Apprenticeships - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

4  Engaging apprentices—Preparing for apprenticeships

Preparing for work—Vocational training or academic learning?

61.  A recurring theme of our inquiry has been how to strike the balance between academic and vocational training in the advice given to students at schools and colleges. We were told that there could be a stigma attached to a student actively choosing vocational training (such as an apprenticeship). One apprentice from Sheffield, Luke Shaw, told us that:

    I went to a sixth form to do my A-Levels, and the minute I said, "I want to do an apprenticeship," they turned their nose up. I didn't even get invited to the awards ceremony.[96]

Another apprentice, Chris Parkin, told us that, in his experience, colleges did not have the knowledge or resources to properly advise any student who did not want to go to university:

    I found that when I approached my college when I did my A-Levels and said, "I want to do something else other than university," the amount of literature and help available was limited.[97]

62.  Visa Europe agreed, and told us that teachers were too focused on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). It recommended that equal emphasis be placed on vocational and academic 'admissions':

    A more prominent service, which forms as much a part of the school year as UCAS entries, would encourage teachers to give equal consideration to vocational and higher education, and by raising the profile of apprenticeships help businesses to access pupils who might otherwise never consider a vocational path.[98]

63.  We heard similar evidence from industry representatives. For example the Strategic Adviser to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Rt.Hon. Richard Caborn, warned us of the elitism which existed among those advocating different career routes:

    There are those who believe that entrance into the world of higher education ought to be by academic qualifications, not by going through an apprenticeship. Does that devalue the degree or the chartered engineer? I do not think it does. If you are talking about engineers being elitist, you ought to talk to some of them in higher education. You will find there is a lot more elitism there than down here on the shop floor.[99]

City and Guilds also argued that careers advice within schools and colleges needed to be improved:

    We accept that teachers cannot be expected to be experts in all areas of the curriculum and that the notion of 'impartial' careers advice and guidance may be difficult to achieve. To add balance, we need to ensure that there are a coherent set of guidelines and trained advisors are available to provide the support young people and their teachers require so that there are fewer 'dead-ends' and resources are more efficiently distributed across different pathways.[100]

64.  We were encouraged, therefore, when the Headmaster of Northampton School for Boys, Mike Griffiths, told us that at his school all routes to employment were celebrated.[101] Even he believed, however, that there was a wider problem of perception and attitude when it came to advising on vocational or academic training:

    As a country where we fall down is that there is not parity of esteem. As long as we think of these things as layers rather than as parallel routes through, we are always going to have this problem. I get really annoyed when the basic underlying assumption is that you do vocational training or a vocational course if you are incapable of doing an academic one.[102]

65.  The Minister agreed that the perception of apprenticeships was that they were somehow inferior to academic education, despite the importance of vocational training to our economy:

    There is a cultural misassumption [...] the idea that only through academic accomplishment can people gain prowess is entirely specious. It is absolutely the case that the economy needs practical, vocational, technical skills, and that many people's aptitudes lie in that direction and they can achieve fulfilment through the acquisition of those skills, but we are challenging a prevailing cultural assumption that I think has been around for most of the post-war years.[103]

The Minister told us that he had addressed this by making it law for apprenticeships to be a specifically mentioned in careers advice. He explained that in the Education Act 2011:

    The responsible authorities, by which we mean schools and colleges, must secure careers guidance in an impartial manner, which includes—and I quote—"information and options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, including apprenticeships". We have put in law that those who provide careers advice and guidance must include apprenticeships in the options which they offer to people.[104]

66.  However, a cultural problem such as this cannot be solved through legislation alone. The Association of Colleges (AoC) told us that, despite the Education Act 2011, vocational training awareness was disturbingly low:

    As a flagship Government policy, apprenticeships must be effectively promoted as a good route for young people. The general lack of awareness and understanding of apprenticeships is a serious issue. A recent AoC survey found that only 7% of pupils are able to name apprenticeships as a post-GCSE option compared with 63% of young people who are able to name A-Levels. We fear that changes in school-level careers advice, included in the Education Act 2011, will do little to improve this situation.[105]

67.  A change in social attitudes, not just law, is required. We are concerned that tomorrow's workforce are at best under-informed, and at worst being misled in the advice they receive about future career development. We were shocked to hear that a very successful apprentice was apparently ostracised by his college because he was told "it looked bad" on the college's statistics.[106]

68.   During our inquiry we saw a number of excellent apprenticeships schemes run by business. However, despite the fact that many apprenticeships lead on to degree courses, they are not always promoted in schools as an equally viable route to a career as 'A' levels and university. Furthermore, these routes are often intertwined with students moving between the two. This may be because schools are measured, primarily, by 'A' level attainment and the number of university places gained by each academic year which forces teachers to concentrate on the academic route. This needs to be changed. We therefore recommend that alongside the number of university places gained in an academic year, schools should also be required to publish the number of apprenticeship starts.

