Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group

Ensuring quality is an essential component of creating a truly world class apprenticeship system.

The process of the reforms to apprenticeships were intended to embed quality at every level of delivery.

High quality apprenticeships will give apprentices confidence that the skills they are learning will allow them to succeed in their future careers.

However, in many ways the UK apprenticeship system falls behind the curve.

In a recent report on apprenticeship quality, the education select committee found that:

“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.”

Three million apprenticeship starts by 2020

The need to focus on quality is not helped by the erroneous nature of the three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 target. The target does not tell us anything insightful about how well, or how badly, the apprenticeship system is working.

The target focusses on starts, which is important, but is only one of many indicators needed to provide a complete picture of how well the system is working.

Consider, for example, that an apprentice could drop out of their programme mid-way through, they would still have started their course, so they’d still be counted as a contributing towards meeting the target.

However, the success of the apprenticeship system relies much more on quality and achievement rates, than it does on the number of people that undertook an apprenticeship but never completed it.

Comprehensive reporting of apprenticeship outcomes

In order to produce a complete set of indicators to see the real impact of reforms, more data points need to be conceptualised. So, we would support the publication of complete data with comprehensive reporting of apprenticeship progression outcomes. This should include regular data on outcomes by provider, sector, occupation and region.

The quality point also extends to providers. Ofsted’s 2016/17 annual report found that more than half of the providers required improvement. Overall provide quality is variable, so we need to work collectively to improve them across the system.

RoATP Reform

There are currently 2,500 providers on the RoATP register, and 55% have never been inspected by Ofsted before. The register aimed to enable employers to access a wider pool of apprenticeship training providers to deliver value for money and quality. But this has led to complications within the system, as many poor-quality organisations have filtered through.

The regulatory framework needs to be adopted to incentivise colleges for good behaviour and standards, while at the same time exerting limitations and restrictions on the bad providers. Employers should be able to trust that a provider’s acceptance onto the register indicates that they can provide high-quality apprenticeship and skills training.

A reliable quality assured product

In taking forward this agenda, FE colleges will have a big role to play. If we are going to change the perception of apprenticeships and if career advisers can sell their benefits, they need to be a reliable quality assured product.

Apprenticeships need to convince young people and their parents that they will stand them with an opportunity to progress into meaningful employment or further study. It is no longer just about volume registrations for courses that are in demand; it’s about working with employers to shape the demand amongst the student population.

We need to work together, collaborate and press for the small changes that would make so much difference in the apprenticeship system. Apprenticeships will play a crucial role in delivering a credible and respected system of technical education, and Collab Group colleges want to help lead the transformation.

Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group

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