MPs hear of ‘cluster’ solution to apprenticeships

Colleges should form closer ties with schools to encourage more young people into apprenticeships, Ofsted FE and skills director Lorna Fitzjohn has told MPs.

She gave evidence on Wednesday (November 26) to the Education Select Committee in Portcullis House, Westminster, that focused on how the number and quality of apprenticeships for 16 to 19-year-olds could be improved.

She said poor careers advice at schools, which tended to encourage learners to take A-levels and higher education degrees, was one of the main reasons that apprenticeship starts in the age group had “flatlined”.

She said colleges could do more to help schools see the benefits of vocational training and offer students an alternative to traditional academic routes through developing closer working ties.

She suggested “clustering schools and colleges together so that you haven’t got that at 14 or 16 where you go up one route and thereby you stay [away] from the other route”.

“If you bring a variety of establishments together… young people can perhaps even carry out a combined programme and move between organisations,” she said.

“You see those systems in Switzerland and Germany and it’s maybe something we ought to have here.”

Her comments reflected the suggestion made late last month by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry, in Coventry, where he said schools and colleges would benefit from forming local “clusters”.

Lorna-Fitzjohn

Lorna Fitzjohn

Ms Fitzjohn also told MPs that local enterprise partnerships were “beginning” to play a more proactive role in co-ordinating apprenticeships.

But, she said: “I don’t think they are as interested necessarily in the lower level aspects of the workforce. They haven’t always been involved in FE and skills.”

Ms Fitzjohn commented on plans announced two weeks ago by Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg to launch a UCas-style “fully-comprehensive national database” of post-16 skills and employer led-courses and opportunities in England from September.

She said: “I think it will help but apprentices look for apprenticeships locally because they are more likely to need family support.”

UCas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook responded to Mr Clegg’s announcement by pointing out that UCas Progress, its service for post-16 choices, had already expanded to offer “national coverage of vocational and academic courses in England and Wales”.

And when pressed after the hearing on whether she thought a UCas-style system could work for apprenticeships, Ms Fitzjohn said: “UCas would need to run a more local-based system than it does for universities.”

Head of skills and policy campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Katerina Rudiger, said there was a “real issue where schools… see apprentices as something for people who don’t succeed”.

She added: “If young people don’t know about apprenticeships and don’t know how to apply for them, then obviously we won’t be making any progress.”

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is due to give evidence at the committee next meeting, on Wednesday (December 3), focussing on exams for 15 to 19-year-olds in England.