Stewart Segal hits back at Ofsted’s recent report that was critical of apprenticeships.

After all the damaging headlines that resulted from the Ofsted report, we can now consider how we take forward some of the issues set out in the report. AELP and providers have been committed to raising the quality of apprenticeships well before Ofsted started writing reports on the issues.

In fact, the report confirmed a number of issues which AELP has been raising for some time. These include: schools and colleges are not promoting apprenticeships sufficiently to young people and their parents; career guidance needs to be improved; and too few young people, particularly those who have special educational needs and/or disabilities, become apprentices.

Other issues are that traineeships provide a useful step to apprenticeships, but are not yet meeting their potential; a crucial factor in delivering quality is ‘how well the provider and employer worked together to ensure that this training was well coordinated’; the advantages of being in training while at work were clear to all the apprentices; and, employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, benefited from the support of providers while setting up and managing the apprenticeship.

Ofsted chose to ‘blame’ employers, providers and schools but does not mention the government or its own role in driving improvements especially in the careers advice in schools

These are all quotes from the report and show that many of the recommendations we have made to drive the quantity and quality of apprenticeships have been reinforced by the Ofsted report.

However, we do not agree with some of the analysis and conclusions in it. There is certainly some variable quality of provision across the programme.

However, suggesting that the growth of the number of starts in the service sector is anything other than a response to real employer demand and a reflection of the current labour market is a mistake.

Providers have responded to the new labour market and are working with many employers that are new to apprenticeships. It takes time to build the commitment to training especially when the funding levels for these programmes are so low when compared to the traditional sectors.

Clearly, any programmes that are only developing skills and knowledge for the current job should not be funded but all apprenticeship frameworks, including cleaning and sandwich-making, are broad programmes that include a range of tasks as well as personal skills, employment issues and English and maths. No one would defend programmes that do not cover the full range of tasks and the other important employment skills.

Although it is valid to highlight poor provision, the report should have provided evidence from other surveys that employers and apprentices are happy with the apprenticeship programmes.

In fact Ofsted’s own survey in 2012 said that ’89 per cent of the 500 respondents to the online survey agreed that their apprenticeship lived up to their expectations and they would recommend it as a good way of gaining qualifications’.

We do not believe the growth of apprenticeships in the service sectors has damaged the perception of the programme. In fact, the tactics of releasing a press release the week before the full report could be seen to be just as damaging.

Ofsted chose to ‘blame’ employers, providers and schools but does not mention the government or its own role in driving improvements especially in the careers advice in schools.

Just a week after Ofsted said that the apprenticeship programme was not reflecting the skills needs of the economy, the latest figures on the UK economy show that the construction sector reduced by 2.2 per cent and the engineering sector by 0.3 per cent in the third quarter of the year.

The service sector at the same time grew by 0.7 per cent and now accounts for almost 80 per cent of the UK economy.

Of course we would like to have seen growth in all sectors, but where would we be without the service sectors? We have to support manufacturing, but it should not be at the cost of downplaying the important role of the service sector in keeping the economy moving.

What we need to do now is to work together as a sector, including Ofsted, to address the issues in the report.

We have written to Ofsted to take up the challenge to create even more, higher quality apprenticeship opportunities across the whole of the economy.