Technical and Further Education Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Society of Apprentices (TFEB 16)

Technical and Further Education Bill: Public Bill Committee – written evidence submission

1. About NSoA

The National Society of Apprentices (NSoA) is the representative organisation for apprentices across the UK. Founded only 2 years ago in 2014, we represent more than 150,000 apprentices from across all sectors and industries in the country and work with more than 120 training providers and employers.

The National Society was founded by and is housed within the National Union of Students but NSoA operates independently of NUS, with its own elected leadership team of current and recent apprentices.

2. Introduction

This evidence submission has been compiled for the consideration of the Public Bill Committee of the Technical and Further Education Bill by the National Society of Apprentices.

As a national representative body for apprentices, we have reserved comments in this submission specifically to issues affecting apprentices and apprenticeships and to areas that we believe it is vital that the Bill, and the bodies referenced within it, considers.

We are grateful that Poppy Wolfarth was invited to give oral evidence to the Committee on behalf of the National Society of Apprentices on 22 November 2016, and we apologise for the unfortunate circumstances in which she had to withdraw from the witness list with short notice. We are incredibly grateful for the Committee’s understanding of the reasons why she was unable to give evidence.

The National Society of Apprentices welcomes the opportunity to instead provide comments in written evidence, and hopes that the Committee will give these issues – reflective of Poppy’s and NSoA’s views – due consideration.

3. Summary

The Technical and Further Education Bill provides an opportunity to embed key protections for apprentices into the UK’s technical education and skills framework. These protections include representation, quality assurance and access to apprenticeship opportunities.

In expanding the remit of the Institute for Apprenticeships, the Bill is reflecting a holistic understanding of technical skills and we welcome the priority with which the Government seeks to improve the skills provision for young people and learners across the country.

However, there are central components of both this Bill and the UK’s offer to apprenticeships that require significant attention to ensure that apprentices benefit from quality experiences and opportunities whilst apprenticeship provision delivers on what the UK needs to remain competitive in its future.

4. Representation and apprentice involvement

The government has made well-known its intentions for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to be employer-led. This has the potential to ensure apprenticeships are designed with the national skills need in mind; however, we would urge against a total employer focus.

It is notable that there are no obvious statutory or formal mechanisms through which it is imagined that apprentices themselves will feed their experiences and opinions into the work of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

The National Society of Apprentices would argue that this is an omission that the Bill should promptly address. The National Society of Apprentices believe that there should be a designated space for an apprentice and a learner on the board of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

Whilst the NSoA welcomes the emphasis that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is intended to give to ensuring sufficient quality for apprentices and learners, it is fundamental to recognise that apprentices first and foremost know what works for them.

A place on the board of the Institute that is being founded to monitor standards for them and that bears there name is the bare minimum that apprentices should expect as an indicator that they will be entitled to representation within the system that the Bill creates.

The NSoA would also note the recent amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill to entitle higher education students representation on the board of the Office for Students: the body being established to regulate higher education in similar ways that the Institute will do for apprenticeships and technical education.

Apprentices believe that it is reasonable to request parity of representation with students from universities, particularly given parity between apprenticeships and university education has been an ambition of the government for years.

More widely, we would welcome greater opportunities for representation and democracy within apprenticeship structures. In Germany, for example, democratic participation of young people and apprentices occurs through taking part in apprentice councils. These councils play a part in the "development of character" as described in paragraph 14 of the Berufsbildungsgesetz (Vocational Training Law).

5. Quality Assurance

The NSoA has concerns that whilst some positive – and progressive – elements of apprenticeship schemes that exist in Europe have been imported into the UK under the government’s plans (not least the apprenticeship levy), cornerstones of quality assurance models in European countries have not been.

Quality assurance under the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is still set to be dominated by employers but the best models we see in Europe show that quality is best assured through collaborative partnerships between apprentices, providers and employers.

For example, BIBB, the German Federal Institute for Vocational Training, highlights its work with social partners, including apprentices, as part of its ongoing research into improving the Dual Training system. Meanwhile, at a pan-European level, the recent review of quality assurance in higher vocational skills repeatedly refers to the inclusion of social partners such as local chambers of commerce, trade and craft associations, trade unions and apprentices themselves as key to developing quality within higher apprenticeships. [1]

The Bill presents an opportunity to establish such collaborative frameworks for ensuring quality in the UK’s skills and technical education sector. We would, as mentioned, recommend that an apprentice and a learner are included on the board of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, not only so that they have a way to have their voice represented in decisions about them, but so that they might participate in a clear and collaborative quality assurance process.