69.  We acknowledge that the inclusion of apprenticeships in careers advice is legislated for in the Education Act 2011, but we have found that awareness and resources in schools and colleges remains lacking. We recommend that the Department for Education does more to assist schools in the promotion of vocational training in the curriculum (for example by providing literature, training to teachers and information for careers advisors). It should also ensure that any changes to the secondary curriculum will put proper emphasis and value on pupils taking a vocational route in their careers. The time and resources that institutions dedicate to 'UCAS applications' compared to preparing students for vocational training illustrates the scale of the problem. Success will be measured when schools and colleges place vocational and academic progression on an equal standing in terms of the both the level and quality of resources.

Pre-apprenticeships—NAS and schools

70.  NAS is tasked with "responsibility for promoting Apprenticeships and their value to employers, learners and the country as a whole".[107] We supposed, therefore, that it would have allocated considerable resources towards raising learner awareness in schools and colleges. However, we heard that this has not been the case and that NAS had failed to exploit the opportunity to work more closely with schools. For example, the National Union of Students (NUS) told us:

    NUS was hopeful that the creation of the National Apprenticeship Service would give rise to parity of experience for apprentices. We are concerned however that the levels of learner engagement within this service are inadequate.

    NUS believes that the National Apprenticeship Service should adopt a more systematised approach towards learner and stakeholder engagement.[108]

71.  The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) agreed that NAS should increase learner engagement by working more in schools:

    NAS can play a particularly valuable role in schools, explaining to young people, their teachers and parents that Apprenticeships offer a high quality vocational training that will suit many young people better than the traditional academic route after the age of 16. This is particularly important at a time when careers guidance is being dismantled and there is a real fear amongst providers that schools will not be able to fulfil their duty to make pupils aware of all the options available, including Apprenticeships, except in a very superficial way.[109]

72.  When we raised this with the Chief executive of NAS, David Way, he told us that "the statutory responsibility rests with school heads".[110] While this may be a correct reading of the law, it further strengthens our earlier conclusion that this problem cannot be solved through legislation alone. When we asked Mr Way what resources NAS had dedicated to learner engagement, he responded:

    It is relatively small in relation to, say, the work we do with employers. The primary responsibility for this rests with the schools themselves, so we try to be responsive to schools rather than go into schools.[111]

He summarised that "it is a support rather than lead role, but it is very important".[112]

73.  NAS subsequently submitted further information on work that their Central Division (East Midlands, West Midlands and Central Eastern areas) had undertaken to support schools:

    The Ambassador Networks believed that the lack of access to good quality information, advice and guidance was the key barrier to the effective growth of Apprenticeships and considered that young people were being poorly served in this regard.

    Early feedback from schools and employers alike was that using employers and their apprentices (preferably ex-pupils of the school) was one of the best ways to inspire school students to consider post 16 or 18 options including, considering new sectors for employment. In response to this feedback we are in the process of creating and populating a sustainable database with every secondary school in the area linked to a provider (Further Education or Work Based Learning) and an Apprentice Ambassador/former Apprentice.

    Work has already started in a number of schools with Ambassadors supporting open evenings, careers events and classroom presentations; this has been particularly welcomed in promoting some sectors including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subject areas where young people can sometimes fail to understand how such subjects can be extremely valuable to local employers especially in the advanced manufacturing sector.[113]

74.  Given the widely held view that NAS should have more involvement with learners through schools, we were disappointed by the Chief Executive's apparent lack of enthusiasm, citing the Education Act 2011 and telling us that NAS was not statutorily responsible. The National Apprenticeship Service should be a familiar name, known to all students and teachers as an authoritative source of information about apprenticeships. We recommend that NAS is given statutory responsibility for raising awareness of apprenticeships for students within schools. This should include some quantifiable measure of success with which to gauge the student awareness of apprenticeships.

