As the National Director of Learning and Skills it is my job to report back to Ofsted and government on any issues within the sector. Recently media interest around the quality of apprenticeships has highlighted concern around subcontracting, short programmes and inadequate assessment practices.

That’s why it is so important that we share what is working well so others can learn from it. Ofsted’s report Apprenticeships for young people sets out how to do that by drawing on evidence from 15 of the best providers of apprenticeships in England and more than 100 apprentices, to provide a useful guide for trainers, assessors, employers and educational leaders wishing to improve.

The importance of apprenticeships to the nation’s future workforce and economy cannot be underestimated. Almost 460,000 people in England began apprenticeships in 2010-11, with just over a quarter under the age of 19. And that number is only going to grow as the government prioritises funding of apprenticeships to help more young people into work and training.

While the majority of learners are completing their apprenticeships, around a quarter are dropping out early. Our research showed learners who had completed meaningful work experience, course tasters and vocational study were more likely to make good progress in their apprenticeship and complete their programme compared to those starting straight from school without it.

While underlining the importance of high quality teaching and learning to support the development of English and maths, employers were clear that carefully organised work experience helped to develop the works skills they looked for when recruiting apprentices. The report therefore calls on secondary schools to improve the local co-ordination of work experience so willing employers can engage with more potential apprentices.

The report also provides a number of case studies where providers were further enhancing an apprentice’s main learning programme. This includes examples from the football Premier League helping to keep their apprentices safe and the hairdressing employer Sassoon motivating learners by offering the chance to assist the in-house creative team at shows and competitions at home and abroad.

Apprenticeships bring considerable value to organisations, employers, individuals and the economy. This is why it is concerning to see that some young people in the report felt they were not always being encouraged to embark on an apprenticeship.

Inspectors came across several examples of bright young people feeling they had been derided by their teachers for wanting to progress to work-based learning, rather than stay on at school. One very skilled hairdressing apprentice related how, on excitedly telling her headteacher she had gained an apprenticeship with a national hairdressing employer, she was allegedly told: ‘Why on earth do you want to waste your time doing that?’

Ofsted inspectors continue to be rigorous in their assessment of the quality of the learners’ experience and make clear judgements in published reports on the standards found. But inspection cannot stand still. We are currently working on a new online system to enable learners to feedback views of providers outside inspections, and in doing so, inform the timing of their next inspection.

We are also currently consulting on whether inspections should be unannounced. We currently give between two and three weeks’ notice. Giving no notice at all will help us to see providers as they really are and should reduce stress for providers who will not feel under pressure to prepare for the inspectors’ arrival.

At their last inspection around 70 per cent of all providers of apprenticeship programmes were judged to be good or outstanding. We are determined to continue to raise standards even further.

Matthew Coffey,
National Director of Learning and Skills, Ofsted