Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee

The Education Committee published its Sixth Report of Session 2017-19, The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity today (8 Oct).

Examining both the quality of current apprenticeship provision and the effectiveness of training monitoring, the report focuses on the twin challenges of improving apprenticeship quality and promoting social justice.

While it recognises the good work being done by many FE colleges and independent training providers, the report calls for clearer oversight of apprenticeship training and assessment and a tougher approach to poor quality training, looking at the barriers faced by those from disadvantaged backgrounds when embarking on apprenticeships.

Amid a tripling in the number of approved providers, the report recommends an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a cap on the amount of training that new providers can offer until they have proved their provision is of sufficient quality.

The Committee calls for redoubled efforts to recruit apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds and help them climb the ‘ladder of opportunity’. The report recommends a range of measures, including the creation of more bursaries, increases to the apprenticeship minimum wage, and increased incentives for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises to take on apprentices.

The Committee calls for stronger enforcement and more severe sanctions for employers who fail to pay the apprentice minimum wage. The report says that it is vital the Government also introduces a kitemark system for good apprentice employers to encourage best practice and help apprentices choose the best employer for them.

The report recommends that the Social Mobility Commission conduct a study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices and that the Government acts upon its findings.

Addressing the need for young people to have clearer routes into apprenticeships, the report calls on the Government to get tough on schools that evade the Baker clause and that a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education, skills, FE and apprenticeships should be introduced.

Too many apprentices are not getting the high-quality training they deserve and too many people, particularly the disadvantaged, are not being given the support they need to pursue an apprenticeship and get on in life, says the Education Committee in the report published today.

Many great FE colleges and independent training providers are doing incredible work with apprentices. However, the reality today is that there is not enough high-quality apprenticeship training, which is letting down both the apprentices and employers.

Apprenticeships can offer an extraordinary ladder of opportunity for young people to get the skills, training and jobs they need to ensure security and prosperity for their future.

There has been an explosion in the number of training providers in recent years but neither employers nor apprentices can have genuine confidence that quality training is being provided by these new entrants. It’s time for a cap on the amount of training which new providers can offer until they prove they are up to scratch.

It’s time to get tough on sub-contractors, who too often seem to be delivering training which doesn’t deliver for the apprentice or the tax-payer, and lead providers who cream off large management fees while providing nothing of value themselves.

Apprentice funding needs reform to ensure the system is working with and not against employers such as in increasing the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships can play a crucial role in achieving social justice. But those from disadvantaged backgrounds still find too many barriers to undertaking an apprenticeship.

Travel costs should be cut for young apprentices. We need to move towards abolishing the apprentice minimum wage, introduce more bursaries, and a new social justice fund is necessary to support enterprises, charities and others that help the hardest to reach.

Much more help needs to be given to apprentices to progress to higher and degree apprenticeships and both the Government and the IFA should make degree apprenticeships a strategic priority.

Only by boosting the quality of apprenticeships, and breaking down barriers to entry, can we ensure that apprenticeships genuinely offer a ladder of opportunity for the disadvantaged and the chance for all to get the skills to get on in life.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee

The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity

Conclusions and recommendations


1.We recommend that the Government continues to carefully monitor whether bodies responsible for apprenticeship quality have enough resources to fulfil their roles and acts quickly to remedy any emerging capacity issues. (Paragraph 7)

2.We recommend that new providers judged by Ofsted to be making insufficient progress should be removed from the register of apprenticeship training providers. (Paragraph 11)

3.We recommend that the Government places a cap on the amount of training new providers can offer. This cap should remain in place until they have been found to be making sufficient progress by Ofsted. (Paragraph 14)

4.We recommend that all new apprenticeship training providers should receive at least a monitoring visit from Ofsted within a year of being approved to deliver training by the ESFA. (Paragraph 16)

5.We recommend that Ofqual should be given responsibility for the external quality assurance of all end-point assessments. (Paragraph 19)

6.We recommend that the Institute makes the growth of degree apprenticeships a strategic priority. (Paragraph 23)