Equality, diversity and accessibility

75.  During the course of this inquiry we were presented with evidence that the apprenticeship scheme may be perpetuating some inequalities seen in the wider economy. The Trades Union Congress told us of some specific diversity failings in the apprenticeship scheme:

    Gender segregation remains a huge problem with only 3 per cent of engineering apprentices accounted for by female participants compared to 92 per cent of hairdressing apprentices. This is one of the reasons for an overall gender pay gap of 21 per cent, but even within the same sector women are being paid less: for example 61 per cent of apprentices in the retail sector are female but they are paid 16 per cent less than male retail apprentices.

    Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities also face huge barriers. For example, while 18-24 year-olds from BME communities account for 14 per cent of this age group in the overall population, they account for less than 8 per cent of apprenticeship places.

    Disabled people face similar barriers, with trends suggesting a worsening of the situation. Access to apprenticeships for people declaring a learning difficulty and/or disability has fallen from 11.5 per cent in 2005/06 to 8.2 per cent in 2010/11.[114]

76.  Such inequality, especially in a publically funded scheme is not acceptable and combating barriers to entry should be a key priority. It is no less important that the scheme considers the wider socioeconomic and political concerns of the country (for example youth unemployment). We have heard from some witnesses, for example Centrepoint, who told us that the apprenticeship scheme is at risk of excluding certain members of society not typically considered to be under-represented:

    While improving quality is rightly a central aspiration for the government, this should not come at the expense of accessibility. Particularly in light of the crisis of youth unemployment, and the raising of the participation age, apprenticeship provision must become a viable option for young people who are NEET, or at risk of becoming NEET and studying at a low level.[115]

77.  We were encouraged when the Department confirmed that NAS is currently conducting research into this topic, and already considered raising diversity as a priority. The Department told us that:

    The National Apprenticeship Service has responsibility for delivering the Apprenticeships programme, and increasing the numbers and diversity of Apprenticeship applicants is a priority.[116]

We remain concerned that "numbers and diversity" are two different (and potentially competing) issues. The Department went on to confirm that NAS "is currently exploring new ways to promote access and success for under-represented groups".[117]

78.  It would seem that these explorations have had some effect on public opinion. The Times newspaper reported on this issue, giving the example of a "pilot scheme, co-funded by the National Apprenticeship Service and the Skills Funding Agency to attract more men into the care sector". The apprenticeship programme should be a beacon of best practice for the industry. Having said that, recent statistics demonstrate that there is more to be done. The same article concluded that "as a result [of the lack of diversity], businesses are missing out on a huge pool of talented, hard-working people".[118]

79.  The apprenticeship scheme has been reported to contain inequalities, specifically around sex, ethnicity and disability. These issues are not necessarily specific to the apprenticeship scheme. More analysis is needed to fully understand the impact of the perceived lack of diversity within the apprenticeship scheme and its relationship with inequalities in the wider economy. We will maintain in our programme of work our commitment to tackling these issues as our inquiries uncover them.

80.  While we were encouraged to hear that the National Apprenticeship Service does take diversity into account, the statistics show that it remains a significant problem. We welcome the work conducted by NAS into diversity, and recommend that it is given specific responsibility and accountability to raise awareness of apprenticeships among under-represented groups. This should include a responsibility to promote the advantages of diversity directly to employers. We believe that the apprenticeship programme should be an inspiration and beacon of best practice to the wider economy, demonstrating the advantages of greater diversity at all levels of industry.

96   Q191 Back

97   Q 192 Back

98   Ev w305 Back

99   Q 105 Back

100   Ev w82 Back

101   Q 254 Back

102   Q 254 Back

103   Q 707 Back

104   Q 706 Back

105   Ev 169 Back

106   Q 191 Back

107   National Apprenticeship Service website, History of Apprenticeships [accessed 1 July 2012] Back

108   Ev w228 Back

109   Ev 157 Back

110   Q 583 Back

111   Q 584 Back

112   Q 585 Back

113   Ev 224 Back

114   Ev 210 Back

115   Ev w61 Back

116   Ev 146 Back

117   Ev 146 Back

118   The Times, Apprenticeship special, Under-represented groups are a loss to employers, 16 May 2012 Back

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Prepared 6 November 2012