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A government inspection body has rated an apprenticeship programme for 14 to 16 year-olds as providing "a successful alternative to traditional provision".

Ofsted, the organisation responsible for inspection and quality, conducted a survey for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) detailing the effectiveness of 24 Young Apprenticeship (YA) partnerships, launched in September 2004. Overall, provision was judged as both successful and helped students develop "good practical skills and knowledge related to their vocational sector".

Miriam Rosen, Director of Education at Ofsted, noted: "The Young Apprenticeships programme has provided a successful alternative to traditional Key Stage 4 provision. In the most effective partnerships good teaching and training by appropriately qualified staff, fully developed individual learning plans, and high quality advice and guidance, all helped to ensure that students achieved well".

According to a report released last week, the Young Apprenticeship programmes "provide a new route for motivated and able pupils in Key Stage 4 to study for vocational qualifications". Students follow the national curriculum, and for two days a week undertake the programme at school, college or with a training provider towards a nationally recognised vocational qualification, in a range of industries.

However, the survey did find that, although 23 of the 24 programmes inspected used Key Stage 3 assessment data in selecting students for the courses, "it was rarely used to help match tasks to their prior attainment or to set individual targets for the students".

Further, the use of individual learning plans was absent in 5 programmes and "used poorly" in 11; homework opportunities between placements were limited, and students were reported as not realising how their specific placements would assist them in obtaining the relevant qualification.

Gender and race issues were also raised during the course of inspection: "Some vocational areas, such as engineering and health and social care, were dominated by one gender or did not represent the ethnic diversity in the schools involved. Challenges to gender stereotyping and strategies for encouraging students from minority ethnic groups to take part in the YA programme were inconsistent".

In response to the shortfalls acknowledged, the evaluation submitted five proposals to better the quality of provision, which included encouraging more students from ethnic minorities to participate, developing "effective" individual learning plans and to ensure that work placements, which can total up to 50 days a year, are better linked to the qualification.

"For the future, Young Apprenticeships partnerships must ensure that students consolidate and extend their learning between sessions, tackle gender stereotyping and encourage students from minority ethnic backgrounds to participate in the programme", Miriam added.

Vijay Pattni.

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