Panorama investigation into apprenticeships sparks sector-wide response

The government and leading membership bodies have responded to “The Great Apprentice Scandal” Panorama programme broadcast on Monday.

David Way, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, said yesterday he was “very concerned” for the apprentices affected on the programme and would be tackling any training providers who are not “up to scratch.”

“I am very concerned for the apprentices who appear to have been seriously misled by poor quality training providers and would like to reassure current and future apprentices and their families that we are committed to making sure their experiences are as good as they can possibly be,” he said.

“We are clear that all Apprenticeships should offer employment, new learning and a nationally recognised qualification and where apprentices have been let down this isn’t good enough.”

Mr Way added: “Where there are problems with training providers or quality isn’t up to scratch we tackle this vigorously.

“The NAS and Skills Funding Agency are aware of all of the cases raised in the programme and we have been working closely with these providers for some time to address and resolve the issues raised and ensure the best outcome for learners.”

The new interim chief executive also defended the apprenticeship scheme run at Morrisons, which was criticised in the Panorama programme for delivering training which would have occurred with or without government funding.

“We will continue to work with employers of all sizes and sectors who, like Morrisons, make a vital commitment to Apprenticeships – they offer employment opportunities and develop the skills of new and existing employees including those who don’t have functional literacy and numeracy skills,” Mr Way said.

“This investment in skills benefits the employer and supports economic growth.”

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has emphasised that lead contractors need to be responsible and accountable not only for the apprenticeships they deliver directly, but also the provision of any sub-contractors which they use.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the AELP, said yesterday: “No young person or adult should experience poor provision under the apprenticeship programme and AELP has always fostered a culture of good quality among its member providers.

“This explains why we have always been so keen to work closely with Ofsted and quality improvement services such as LSIS, as well as with the NAS and SFA who are responsible for the flagship skills programme.”

Mr Hoyle added: “None of the sub-contractors featured in the Panorama programme are AELP members, but we believe that while it is a legitimate business practice, sub-contracting is an issue which requires action now.

“The AELP position is that lead contractors, whether they are colleges or independent providers, should not only be fully responsible for the quality of their own directly-delivered apprenticeship provision but they should also be strongly accountable for the provision of their sub-contractors.

“After all, they are sometimes taking significant ‘management fees’ in the process which is public money. We welcome the new SFA pilot which may encourage those that wish it to become directly contracted with the agency so that the lines of accountability are more clearly drawn.”

The Association of Colleges (AoC) say most apprenticeship schemes are of high quality and that any poor or questionable delivery is only “at the fringes.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said yesterday: “The apprenticeship model is fundamentally a good one, as we have seen in the UK and other countries, and AoC agrees with John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, that the focus must continue to be on quality.

“Apprenticeships delivered by our member Colleges are done so with integrity, are of a high standard and are verified by Ofsted.

“Colleges are not-for-profit organisations which serve their communities for the long-term; it is not in their interests to provide poor quality education.”

Mr Doel added: “When there is significant investment and growth in a nationwide training scheme there will inevitably be a few sophisticated operators who try to play the system.

“If there are legitimate questions raised about the quality of any employer or training provider, then they need to be thoroughly investigated by the relevant Government agencies.

“It is imperative that the strong reputation of apprenticeships is maintained; to do that any element of poor quality, however marginal, needs to be eradicated.”

The 157 Group agree that further education colleges are delivering high quality apprenticeships valued by learners and businesses.

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group said yesterday: “Colleges deliver high quality apprenticeships which provide young people with the skills and experience needed to progress into skilled employment.

“The Government and FE Minister John Hayes is right to champion their cause as they enable learners to both learn and earn at the same time and they should be taken up more widely.”

Marilyn Hawkins, chair of the 157 Group, added: “It is crucial that we do not undermine the true value and worth of apprenticeships and all that they offer to learners.

“In our Apprenticeships case studies launched last May there is a wonderful selection of best practise examples of employer, college and apprentice partnerships and it is this we should be highlighting to encourage greater investment from employers.

The full response from David Way (NAS) can be read here.
The full response from Graham Hoyle (AELP) can be read here.
The full response from Martin Doel (AoC) can be read here.
The full response from the 157 Group can be read here