Government should adopt MPs’ recommendations on the apprenticeship reforms without delay.

The recommendations in the Education Committee’s report, expertly steered by Robert Halfon MP, are to be warmly welcomed and the government should waste no time in implementing all of them.

It is a pity that the excellent set of observations and recommendations may be overshadowed by media headlines of ‘poor quality training’, especially when Ofsted’s chief inspector has said herself that 80% of current apprentices are receiving good or outstanding training. 

That said, every apprentice should be on at least a good programme and the Committee has hit the nail on the head when it identifies as a major issue the government’s letting into the apprenticeship market a mass of untested providers and assessors with few controls and limited monitoring.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) especially agrees that the current quality control over end point assessment is diabolical and that Ofqual should be given sole responsibility for quality assurance. 

AELP represents providers that train 3 out of every 4 apprentices in England.The reputation of good providers and assessment organisations is suffering because of a confused approach and a lack of control which means that all providers and assessment organisations are in danger of being tarred with the same brush.

We are pleased that the MPs have addressed the key priorities which need rectifying in the levy reforms to ensure that SMEs can start offering again more apprenticeship opportunities to young people including disadvantaged and LLDD learners. 

The Committee’s recommendations on waiving the co-investment requirements for SMEs taking on young people would in our view make a huge difference to both local economic development and social justice. 

Unlike many levy payers, smaller businesses employ apprentices in every rural area of the country as well as urban ones and some key sectors are heavily dependent on them doing so. 

Moreover, for us, the ‘more disadvantaged’ 19 - 25 year olds are the level 2 and level 3 learners who were let down by compulsory schooling system.

Ministers should act immediately on the Committee’s funding recommendations to restore previous programme start numbers, particularly at levels 2 and 3 so that the ‘ladder of opportunity’ doesn’t become a pit of despair.

AELP is also greatly encouraged that all of its own recommendations have been incorporated into this report. 

 AELP recommendations include:

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more flexible approach to off-the-job training requirements, using a standard by standard approach

 
..

Better management of the transition from the old frameworks to the new standards

 
 

Abolition of the apprentice minimum wage and a review of how the benefits system is acting as a barrier to more people doing an apprenticeship

 
 

Getting tough on compliance with the Baker Clause to improve careers advice in schools.

 

AELP agrees with much of the Committee’s observations on subcontracting although there must always be room to allow specialist delivery by subcontractors if it meets the employer’s requirements. 

The AELP/Collab Group/Holex best practice guidance says that a 20% management fee for subcontracting should essentially be a maximum and that in most cases the fees should be less, and we believe this should be written into the ESFA’s funding rules.

The Education Committee has obviously considered very carefully what employers and providers have said about where the levy reforms have been going wrong and the MPs have come up with the right solutions which ministers should implement without delay.

We are particularly heartened by the Committee’s observation that value for money is becoming a synonym for cheaper.

As the MPs say, high quality provision costs and setting funding bands so low as to reduce the quality of training or dissuade employers from recruiting apprentices is a false economy. AELP totally agrees and the government and its agencies need to heed this message as they move forward with further reform.

Good quality is vital but equally the social mobility agenda can only be served if we have a funding system that puts right the disastrous fall in apprenticeship opportunities which smaller business offer our young people, especially now that the government is now committed to migratory controls after Brexit.

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

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