Up and down the country, apprentices are gaining skills that will raise our productivity and help them climb the ladder of opportunity. Throughout this inquiry, no matter who we spoke with, we found enthusiasm for the opportunities apprenticeships can offer and commitment to seizing them. There can be no doubt that apprenticeships work. However, we think they could work even better and on a greater scale. Successive governments have made major changes to the administration, content and funding of apprenticeships, and we commend their efforts, but problems remain. Too many apprentices are simply not getting the high-quality training they deserve and too many people, particularly the young and disadvantaged, are not being given the support they need to pursue an apprenticeship and get on in life. In our report, we set out how to fix this.
We need stronger, clearer oversight of apprenticeship training and assessment. New providers should get a monitoring visit from Ofsted in their first year: before this visit the amount of training they can deliver should be capped; if they fail, they should be out. Ofqual should be given responsibility for the external quality assurance of all end-point assessments. The opaque world of subcontracting needs far greater scrutiny. We propose greater controls on lead providers and a cap on the management fees they can charge. Subcontractors should receive the same level of attention and be held to the same quality standard as lead providers. Ofsted should be judging the quality of this training for itself rather than relying on quality assurance undertaken by middle men. The Government needs to make sure it has the funding to do this.
Apprentices need a much stronger voice in the system: the Institute’s apprentice panel should be given greater formal powers to make recommendations to its board and an improved complaints procedure for apprentices set up. To help apprentices climb the ladder of opportunity we need clearer paths to progression both within standards and in new progression maps created by the Institute. We also need much stronger focus on progression through levels of apprenticeships, including the route to degree apprenticeships. The Institute and Government should make the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.
To ensure the system is working with and not against employers, we need reforms to both apprenticeship standards and funding. We propose increasing the top funding band, doubling the time employers have to spend their funds and allowing more levy transfers. The Government should explore introducing greater flexibility to the 20 percent off-the-job training requirement in response to concerns we have heard from employers during both this inquiry and our ongoing work on nursing apprenticeships.
The funding system should do more to help the young and disadvantaged climb the ladder of opportunity. This means more bursaries, increased incentives for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises, and a new social justice fund to support organisations that help the hardest to reach. The apprentice minimum wage should be raised, as a step on the road towards abolition. Stronger enforcement should lead to employers who evade the apprentice minimum wage being sanctioned more severely. It is encouraging that most apprentices are paid significantly more, but that should not lead us to ignore the needs of those struggling to get by. It is vital that the Government also introduces a kitemark system for good apprentice employers to encourage best practice and help apprentices choose the best employer for them.
We need a benefits system that helps rather than hinders apprentices and a renewed focus on the needs of those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Young people need clearer routes into apprenticeships: the Government should get tough on schools that evade the Baker clause. It must also deliver on its manifesto promises to reduce apprentice travel costs and introduce a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education, skills, FE and apprenticeships.
Published: 8 October 2018