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Rush to recruit puts quality of apprenticeships at risk

Rush to recruit puts quality of apprenticeships at risk

If the programme is to be successful, apprenticeships need to be pitched at the right level, in the right sectors and aimed at the right age groups

At Ofsted, we welcome the new apprenticeship standards. The move away from qualification frameworks towards industry-defined standards is a positive one. It allows employers to have greater ownership of their apprenticeships and has the potential to make a substantial difference to the quality of provision.

However, the shift is taking too long. In our annual report, published last week, Ofsted finds that, in 2015-16, the number of apprentices working towards the new standards has increased, but still represents less than 1 per cent of those starting an apprenticeship.

This is mainly because the focus for developing new standards has been on higher-level apprenticeships. Over a third of the new standards approved to date have been at a higher level, but this level is studied by less than 5 per cent of apprentices. Therefore, if more people are going to be able to take advantage of the benefits of the new system, more focus needs to be placed on the intermediate- and advanced-level standards with their greater number of participants.

There also needs to be a greater focus on the end-point assessment. Current proposals link the funding to the end-point assessment undertaken by apprentices. These assessments will be provided by external organisations. How the apprentice provider will ensure that apprentices are ready to take this assessment – and what will happen if the apprentice fails to meet the expected standard – is unclear. There needs to be more clarity in the system for both employers and apprentices.

Concerns about quality

As we also discuss in this year’s annual report, the quality of some apprenticeships is in question. While 63 per cent of apprenticeships inspected have been found to be "good" or "outstanding", too many apprenticeship programmes are not yet "good".

This year, we inspected three new employer providers and all three were found to require improvement. With the rapid increase in apprenticeship providers, it is important that quality is not compromised.

Students and parents also have concerns about the quality of apprenticeships. Our Getting Ready for Work survey, the results of which were published last month, shows that the variability of apprenticeships – and fears that placements are primarily about “cheap labour” – have led to some students choosing not to pursue an apprenticeship.

The increase in apprenticeships is not significantly focused on sectors with a skills shortage. Businesses and local enterprise partnerships have identified digital, manufacturing and technical skills shortages. However, more than two-thirds of apprenticeships started last year were in business, administration and law. More emphasis needs to be placed on the areas where we need apprentices the most.

The government has rightly identified that apprenticeships could be hugely successful in helping the UK to fill its skill gaps. We are concerned, however, that in its haste to deliver this programme, quality could be compromised. If apprenticeships are to be successful, they need to be of the right level, in the right sectors and aimed at the right age groups. More needs to be done.


 Article courtesy of TES (www/tes.com) 

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