MPs to probe apprenticeship quality concerns in new inquiry

MPs to probe apprenticeship quality concerns in new inquiry

Apprenticeship quality concerns will come under the spotlight in a new parliamentary inquiry that will check out the merits of government reforms as it drives to increase take-up.

The Education, Skills and Economy (ESE) Sub-Committee’s probe will look at a variety of apprenticeship-related issues, including quality, progression onto higher levels and levy plans.

It will also investigate progress with government reforms as the sector drives to increase take-up by younger learners and achieve 3m starts by 2020.

The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry, announced this morning, is March 18.

It comes two days after Business Secretary Sajid Javid told the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) select committee he would welcome more scrutiny on skills.

Iain Wright (pictured above left), co-chair of the ESE Sub-Committee and chair of the BIS Committee, said today: “There’s been a lot of uncertainty about how the apprenticeship system is going to work and we will want to press the Government [through the new inquiry] on how they are going to ensure businesses, colleges, and students have confidence in the system in the future.”

Neil Carmichael, (picured above right) fellow ESE Sub Committee co-chair and chair of the Education Select Committee, added: “In this inquiry we will examine a variety of issues relating to apprenticeships, not least how do we boost the take-up of apprenticeships among 16–19 year olds and what is being done to ensure young people are aware of the opportunities available?”

The ESE inquiry comes amid growing concern over delays with implementation of apprenticeship reform targets, as set out by the Government in its English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 vision document last December.

It missed the first key target, to launch a consultation on public sector targets for apprenticeships by the end of December, eventually unveiling this on January 25.

An improved Find an Apprentice website was also due to have gone live in January, according to the government’s own timetable, but a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson told FE Week at the start of this month that it had only been a “draft placeholder date”.

“Following work to scope and plan the project, the date for delivering the provider journey is now planned for March,” she added.

The government has also scrapped plans to stop funding apprenticeship frameworks after 2017/18, amid complaints of delays with clearing new Trailblazer standards as ready for delivery.

It had announced back in 2013 that all new apprenticeship starts from 2018/19 would be on Trailblazer standards — but the 2020 Vision report said the government would now “stagger the withdrawal of public funding” for the old frameworks following that date.

An Ofsted report published in October, following its own inquiry into apprenticeships, was also critical of the standard of apprenticeships, including coffee-making and floor cleaning.

In an exclusive interview with FE Week at the time of the report’s launch, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw called on the government to “focus not just on quantity, but on quality”.

The National Audit Office announced in November that it would be looking into quality concerns as part of its investigation into the apprenticeship programme.

The report, due in the spring, will assess whether the programme is “facilitating the delivery of high quality skills training”.

The issue of quality arose again during an evidence session for the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee on Wednesday.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the planned new levy, due to be introduced from April 2017 for large companies, along with legislation to legally protect the term ‘apprenticeship’ and the proposed new Institute for Apprenticeships, would all help drive up standards.

The government also faced criticism after maintaining a stony silence last week in the face of multiple enquiries by FE Week over what happened to a key pre-General Election pledge on apprenticeships made by Prime Minister David Cameron last April.

He said at the time the government would create a fund for 50,000 apprenticeships and traineeships for unemployed 22 to 24-year-olds using a £200m pot from Libor fines.

Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden tabled a parliamentary question, as yet unanswered, asking for an update about this on Thursday (February 4) — as the fund has still not materialised.