7.We recommend that the role of the Institute’s apprentice panel be formalised: its recommendations to the Institute’s board and the board’s responses should be published. (Paragraph 27)

8.We recommend that the Government establishes and promotes an improved complaints procedure for apprentices. (Paragraph 29)

9.While we recognise there should be a minimum amount of off-the-job training, we recommend that the Government conducts pilots with apprentices and businesses to explore the effect of introducing greater flexibility in the amount required by each apprenticeship standard. If results are positive it should introduce greater flexibility across the system. (Paragraph 33)

10.The transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards has been mismanaged by successive Governments. Employers have been let down. (Paragraph 36)

11.We recommend that the Institute mandates the inclusion of clear paths to progression within apprenticeship standards. These paths should be linked to a system of progression maps created and promoted by the Institute. (Paragraph 39)

12.We recommend that the Government increases the top funding band to better match the full cost of delivery for some apprenticeships. It should also double the time employers have to spend their funds to 48 months and allow them to transfer more of these funds to firms in their supply chain. (Paragraph 45)

13.We recommend that Ofsted conducts a review of subcontracted provision across the country and produces a survey report setting out its findings, drastically increases the number of monitoring visits of subcontracted provision it undertakes, and inspects the largest subcontractors separately so that they receive a rating based on all the training they offer, regardless of lead provider. (Paragraph 49)

14.We recommend that the Government caps the management fee a lead provider can charge a subcontractor. It should consult on the level at which the cap should be set. Lead providers should have to justify to the ESFA the management fees they charge. (Paragraph 53)

15.We recommend that the Government tightens the requirements on providers who subcontract their provision. Lead providers should have to deliver a significant amount of their apprentices’ training. (Paragraph 54)

Social justice

16.We recommend that the Government increases incentive funding for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises who recruit young and disadvantaged apprentices, and explores other potential incentives to encourage recruitment of young and disadvantaged people.(Paragraph 59)

17.We recommend that the Government extends the existing co-investment waiver for smaller employers to cover all 16–18 year-olds, and more disadvantaged 19–24-year-olds, employed by non-levy-paying employers. (Paragraph 61)

18.We recommend that the Government introduces bursaries for other disadvantaged groups modelled on the care leavers’ bursary.(Paragraph 63)

19.We recommend that the Government creates a social justice fund, using money from the apprentice levy, to support organisations that help disadvantaged people become apprentices. (Paragraph 65)

20.We recommend that the Government continues to raise the apprentice minimum wage at a rate significantly above inflation. In the long term, it should move towards its abolition. (Paragraph 69)

21.We recommend that the Government redoubles efforts to identify and sanction employers who evade the apprentice minimum wage. This means more and effective enforcement, larger fines and many more prosecutions. (Paragraph 73)

22.We recommend that the Government should strongly support existing measures to establish a kitemark for good apprentice employers. This should form part of a drive to ensure all such apprentice employers are aware of their responsibilities. (Paragraph 76)

23.We recommend that the Social Mobility Commission conducts an immediate study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices. The Government should act on its findings. No apprentice should suffer any financial disadvantage as a result of taking up an apprenticeship. (Paragraph 79)

24.The Government must stop dragging its feet over apprentice transport costs. It must set out how it plans to reduce apprentice travel costs, in a way which works for all regions and areas, in its response to our report, if not sooner. (Paragraph 82)

25.We recommend that the Equality and Human Rights Commission conducts a monitoring review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities every three years. Each review should recommend changes to improve Government policy and employer practice. (Paragraph 86)

26.We recommend that the Government introduces a proper UCAS-style portal for technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to further training at higher levels. (Paragraph 89)

27.Too many students are still not receiving independent and impartial careers advice and guidance about the routes open to them, including apprenticeships. We recommend that the Government, with Ofsted’s support, properly enforces the Baker clause. In its response to this report it should set out how it plans to do this, and what penalties will be imposed on schools that flout their obligations. (Paragraph 91)

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