From education to employment

Tread carefully in taking forward Sainsbury

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers has given a generally positive welcome to the Sainsbury Review on Technical and Professional Education (TPE) for 16 to18 year olds and the Skills Plan which the government published in response to it.

We welcomed a coherent strategy for this age group being developed and expressed a desire to see implementation undertaken in a way that achieves the goals of a nation wanting to lead on technical skills.  This may require time, so the proposals should ideally receive cross-party support.

There were very sound reasons for commissioning the review, not least a case for rationalising the large number of vocational learning choices.  The review potentially offers clear routes through to work or progression with pathways in the different sectors and linkage between classroom based and work based routes.

However the initial AELP response did flag up some concerns.  The most important relates to the review’s apparent suggestion that 16 to 18 year olds should only have access to 15 apprenticeship frameworks which mirror the 15 TPE choices that will be available in colleges.  The government says that the Institute for Apprenticeships will work out the details but the initial scope of them is alarming.  On the basis of the figures provided, we believe that 57% of jobs in our economy are outside the recommendation’s scope, so we are in danger of creating an elitist system that would deny many young people a work based learning route to level 2 or 3.  Employers too in the unfavoured sectors will not be happy at the prospect of this option being closed off for new apprentices.   

What is vital is that a student is not stuck on a programme for two years if they are unhappy.  If they chose, say, a classroom based vocational option and realise after 2 or 3 months that they should have gone into employment with an apprenticeship, there should be full support  for the learner to make the transition at that point in time with all current funding and performance disincentives removed for the provider so they can encourage the shift.  Not everyone is clear about their future at 16 or 17!

It is difficult to understand the review team’s approach when Britain urgently needs to improve productivity and to train more home-grown talent after the Brexit vote.  The director of vocational education at BIS reminded us last week that the reason why the government funded apprenticeships was because the programme offered the best return on its investment in skills and we believe that the full offer should be available to all sectors and to those who leave school at 16.

The reform process over the last three years has led to the creation of new employer led apprenticeship standards under the trailblazers and yet the government now appears to be telling these employers that these standards should only apply to adult apprentices with a different set established for 16 to 18 year olds.  Ministers keep telling us a key driver behind the apprenticeship reforms is simplification but employers and learners are instead faced with another layer of complexity.

A further disappointment is that general applied vocational learning has been left with the schools to deliver alongside A Levels.  This would leave many students who should be doing proper vocational education with proper resources and teachers with relevant skills and experience being kept at school doing desk based vocational learning with limited future progression and prospects.

Another oddity is the belief that only classroom based provision can be delivered by colleges when independent training providers (ITPs) are already well embedded in the technical learning market.  Similarly the review’s authors seem under the misapprehension that all off-the-job training in an apprenticeship takes place in a college when the definition embraces any accredited learning that takes place off the shop floor.

The Skills Plan accepts all of the Sainsbury Review’s recommendations “where that is possible within current budget constraints”.  Value for money rightly matters and therefore we will be highlighting the absurdity contained in the review’s recommendation that contravenes over two decades of cross-party consensus which says that technical and off-the-job education can only be delivered by not-for-profit institutions.  The media regularly exposes monster salaries paid to executive heads and principals in institutions that are far from delivering value for money and yet this is apparently more acceptable than training organisations with an outstanding track record of delivery making a return.  Furthermore ITPs are only paid for what they deliver; they do not operate under the grant allocation system.  The idea of institutionalised ringfencing of non-statutory education is a twentieth century concept that should be left there.

The sections on work placements as opposed to work experience seem muddled.  There are proposals to support colleges on providing more work experience opportunities and comments on study programmes without recognising the increasing number of opportunities being opened up by Traineeships through ITPs.  Traineeships themselves are seen as a ‘transition’ option for those who leave school with few or no qualifications and we welcome the idea of a transition period up to a year embedding the Traineeship programme.  

Overall, we would agree that setting up the review was a good idea and the broad principles are sound.  However acceptance of all its recommendations would be a backward step and they need to be thoroughly reviewed and the consequences considered before even first steps towards implementation are taken.

Mark Dawe is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (  

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