Make it easier to move on to Higher Education

  It should be a lot easier for Apprentices to move on to higher education if they want.

  There has been some progress: experiments with so-called Higher Apprenticeships show it is possible to get higher qualifications, including Foundation Degrees, via apprenticeships.

  Two problems are holding back progress. First, funding for qualifications above Level 3 falls between two stools—the LSC and HEFCE. There needs to be a clear and separate funding stream for Higher Apprenticeships which provide a work-based route to qualifications at Level 4 and above. It may be possible to achieve this without legislation, but for the avoidance of doubt:

    —  The Bill should define the term "Higher Apprenticeship" or enable the Secretary of State to do so by order.

    —  The Bill should amend the Learning and Skills Act 2000 to enable the Learning and Skills Council to provide financial support for Higher Apprenticeships.

  The second problem is that some Advanced Apprenticeships don't prepare young people for degree courses. They are an excellent way of developing the skills and knowledge needed for work, but HE calls for additional skills—essay writing, research, that sort of thing. Some degrees also call for more prior knowledge of maths, science or other so-called "academic" subjects.

  This presents a real barrier. Admissions tutors are reluctant to offer places to Apprentices because they think they will struggle in their first year.

  The solution must be to offer Access courses to any apprentice who wants one. Access courses already exist, of course, and give people the extra boost they need before embarking on a full HE course.

    —  The Bill should entitle any Apprentice to take an Access to HE course either at the same time as their Apprenticeship or at any time afterwards.

  These steps will make it much easier for Apprentices to move on to higher education. That is a benefit in its own right, but it also has the advantage of proving that Apprenticeships are a genuine alternative to A-levels, Diplomas and other full-time courses.

November 2008

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