From education to employment

Recognition – the case for grading Apprenticeships

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners LtdRoger Francis is a director at Creative Learning Partners

A few days ago, we learned that our company, Creative Learning Partners, had been short-listed in no less than 4 different categories (including Training Provider Of The Year) at the forthcoming TES FE Awards for 2016.

Not surprisingly, we were absolutely delighted to hear this news and I am sure that the following day everyone in the business was holding their head that little bit higher. When you aspire to be the very best, recognition from your peers that you are achieving your aim is a great motivator.

With that in mind, I am surprised and somewhat disappointed that many of my colleagues in the sector appear to be opposed to the new grading system for Apprentices which will come into effect from April 2017 and will classify Apprenticeships as either a “Pass” or a “Distinction”.

Their argument seems to be that since Apprenticeships are competency-based, you are either competent or not competent and they use the analogy of an airline pilot who can either fly the plane or can’t. My response to that is very simple.

I am sure the world is full of very able and competent pilots but how many of them could have equaled the skills of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and carried out a safe emergency landing of an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River, thereby saving the lives of all his passengers?

Apprentices are not robots being churned off a production line and stamped “Passed” having satisfied quality control. They are real people with different skill levels and different ambitions.

Whilst the figures show that sadly many of them seem content to stick with their Level 2 qualification, there are others who will aspire to go much further and will be prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that everything they produce is of the very highest quality.

If we are serious about building a world-class Apprenticeship system, I believe we should recognize these individuals and reward their commitment and endeavour.

Sadly, the grading system joins a long line of Apprenticeship reforms which have been opposed or only grudgingly accepted by parts of the sector. I distinctly remember being told by one prominent individual that Functional Skills would never replace Key Skills, but that if it did, it would mark the end of Apprenticeships.

Similarly, many people felt that 12 month minimum Apprenticeships were unnecessary. More recently, end-point assessments have been vigorously challenged and of course many providers are still desperately hoping that the government will change its mind and allow them to keep control of funding.

I am very conscious that change is one of the most difficult processes to handle and whilst I don’t think that the government has necessarily handled the changes associated with the Apprenticeship Reforms particularly well, I can’t help feeling that some providers are desperately trying to remain within their comfort zones.

They believe that there is nothing amiss with the present system and that the government should leave them alone and allow them to continue to do what they’ve always done. “Grading” is seen as yet another example of “Government interference”.

But I believe that by adopting this stance, they are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to embrace changes which I genuinely believe will help us develop a World-Class Apprenticeship programme.

There are however, also many great providers in the UK who like us aspire to be the very best. I hope they will therefore support Apprentices who have similar aspirations so that “Distinctions” become the norm rather than the exception. Who knows, one of them might be the next Chesley Stellenberger.

Roger Francis is a director with Creative Learning Partners, a specialist vocational training company focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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