Minister presents update on apprenticeship quality

The skills minister John Hayes has told partliament that the review into short duration apprenticeships is due to be finalised by April.

A total of 87 providers have so far been reviewed by the Skills Funding Agency and National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) for running programmes which last six months or less.

However, 29 have been brought to a “satisfactory conclusion” and the review has identified 10 primary contractors and three subcontractors where the Agency and NAS have unresolved concerns. At least one case has been referred to the Agency’s Special Investigations Unit.

However, the Agency said: “We are working with providers to review and adapt programmes as necessary and whilst this is ongoing it would not be appropriate to release in detail.”

The Agency also said three frameworks are under review, adding: “We are working with the relevant Sector Skills Councils to ensure these will meet the criteria that apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds should have a minimum duration of 12 months. The wider next steps and ongoing review will continue to be done in consultation with providers, sector and issuing authorities.”

The news came as part of Mr Hayes’ statement to parliament on progress to drive up quality, as well as introducing new measures for the coming months. Among those is a new ‘enquiry panel’ which has been set up to “manage contractual and quality failure” as soon as it is identified.

The panel, made up of representatives from the Agency and the NAS, has met once and will report to the minister.

Mr Hayes said: “The majority of apprenticeships are the gold standard in vocational training.

“We must be relentless in our drive to ensure all apprenticeships are as good as the best, to identify and root out any instances of poor quality provision, and to raise the bar on standards.

“I am determined to build on this momentum and go further so as more people than ever have the opportunity to undertake an apprenticeship, every one will receive the high quality training they deserve.”

Another new measure will be a requirement for sub-contractors with an aggregate contract value of more than £500,000 to pass a due diligence test.

An Agency spokesperson said the move has been made to “strengthen our oversight and management of the wider training provider organisation network”.

The spokesperson added: “This does not remove or reduce the responsibilities or due diligence processes exercised by prime training organisations when selecting or managing their subcontractors.

“If a subcontractor fails to pass the Due Diligence Assurance Gateway, we will review and alert prime contractors. Prime contractors may continue with the subcontractor, but such failure would signal the need for additional checks and a higher level of diligence, monitoring and review on the part of the prime contractor.”

The Gateway process is made up of two parts; an online questionnaire and an assessment of financial health based on latest accounts.

However, the spokesperson added: “The Agency is currently working with the sector in considering all subcontractors completing the Due Diligence Assurance Gateway of the Register regardless of size of contract.

“All subcontracting must meet the same delivery, quality and value for money as the rest of our provision. The Agency is working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to review its policy on sub-contracting and will set out its intentions to the sector once a formal position is agreed.”

Simon Waugh, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, said “sound progress” is being made.

He said: “Historically, growth in apprenticeships has been excellent but hasn’t always been matched by quality.

“The actions we are taking now are to clearly state expected standards, strengthen the processes of monitoring and assuring these standards and address any areas that fall short.”