‘Worrying’ 40% of providers miss apprenticeship data target

Hundreds of providers are failing to hit a government target for keeping a check on whether new apprentices have got jobs.

Learner records for an estimated 30,000 students were returned to the Information Authority (IA) with “not known”, “not provided” or “missing” in the employment status box last academic year.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has called for “urgent action” to make providers complete individual learner records (ILR) with the information.

Its president, Liam Burns, described the failure by nearly 40 per cent of providers to get the detail as “deeply worrying”.

And the call for action was backed by shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden, who described the job status information as a “safeguard for learners” and pledged to raise the issue with the National Apprentice Service (NAS), the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the government.

An agency spokesperson said they had been in contact with the NAS over the issue of employment status record-keeping.

The data differentiates between apprenticeships with training providers, such as Zenos, where students would be registered as unemployed, and ones where students have a job.

It is deeply worrying that targets for collecting basic data have been missed and as a result the employment statuses of tens of thousands of apprentices now appear unaccounted for.”

Zenos, now owned by Pearson and operating under the name Pearson in Practice, came under fire this year when it emerged not one apprentice was guaranteed a job at the end of their 39-week course. Students also spent fewer  than six months with an employer.

A spokesperson for Zenos, which got £45.5 million  of taxpayers’ money in 2011-12 for running apprentice schemes, said at the time its  “long-term commitment is to equip young people with the skills and ability … to compete in a highly competitive marketplace”.

The failure of 340 providers to meet the target was affecting the government’s ability to check the performance of training providers, according to Liam Burns.

He said: “It is deeply worrying that targets for collecting basic data have been missed and as a result the employment statuses of tens of thousands of apprentices now appear unaccounted for.

“The government must urgently take action to ensure public money spent on training providers who make claims about getting students into work is checked against hard evidence.”

The government’s target is for more than 99 per cent of providers’ ILRs to be filled in with apprentices’ employment status.

The IA website specifies that apprenticeship providers must aim to have less than 0.3 per cent unknown on the first day of learning.

Providers with more than 0.5 per cent unknown in-year would be “asked to ensure this improves by the end of year return”, according to the website.

But the job status of 4.5 per cent of the overall number of apprentices is not known. This means the government did not know if, FE Week estimates, 30,000 students had a job.

Labour’s Mr Marsden said: “It’s very important that all providers keep accurate statistics on this issue for two reasons.

“It’s a check on concerns about deadweight learning and money being spent on courses with a view to employment. It’s also a safeguard for learners in ensuring due diligence with taxpayers’ money.

“I’ll write to the NAS and ask them to look carefully at these statistics and find out what they and the SFA and the Government can do.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers added: “Our longstanding view is that all apprentices should be employed and that’s why we were pleased to see the 2009 Act spell it out.

“As Jason Holt said, an apprenticeship is a job with training. Therefore we feel that the issue is worth exploring further, even it is just some sort of hangover from PLA provision.”

The agency spokesperson said an official statement on the data records situation was expected to be released soon.