Apprenticeships Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Strategy

1.We welcome the Government’s efforts to bring the benefits of apprenticeship to all sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, it must ensure apprenticeships are not seen to be the solution to every skills problem. Recent announcements suggest the Government recognises this. (Paragraph 12)

2.The Government is right to give employers greater influence within the apprenticeship system, but during the early stages of the process this had the effect of drowning out other voices, including those of smaller businesses. We welcome the Government’s recent announcements that suggest it now favours a more balanced approach, but remain concerned that large businesses exercise too much influence, and the views of other stakeholders with less lobbying power are given insufficient weight. (Paragraph 18)

3.The three million target is a useful symbol of the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships, but it must guard against the perception that it the only measure of success. Apprenticeship starts are the means to an end, not an end in themselves. (Paragraph 22)

4.We recommend that alongside the 3 million starts target, the Government outlines far clearer outcome measures for individual apprentices. These should include programme completion, progression to higher levels and subsequent achievement of secure relevant employment. It should publish an annual survey of performance against these measures. (Paragraph 23)

5.The Government has not set out how its increase in apprenticeship numbers will help fill the country’s skills gaps. The current balance of provision is skewed towards sectors with low wage returns and few skills shortages and we are not convinced that tinkering with funding bands will bring about the major changes necessary. The Government already makes immigration decisions on the basis of identified skills shortages; it should make greater use of this existing knowledge. (Paragraph 31)

6.We recommend that the Government publishes an annual document setting out skills shortages on a national, regional and sector-specific basis and sets clear targets to ensure apprenticeship uptake in these areas is prioritised. (Paragraph 32)

7.The public sector should employ more apprentices, but a blanket target risks incentivising quantity over quality and the rebadging of existing training programmes. (Paragraph 35)

8.We recommend that the Government should keep the public sector target under review and enable increased participation in areas of the public sector with clear skills shortages. (Paragraph 36)

9.Apprenticeships offer great opportunities, but they can prove difficult for some people. We welcome the Government’s commitment to widening participation, but there is more the Government can do to make this happen. (Paragraph 42)

10.We recommend that the Government examine further measures to make apprenticeship more accessible to all. This could include changes to benefits rules, subsidised transport or direct financial support. (Paragraph 43)

11.We agree strongly with the Government’s desire to widen participation in apprenticeships, especially among previously underrepresented groups. However barriers remain, not least the inadequate advice many young people receive about the options available to them. (Paragraph 46)

12.We recommend that the Government sets out its careers strategy as soon as possible. As we said previously, it is urgently needed and must include immediate steps to ensure all young people have access to high quality careers advice. (Paragraph 47)

13.We fully support the Government’s attempts to improve the prestige of apprenticeships, but it will take more than words to achieve this aim. If the quality is there the prestige will follow. (Paragraph 50)

The Institute for Apprenticeships

14.The creation of the Institute is a welcome step towards building a world class apprenticeship system. It has had a rushed and therefore difficult beginning, and has a daunting array of responsibilities, but we have been reassured by recent announcements that it is now on the right track. It is crucial that it is fully operational as soon as possible and is given the tools to fulfil its promise. (Paragraph 64)

15.We recommend that the Government carefully monitor whether the Institute has sufficient resources to fulfil its role and acts quickly to solve any emerging capacity issues. (Paragraph 65)

16.We recommend that the Institute appoint a permanent Chief Executive as soon as possible. (Paragraph 66)

17.We are concerned that the Institute, a body with a clear mandate to protect the quality of apprenticeship standards and assessments, is also being asked to work towards the Government’s three million target. This risks incentivising quantity rather than quality. If the Institute proves successful in raising the quality of apprenticeships, they will sell themselves. (Paragraph 68)

18.We recommend that the Institute should not be required to work towards the three million target. Its role should be confined to ensuring quality within the system. Its independence should be respected by Government. (Paragraph 69)

Standards

19.The Trailblazer programme has done much to increase employer engagement with the apprenticeship programme, and refocus it on higher level skills. Yet it has often appeared somewhat haphazard, with no clear picture of how a final system would look and confusion between Trailblazer groups and standards approvers. We welcome the Institute’s intention to bring far greater structure and coherence to the process. (Paragraph 77)

20.Standards created under the Trailblazer programme have been of uneven quality. We welcome the Institute’s proposals to bring greater oversight and expertise to the approvals process. (Paragraph 82)

21.While standards are intended to be much simpler than previous frameworks, there is a balance to be struck between giving individual employers freedom to specify the training they want, and guidance about how this training could be given. Different sectors and industries should be allowed the freedom to tailor training to meet their different requirements. (Paragraph 83)

22.We recommend that new standards should include greater detail about how training could be delivered, although there should be no obligation for employers to follow this advice. (Paragraph 84)

23.The Trailblazer system has not made a clear enough distinction between the role of the employer—defining the skills, knowledge and behaviours an apprentice must acquire and demonstrate—and the role of assessment professionals—designing the means by which this is evaluated. We welcome the Institute’s proposals to clarify these roles. (Paragraph 88)

24.Apprentices should not have been allowed to begin their training without an assessment organisation in place and a clear idea of how their success will be measured. (Paragraph 92)

25.We recommend that standards should have at least one approved assessment organisation in place before they can be delivered. (Paragraph 93)

26.The integrity of the apprenticeships undertaken under new standards depends on the consistency and reliability of end-point assessment. We are unconvinced that the Government’s current model of external quality assurance will achieve this. (Paragraph 99)

27.We recommend that Ofqual should be given responsibility for the external quality assurance of all end-point assessments. (Paragraph 100)

Funding

28.Levies are a feature of many successful apprenticeship systems around the world and we heard little to suggest they should not be part of ours. But the Apprenticeship Levy is a blunt tool in which contributions are unlikely to bear any relation to the skills needs of individual employers and their sector more generally. It is not sufficiently focussed on areas of the economy, and of the country, where training is most needed. (Paragraph 109)

29.We recommend that the Government, as part of its continuing review of the operation of the levy, consider whether a single rate is the best approach and explore ways of restructuring the levy on a sectoral and regional basis. (Paragraph 110)

30.There remains a lack of clarity about the long-term funding arrangements for non-levy-paying employers, and how this may or may not relate to levy yield and how much training levy-paying employers choose to provide. (Paragraph 117)

31.We are not convinced that introducing price competition into the apprenticeship system will have the effect the Government intends. It is unclear whether there will be enough information available to employers to choose between providers. If this proves to be the case, there will either be little competition or, more damagingly, competition based purely on price which could drive down quality. (Paragraph 126)

32.We recommend that the Government, in cooperation with Ofsted and the Institute, closely monitor the effect of price competition on apprenticeship quality. (Paragraph 127)

33.Given the Government’s commitment to using the apprenticeship system aid social mobility, we are surprised that its initial funding proposals looked likely to do the opposite. While some of these potential effects have now been mitigated we are sceptical as to whether this objective can be achieved under such a dramatically simplified funding system. (Paragraph 128)

Training

34.It is likely that that the Government’s ongoing changes to standards and funding will increase the volume, and in some cases the complexity, of Ofsted’s task. (Paragraph 133)

35.We recommend that Ofsted develop and publish a clear strategy, and related guidance for training providers, setting out how it plans to inspect standards-based provision, in particular that provided by employer-providers. (Paragraph 134)

36.If the Government’s reforms prove successful, far more employers will offer apprenticeships. It is important that they all have the knowledge and capacity to support and mentor these apprentices in the workplace. (Paragraph 137)





30 March 2017