Additionally, we would recommend that the board that will be formed for each of the 15 technical education routes has a statutory requirement to involve learners, apprentices, providers, employers and other relevant bodies. By doing so, a clear collaborative framework for determining standards in technical education will be established.

This approach would be beneficial for the future of the entire technical education and apprenticeship sector, as well as for the future prospects of the UK’s skills and economy.

6. Accessibility of apprenticeships

The NSoA is concerned by a broader problem within apprenticeships in the UK that the provisions that are currently covered within the scope of this Bill. This is, namely, challenges that particular groups of people face in accessing apprenticeships.

We would urge the Committee to consider the below evidence in their discussions on the Bill and consider ways in which the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education may be strengthened to tackle these critical issues for apprenticeships.

(a) The status of apprentices for the purposes of various benefits

It seems incongruous to us that structural barriers exist to disincentivise the most disadvantaged from taking up an apprenticeship. However, the exclusion of apprentices from certain benefits that are afforded to other students and learners does exactly that.

For example, apprenticeships are not considered "approved education or training" for the purposes of child benefit. This means that, upon taking up an apprenticeship, a young person’s family will become ineligible to claim child benefit and child tax credits. This will inevitably have a negative impact on that family’s household budget, which is not covered by the earnings made by an apprentice’s salary given the apprentice minimum wage is barely over £3 per hour.

Similarly, apprentices are not eligible for council tax exemptions in the same way as other students. Whilst apprentices paid under £195 a week are exempt, this is not widely advertised and many are unaware of this, and apprentices earning over this amount are simply not exempt from council tax payments at all. Again, this provides a financial disincentive for young people to enter into an apprenticeship as opposed to other routes of education.

It seems inconsistent that apprentices are continually excluded from definitions of ‘approved’ learners, when apprenticeships are increasingly assuming their place in the government’s holistic view of education and skills (which this Bill itself represents through unifying apprenticeships with technical education). This is a holistic vision that we welcome, but we will remain disappointed until there is genuine parity between all educational and apprenticeship routes.

(b) Travel

Research by the NSoA has highlighted that apprentices pay an average of £24 a week on travel. [2] This equates to a quarter of the salary of an apprentice who is earning the Apprentice National Minimum Wage. Additional research by the NSoA in 2014 indicated that young people were choosing the apprenticeships they could afford to get to rather than the apprenticeships they were keen to do.

In light of the Area review process in England and the creation of ‘fewer, more resilient colleges’, the NSoA are concerned that for some apprentices travel time between provider, employer and home will be too much for some apprentices and imped access into these roles.

It is vital that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education takes a lead role in encouraging local authorities and transport companies to ensure that all young people – including apprentices – are covered by travel concessions. Without a high profile champion for their needs, apprentices can too often be excluded from such concessions as, again, apprenticeships are perceived as employment rather than education and are excluded from definitions.

(c) Pay

The existence of a low Apprentice National Minimum Wage is unnecessary and complicated for both apprentice and employer. Within a 4 year apprenticeship it is possible to be on 3 different minimum wages. This increases the risk of accidental underpayment of apprentices, which is of concern to employers, whilst apprentices also describe how it demeans the value of work that they contribute.

In some industries it is usual to split the level 2 and 3 qualifications into separate apprenticeships, enabling the same employer to pay the same apprentice the lowest minimum wage for more than 1 year.

There are a number of different systems that recognise that productivity of apprentices grows with experience. The Austrian system increases by 10% each year over the span of the apprenticeships until apprentices are paid the fully qualified rate upon completion.

Given the current minimum wage structure the National Society agrees with AELP that the apprentice minimum wage should be phased out.

The new ‘national living wage’ (NLW) for those aged 25 and over, which was introduced earlier this year, has introduced a new differential, and has made the relative position of the others even worse. The apprenticeship minimum wage is now less than 50 per cent of the NLW rate.

Additionally, we are concerned that the new funding arrangements for apprenticeships, with their focus on STEM subjects, will only add to the increased structural inequality with regards to the gender pay gap found in apprenticeships.

Women workers are much more likely to be in those apprenticeships (hairdressing, social care) that pay at the minimum wage, whilst men dominate in better paid sectors such as engineering. The apprenticeship rate entrenches gender inequality by allowing those sectors to pay their female apprentices such a small amount and does nothing to alleviate poverty . Research by the Young Womens Trust recommends a series of interventions on increasing diversity in apprenticeship starts which we endorse.

The Institute for Apprenticeships can take a leading role in improving the perception of apprenticeships and the value of the contribution that apprentices make, whilst it should also take an active role in ensuring that employers are giving apprentices a fair deal rather than exploiting loopholes in the system to cut costs at apprentices’ expense.

29 November 2016


Prepared 2nd December 2016