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

Memorandum 8

Supplementary submission from the Trade Union Congress (TUC)


  The TUC welcomes the introduction of Apprenticeship certificates with a national brand and format as outlined in World Class Apprenticeships. This is an important way to recognise the achievements of apprentices and also build more widespread awareness of Apprenticeships as a high quality pathway. Apprenticeship certificates should be established in a way that clarifies progression pathways from Apprenticeships into higher education.

  However to make this work, it is also important to ensure that all Apprenticeships are viewed as high quality options. This might require the levelling up of some programmes. Other aspects of the draft Apprenticeships Bill such as Apprenticeship standards and the approval process for Apprenticeship frameworks are important in this respect.

  The TUC would also like to see the Apprenticeships certificate linked to the development of Licence to Practice arrangements, as outlined in the Queens speech in November 2007. This is important for raising demand for skills and building the skill base of the economy.


  The process for approving Apprenticeship frameworks is important in ensuring that frameworks meet the needs of industry, but also the needs of learners. Approvals of Apprenticeship frameworks should be a lever for improving quality. Sector Skills Councils are well placed to develop Apprenticeship frameworks, but trade unions should be involved in this process given their experience and expertise in identifying industry skills needs and ensuring quality. This should be recognised either in the primary legislation or underpinning regulations.


  The TUC has supported the expansion of the areas covered in the Apprenticeships Blueprint (to be renamed Apprenticeship standards) and giving the standards a statutory underpinning. The TUC welcomes the introduction of a power for the Secretary of State to direct the LSC to prepare a draft specification of apprenticeship standards. The TUC would welcome a clear commitment from the Government that this power will be used at an early stage.

  The commitment in World Class Apprenticeships that unions would be consulted on the new version of the Blueprint (now Apprenticeship standards) was welcome. The legislation notes that the Council must `consult such persons as appear to it appropriate'. However the TUC believes that either the legislation itself, or the regulations should explicitly identify the types of groups which should be consulted, including trade unions.

  It is important that clarity is achieved in identifying the required learning that forms an Apprenticeship framework. In addition to requiring a knowledge based element, competency based element, key skills and employment rights and responsibilities, the TUC believes that clear progression routes and a reasonable minimum time for off-workstation learning time should also be included. It is not clear from the draft bill that these are required aspects of the Apprenticeship standards.

  It is important that employment rights and responsibilities (ERR) continue to be included as required areas of study in all Apprenticeships. The required elements within ERR are currently equality of opportunity and health and safety, although the content and assessment is the responsibility of Sector Skills Councils. Given the role of Apprenticeships as preparing learners for the world of work, there should a more inclusive approach to employment rights and responsibilities that makes inclusion of basic employment rights mandatory, including the right to join a trade union. The TUC produces materials in these areas, including A Better Way to Work, which include information on employment rights and responsibilities designed for those on Young Apprenticeships and work experience placements. It might be useful to consider how this work could be expanded and linked to Apprenticeships.

  The current Apprenticeships blueprint allows that the key skills components of Apprenticeships might be at level 1 for an Apprenticeship, and level 2 for an Advanced Apprenticeships. In other words, the minimum level of key skills as set out in the current Apprenticeship Blueprint is one level below the relevant NVQ. This should be reconsidered in revising the blueprint and developing Apprenticeship Standards, as this seems out of step with the NVQ level within the Apprenticeship framework and may give the appearance of lowering the quality of the framework. It could also have implications for the work in developing progression pathways to higher education.

  As the draft bill is currently constituted, it might be interpreted that if an Apprenticeship does not meet all of the standards, it can cease to be considered an Apprenticeship. If this is the case, steps must be introduced to ensure that this does not cause a detriment to the learner.


  The TUC had 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.

  The TUC believes that the intent of section 18 needs to be clarified, in order to make it clear that the intention is that apprentices are protected against an employer making a change to an apprentice's status without their knowledge. However it needs to be clearly articulated that if this is the case, the apprentice continues to be protected under an ordinary contract of employment, with the requisite unfair dismissal protections. Further, the TUC would also argue that it is not sufficient for an employer to provide written notice of variation of an apprenticeship agreement. Rather, any variation should only be with the agreement of the apprentice.

  It is welcome that the proposed Apprenticeship Agreements is to set out both the on the job and learning away from the workstation that will be delivered, the job role an apprentice will be qualified to hold upon completion, and the supervision an apprentice will receive throughout the period of an Apprenticeship. These should be set out in section 16(2) in order to give to give enabling power through legislation.

  In relation to Apprenticeship Agreements, the TUC would oppose any changes to established employment law (in addition to changes in relation to Flett v Matheson) that apprentices are deemed to have a contract of employment for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and other legislation. The TUC accepts that an Apprenticeship Agreement could set out the hours that apprentices are required to work. However, what is meant by the term "effort" is not clearly defined. The TUC would oppose the Apprenticeship Agreement placing additional or more onerous duties on apprentices than are expected of employees through implied and express terms contained in the average contract of employment. The TUC is opposed to any weakening of apprentice rights to unfair dismissal protection or any other employment rights.

  The TUC supports the introduction of mentors for apprentices, as such additional support has often been identified as a factor in successful Apprenticeships. Mentors are not specifically mentioned in relation to the draft Bill, and the TUC hopes that this important development is maintained. It is important that the role of mentors is clearly outlined, what constitutes good practice is firmly established and that mentors receive appropriate training. For example good practice would usually include a principle that a mentor should usually be a different person to the supervisor. This is an area where the role of union learning representatives (ULRs) could usefully be explored.

  Further, the TUC would like to be involved in the development of any model Apprenticeship Agreement.


  It is welcome that there will be a duty for the LSC to promote Apprenticeships, and that there is a focus on employer based places. However one of the challenges the TUC identifies in implementing the Apprenticeships Bill, is ensuring that the LSC has sufficient levers to boost high quality employer places. The establishment of the National Apprenticeships Service will be a useful step towards meeting this goal, however other levers such as the use of public procurement to boost Apprenticeship places would increase this capacity further. There should be urgent clarification of the potential for the use of public procurement in increasing Apprenticeships, as well as licence to practice arrangements. The TUC is concerned about the proposals for "overtraining" for the sector, because this approach is less likely to result in a job at the end of it.


  The bill sets out that schools will need to ensure that any consideration of what careers advice would be in the best interests of their pupils covers consideration of whether it would be in their best interests to receive advice which relates to Apprenticeships. This is welcome as it is important that Apprenticeships are recognised as a high quality pathway and presented as options to students. However it is important to recognise that this does not require that Apprenticeships are always mentioned as an option, although there is some argument that they should. It is important that staff have appropriate information and support, including on breaking down stereotyping. The TUC is also concerned that league tables may create tensions with these proposals.

September 2008

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