MPs hear young apprenticeship programme comeback call

Apprenticeships for 14 to 16-year-olds should make a comeback, sector experts have told MPs.

All eight witnesses appearing before the House of Commons Education Select Committee hearing last week agreed a return for the programme could help prepare young people for the workplace and further training before turning 16.

The young apprenticeship, which consisted of two days a week in the workplace, alongside maths, English and other subjects, was scrapped in 2010 due to fears over cost.

David Massey, senior manager, UK Commission for Employment and Skills said that around a third of employers who take on a 16-year-old apprentice report that the youngsters were poorly prepared.

“And when you ask them why they invariably say lack of work experience,” he told the committee, which is investigating traineeships and apprenticeships.

He agreed that the 14 to 16 apprenticeship could help to combat this.

Alison Fuller, professor of vocational education and work at the Institute of Education, told the committee she and the other witnesses were “disappointed” when the programme was phased out and there hadn’t been a ” strong evidence base” for the decision.

“The strong feature of them was that it wasn’t a case of closing down options for those who were on the programme because they had to do seven GCSEs as well, so it was an enhanced programme,” she said.

“And the evidence is that the graduates were going in all sorts of directions — A-levels, vocational education, apprenticeships.”

Committee member Dominic Raab — who last year put a bill to revive the programme before parliament, but it failed to pass by the end of the session and so was dropped — agreed.

“When you look at all the evidence, young apprenticeships were phenomenal to have at least as an option,” he said.

Learner numbers on the programme were restricted by the previous government and the programme, started in 2004, was cancelled under the Coalition over concerns that it cost £3,000 per learner more than if they had been in school.

However, David Harbourne, Edge Foundation director of policy and research, said expanding the scope of the programme could have made it better value for money.

“The previous government capped the numbers to 9,000 per cohort, that meant that if you had a school in which you had
four young apprentices, there were no offsetting savings to the school whatsoever,” he said.

“If you could get numbers up to around 30,000 you would start to see economies of scale that we never saw when the numbers were capped.”

The next evidence session is due to take place on November 26. Witnesses are yet to be announced.