English and maths have been a key part of the apprenticeship programme for many years and are still one of the key employability skills that are developed within an apprenticeship framework. Good literacy and numeracy skills have been identified by employers as a key part of their employability.
Studies have shown that improved skills in English and maths can really improve productivity and contribute to the raising of a country's GDP. Apprenticeships, along with other kinds of work based training programmes, must continue to have these basic skills at the core of the programme.
Although we agree that employers should drive the content of frameworks and standards, we believe that there should be a requirement to demand a minimum level of English and maths. This is currently pitched at a minimum of Level 1 for an Intermediate Apprenticeship and a Level 2 for all other apprenticeships, and we believe this is the right level as a minimum.
However employers, when they are developing new standards, should continue to have the option to set the level higher if required. Functional Skills are currently delivering this improved English and maths skills and they must be retained as a valid alternative to GCSE. Many employers prefer the functional skills route to GCSE. The Education and Training Foundation have started their review of Functional Skills and this will be an important part of developing the way forward to improve delivery.
All apprentices should be encouraged to continue their studies beyond level 1 and beyond level 2 if the employer and learner wish to do so. This learning should qualify as eligible for funding within a programme even if it is not a mandatory requirement. Employers should also be encouraged to allow their apprentices to continue studying and gain skills in English and maths. The government should make it clear to the employers that this can be funded.
Under the Trailblazer rules, learners are required to take the level 2 English and maths tests before they are able to take the apprenticeship end-test. This is an unnecessary rule which will result in many demotivated learners who will not have received the required support to get through level 2 in both subjects. Learners should be encouraged but not required to take the level 2 and the tests.
The key to high quality training in English and maths is a 'stepping stone' approach, where a learner progressively builds up their basic skills incrementally. Too big a jump between the level 1 and level 2 will damage the learner's confidence and demotivate them from improving their literacy and numeracy any further. If learners are required to take the tests, it should at least be before the end of the apprenticeship programme, not before the end-test starts. This would give them additional time for the learning required.
The early government proposals were that English and maths should be funded and contracted as separate elements of the programme. This is true for the current frameworks and the Trailblazer delivery model. This separate funding should continue once the levy funding system is in place. The alternative system, i.e. setting a total price for the whole programme, may result in the loss of focus on English and maths. Many employers believe that they should not pay for apprentices to get a minimum level of literacy and numeracy, so separate funding and independent, specialist contracting would maintain the focus and quality on these key skills.
Providers would be able to draw down funds for English and maths once they have been given the voucher by the employer against the agreed eligibility criteria. Employers could choose to deliver their English and maths through their main apprenticeship provider or agree to work with a registered specialist provider of English and maths.
The current funding rate of £471 per subject is significantly less than the stand-alone rate for the same programme. This should be reviewed if we wish to improve the standard of teaching in these subjects. All of this should apply to SMEs as well as those paying the levy.
Delivering English and maths as part of the new standards will require all providers to improve their delivery models. AELP advocates that a support programme should be developed for providers and employers to ensure effective delivery of English and maths within the new apprenticeship programmes after the introduction of the levy. It is critical that employers in particular are made fully aware of the importance of having a strong English and maths element to their apprenticeship training and recognise the enormous benefits of investing in basic skills training during and beyond an apprenticeship.
A full review of the delivery of English and maths in apprenticeships should be instituted post 2017 when the levy is in place. This review must take into account the link with the funding of English and maths outside of apprenticeships. English and maths remain a fundamental part of the apprenticeship programme and we need to maintain the focus on funding and delivery as the levy reforms are implemented.
Stewart Segal is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers