Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 6

Submission from Network Rail


  1.  As one of the biggest investors in vocational training and development in the country, Network Rail welcomes many of the measures in Government's draft bill to allow apprenticeships and vocational training to grow.

  2.  With a significant investment programme to improve the railway proposed over the next five year rail regulatory period, starting in 2009, and in delivering the Government's 30 year rail strategy, Network Rail, and the industry generally, needs more adequately qualified apprenticeship candidates and engineers.

  3.  However, Network Rail would like to see further measures in the bill to deliver more apprenticeships:

    —  increase places and funding for apprenticeships for those aged 19 and over and in geographical areas with shortages, such as London and the South East; and

    —  reduce external inspection, assessment and assurance for employer delivered apprenticeship schemes and increase self assurance and governance of standards for such schemes.


Apprenticeship Frameworks (Clauses 7-10)—are the arrangements detailed in this section right?

  4.  Network Rail welcomes the opportunity for employers to submit draft Apprenticeship Frameworks. We already run one of the largest apprenticeship schemes in the country, which will produce over 2,000 skilled technicians in the next 10 years.

Specification of apprenticeship standards (Clauses 11-15)—are the arrangements detailed in this section right?

  5.  Network Rail is calling for this bill to include measures to address the problem of over inspection and excessive outside assurance and governance of apprenticeship schemes delivered by employers.

  6.  Therefore, in preparing a draft specification of apprenticeship standards, Network Rail would like the Learning and Skills Council to also draft and submit a specification for the self assessment and assurance of standards for employer delivered apprenticeship schemes (Clause 11). This should be done in consultation with the employers who will deliver apprenticeship schemes.

  7.  Currently, we find the LSC and Ofsted increasingly bureaucratic and their auditing of our standards excessive. Network Rail is an employer, not a training provider, and we do not generate income from our training. However, nonetheless, we face the same level of external inspection and assessment as a college or commercial training provider. For example, we are subject to a full Ofsted inspection which diverts a lot of time and energy which we should be concentrating on the delivery of our apprenticeship scheme.

  8.  Network Rail fully accepts the need for some outside assessment of its apprenticeship scheme to ensure that its high standards are monitored and maintained but we also believe that it should be rigorous without being excessively detailed. Rather, employers themselves should take the lead role in determining and maintaining the standards of their apprenticeship schemes so that they are driven by the needs of their business.

  9.  Indeed, the processes that Network Rail are currently externally audited against are already very similar to our internal best practice which we undertake as a matter of course.

  10.  Rather than providing the LSC with monthly feedback, we would like to move towards a system of self-assurance and self-governance of our standards. We believe that the requirement on the LSC to specify apprenticeship standards for the Secretary of State provides an ideal opportunity to move towards such a system.

Duties of Learning and Skills Council and Secretary of State (Clauses 21-22)—are the obligations we are placing on the LSC right?

  11.  Network Rail is calling for this bill to require the LSC to increase the funding and availability of apprenticeship places for those aged 19 and over.

  12.  It currently costs Network Rail £56,000 to train an apprentice over three years (this covers salary, training costs and accommodation) in addition to any LSC funding.

  13.  The LSC provides £14,500 of funding for all apprentices aged 16-18, but only half as much towards the cost of training for those aged 19 and over.

  14.  As students are staying on longer at school and college we are finding that those applying for apprenticeships are getting older and we believe that LSC funding needs to adapt to this change.

  15.  Network Rail is also very keen to recruit additional older apprentices because we find they are often well suited to our scheme. We believe the Government and the LSC should welcome and support this recruitment of older candidates and this bill should provide for more places and full funding for those apprentices aged 19 and over.

  16.  Therefore, in amending the 2000 Learning and Skills Act, Network Rail believes this bill (in Clause 21) should require the LSC to secure sufficient availability and funding for apprenticeship places and that this duty should extend to persons over the age of 19 years old rather than those who are under 19, as specified in the 2000 Act.

  17.  Network Rail would also like the LSC to target more apprenticeship funding and places in particular geographical areas where there are shortages of apprentices and skills, particularly London and the South East. The government should also try to provide other incentives to apprentices who train in London and the South East where there are skills shortages and the cost of living is high.

September 2008

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