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

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