Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Seventh Report

6  The rights of apprentices

The right to an apprenticeship

In the foreword to the draft Bill the Secretaries of State said that "for the first time ever, the government plans to give all suitably qualified young people the right to an apprenticeship place".[189] Clause 21 of the draft Bill would insert a new section (3E) into the Learning and Skills Act 2000 to place a duty on the Learning and Skills Council to exercise its functions with a view to securing that apprenticeship places are available in sufficient number and variety for there to be suitable places available for suitably qualified people who want one. The entitlement would have to be in operation by 2013.[190] A place would be defined as suitable if it is within one of the two chosen apprenticeship sectors and is within the reasonable travel area of the person who wants it.[191] Clause 21 would also insert a new section (3F) which would put an age restriction on the entitlement. It provides that a person could use the apprenticeship scheme if he or she were above compulsory school age but had not yet reached his or her 19th birthday.[192]

We asked both Ministers and David Way, National Director of Apprenticeships at the Learning and Skills Council, about the nature of the right at clause 21 and whether it was enforceable through the courts. Jim Knight said that "the effect […] is that technically the duty applies to the Learning and Skills Council or the successor organisations and that […] there would be the ability of the individual to pursue through the court a failure of the Council to fulfil its duty as set out in clause 21".[193] But he added that nobody was "expecting there to be a huge number of court cases as a result of this. It is just that you have to have something that is the last resort in order to change the behaviour."[194] We asked Mr Way how the Learning and Skills Council would manage if demand outstripped the supply of particular apprenticeships. He replied:

I think this is a part of the legislation which needs careful framing because […] ultimately it is the employer and the individual who come together in order to offer an apprenticeship. The Learning and Skills Council does not employ very many apprentices, the vast majority are out there. It is important that the Learning and Skills Council and the National Apprenticeship Service have a responsibility placed upon it. One could use the phrase "best endeavours", something a bit stronger than that, but I do not think you can reasonably place on the Learning and Skills Council something which it cannot make happen.[195]

We pressed Mr Way on the operation of the provision for young people in rural areas. He said that the

National Apprenticeship Service will be trying to give that young person an apprenticeship […] which is their first choice and the sectors are relatively widely described so that you have got some prospect of that. There will be occasions when you will have to have a talk with young people about what is a reasonable expectation in a particular locality, whether that might mean the possibility of moving, trying to strike the right balance between reasonable expectations and what is available, but the [Service] field force on the employers' side will be responding all the time to the unmet demand from young people and saying, "Look, here we've got lots of young people working with the local authorities, working with Connexions saying 'where is the demand for this'". This is going to be a focus for the National Apprenticeship Service to focus its efforts to produce vacancies in those areas.[196]

We did not find these responses reassuring. We are unclear what the right will mean for a person meeting the eligibility criteria who wants to enter a mainstream apprenticeship which is not available within a reasonable distance. The Government appears to regard the right given at clause 21 of the draft Bill to offer suitably qualified young people apprenticeship places as "technical" and as a spur to changing behaviour, though it is not clear whose. While we support the intention underlying the right given at clause 21 of the draft Bill to all suitably qualified young people to an apprenticeship to expand the number of apprenticeships, we are concerned that (a) it will build up expectations that cannot be satisfied and (b) in attempting to meet the requirement the National Apprenticeship Service will produce offers of apprenticeships which bring the system into disrepute. It is unclear what the right given at clause 21 of the draft Bill to all suitably qualified young people to an apprenticeship will mean in practice. We recommend that the Government make a statement setting out its intention when the Bill comes before the House.

Our concerns were about the right were heightened when the Government told us in a written response after the oral session that the right might in some circumstances be suspended:

[if] in future, the National Apprenticeship Service did need to limit funding to a particular sector/region the intention is that the entitlement would still need to be met, unless the entitlement in that sector or location had been suspended by the Secretary of State. It would not be in the best interests of the young people concerned to train them in sectors where there is no reasonable prospect of permanent employment.[197]

We recommend that in responding to this Report the Government explain in detail, and with examples, the circumstances in which it would suspend the right to an apprenticeship at clause 21.

We noted in chapter Error! Reference source not found. that a significant number of apprentices are 19 or older. If the purpose of the right provided in clause 21 is to change behaviour—and on the assumption that the Government clarifies the matter we raise in the preceding paragraph—we find it inconsistent that the draft Bill makes no mention of this group and provides no rights or provisions to encourage them to take up apprenticeships.[198] As the workforce ages and given the stiff targets the Government has for the expansion of the number of apprenticeships we can see justification for providing older people with similar rights to encourage change in behaviour. If the "right" to an apprenticeship is defined and made meaningful, the Government should provide it to those aged 19 and over.


As well as the age requirement on under 19 year olds exercising their right to apprenticeships the draft Bill requires them to be suitable qualified.[199] The Government envisages that the threshold to be suitably qualified for a Level 2 apprenticeship would be either a Foundation Diploma or five GCSEs at A*-G (or equivalent), plus English and Mathematics functional skills at Level 1 or above. The threshold for a Level 3/advanced apprenticeship would be either a Higher Diploma or five GCSEs at A*-C (or equivalent), plus English and Mathematics functional skills at Level 2. In either case, an apprentice will also need to meet any supplementary criteria laid down for the relevant separate apprenticeship frameworks.[200]

We received evidence which questioned the effect of the entry qualifications. Edexcel said that potential apprentices saw these requirements as "a key barrier" and this "may not allow adequate scope for adult workers to gain credit for competences they may have demonstrated in the workplace for many years, and which could indeed be passed on to younger learners".[201] In Edexcel's view there was a case for introducing "more flexible and responsive ways of accrediting prior achievement and capability".[202] The Financial Skills Sector Council shared this approach. It said in written evidence:

For those who do not hold prior qualifications, we would like the provision of a portfolio of evidence to suffice and for the key skills tests to become optional. Mastery of the requirements is demonstrated adequately through a portfolio and the insistence on a further test adds nothing. The success of the model in Wales, where the key skills test requirement was removed some years ago, illustrates that the portfolio is strong enough to stand alone.[203]

The Association of Colleges advocated the development of a flexible, new Access to Apprenticeship programme which would enable employers and further education colleges to prepare properly recruits with "employability skills, functional skills and perhaps the technical certificate (or elements of a Diploma/other education routes) as a funded and recognised precursor to Apprenticeship training".[204]

We believe that the definition of "suitably qualified" in clause 21 is too rigid and may deter people for whom an apprenticeship would be suitable. We conclude the academic qualifications required for the statutory right to apprenticeships at clause 21 are too rigid and recommend that the Government relax them. We recommend that the Government explore the option of using a portfolio of evidence, rather than formal academic qualifications alone.

We are also concerned about the effect of the entry requirements on diversity. As we have noted, in World-class Apprenticeships the Government said that "English Apprenticeships suffer from serious diversity problems", which were more marked than labour market patterns in general. It commented that this fed the disinclination among some learners towards Apprenticeships.[205] We recommend that before finalising the entry requirements the Government review the effect of such requirements on groups which traditionally have not been well-represented among apprentices.

Right to an alternative placement

The TUC in its written evidence supported the principle

established in the Flett v Matheson case by the Court of Appeal that where an employer does not wish to continue to provide an Apprenticeship place there should be an obligation to try and find an alternative placement. Apprentices sacrifice earnings in order to develop their skills and therefore should have some guarantee that they are able to complete their programme. Employers shouldn't be able to end an Apprenticeship without taking some steps to ensure that the apprentice completes their training.[206]

In reply to our written question asking whether in the event of a recession employers would be able to terminate apprenticeships, the Government replied that employers will be able to "terminate apprentices in the event of a recession. Wherever possible, we would expect the National Apprenticeship Service to find the apprentice a place with another employer."[207] Lord Young explained that:

we share a common goal of trying to maximise the number of apprenticeships. If we made it into a contract of apprenticeship, […] the legal obligations of that would undermine the primary goal, so we have tried to strike a balance here on giving an apprentice normal employment rights. Can we guarantee that if an employer in the final stages decides not to go ahead, that they will find an alternative place? I do not think we could. I hope we will be creating a climate with something like the Vacancy Matching Service, all the services of the National Apprenticeship Service, that we could do something to deal with those problems. It is about a balance on employment rights.[208]

We take Lord Young's point that there is a question of balance here but where an apprenticeship that was provided under the provisions at clause 21 of the draft Bill is terminated because of an economic reason or insolvency it is, in our view, equitable that the right exercisable under clause 21 is reinstated, irrespective of the age of the redundant apprentice. We conclude that a provision to enshrine an obligation to attempt to find an alternative placement on an employer, who does not wish to continue to provide an apprenticeship, could go against the grain of the Government's policy to encourage employers to offer more apprenticeships. We recommend, however, that where an apprenticeship, to which the provisions at clause 21 applied, is terminated because of redundancy as defined at section 139 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 or because of insolvency, the former apprentice's right to an apprenticeship, and concomitant duty on the National Apprenticeship Service, be reinstated even if he or she has attained the age of 19.

The right to challenge the quality of an apprenticeship

We asked in our written questions, what would happen under the proposed arrangements in a case where an apprentice considered that he or she was not receiving adequate training. The Government replied that the:

apprenticeship agreement would be subject to general employment law provisions. If the employer is in breach of contract, the apprentice would have recourse to seek remedies in the Employment Tribunal. However, we would expect the apprentice to raise the issue with the employer, training provider and the National Apprenticeship Service before needing to enforce the conditions by bringing proceedings under employment law.[209]

We raised this matter with Ministers, and Lord Young said that:

the [National Apprenticeship Service] will address initial complaints but it is not going to be on the face of the Bill. […] I was keen to see what would a young apprentice or, indeed, any apprentice do if they felt, hang on, this is not what it said on the tin when I signed up, there ought to be a means of trying to resolve it without going to any form of law. It looks like we have got some ideas and we need to take what you said into account.[210]

We are encouraged by Lord Young's response and agree that action through the Employment Tribunal should be a last resort for an apprentice who has concerns about the quality of the training he or she is receiving. We recommend that the Government insert a provision into the finalised legislation requiring the National Apprenticeship Service to establish a mediation service for apprentices dissatisfied with the quality of the training they are receiving.

189   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, p 1 Back

190   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, clause 30(4) Back

191   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, Explanatory Notes, para 30; see also Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found.. Back

192   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, Explanatory Notes, para 31 Back

193   Q 131 Back

194   As above Back

195   Q 102 Back

196   Q 103 Back

197   Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found. Back

198   When asked why 19-25 year olds were not covered by this provision, the Government replied: "Clause 3F is restricted to 16-19 year olds, because the clause gives effect to the entitlement of young people to an apprenticeship place. The Impact Assessment reference is to taking forward the proposals in World-class Apprenticeships"; Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found.. Back

199   Draft Apprenticeships Bill, clause 21 inserting sections 3E, 3F and 3I into the Learning and Skills Act 2000 Back

200   World-class Apprenticeships, para 2.17; see also Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found.. Back

201   Ev 52, para 6.7 Back

202   As above Back

203   Ev 49 Back

204   Ev 72, para 24 Back

205   World-class Apprenticeships, para 2.18 Back

206   Ev 38 Back

207   Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found. Back

208   Q 184 Back

209   Appendix 1, Error! Reference source not found. Back

210   Q 188 Back

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