John Hyde looks ahead to how apprenticeships will be inspected after the levy is launched.

Introducing the Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) to levy-paying employers from 2017 and subsequently to every apprentice employer from 2019 onward, will substantially increase the number of training providers.

The new DAS requires employers to select a training provider on-line directly from the SFA’s approved list. No longer will training providers have a contract with SFA.

DAS also removes sub-contracting from lead providers.

Any organisation meeting the SFA’s quality requirements can enrol. An estimated 2,000 providers could register.

Ministers would die for satisfaction scores this high

Several employers paying the levy will also take the opportunity to become training providers themselves, joining those already delivering their own in-house apprenticeships.

Around 2,000 companies are expected to take this option, resulting in 4,000 potential employers, colleges and independent training providers for Ofsted to inspect.

But the SFA currently contracts with less than 1,000 ITPs and colleges for apprenticeships and there are a further 2,000-plus who sub-contract, but not all these sub-contractors will want or be able to get onto the ADS register

Improving quality was a main drivers for apprenticeship reforms.

The ‘quality improvement’ mantra is frequently trotted out by ministers, officials and those who should know better.

Yet the results of the annual employers and learners satisfaction survey for 2014-15 were published last week, showing an overall satisfaction rating of 85 per cent.

At HIT, we modestly scored 93 per cent. I’m sure employers and learners alike would not score their providers so highly if they were unsatisfied with the quality of their programme and provider.

Ministers would die for satisfaction scores this high. The latest Ipros Mori polling shows David Cameron at minus 25!

Ofsted faces a real challenge to ensure apprenticeships’ quality is maintained and indeed improved. Outside of Ofsted, few believe a single inspection framework encompassing child care, classroom teaching and work based learning is satisfactory.

With more apprenticeship providers to inspect and the arrival of a new chief inspector, this gives Ofsted and the government the opportunity to review the future of work-based-learning inspection.

A separate division to inspect apprenticeship provision could be established within Ofsted, staffed by inspectors with actual experience of the sector and current industry or commercial experience.

Many of us remember with affection ALI (the Adult Learning Inspectorate).

Not only were their inspections more thorough, they also provided a consultancy and improvement service missing from Ofsted.

Failing FE colleges have the FE commissioner to support them, whereas independent training providers automatically lose their contract following a poor inspection.

How will failing levy paying employer providers fare in the post levy world?

ALI benefited from a chief inspector, David Sherlock, who really understood the sector, and championed it, unlike the current Ofsted incumbent.

Under Sherlock, completion rates rose from a derisory 50 per cent to over 75 per cent.

Since ALI, Ofsted, grades and completion rates have remained roughly static.

Hopefully, the new chief inspector will not rubbish service sector apprenticeships, base his or her public utterings on empiric evidence and not personal prejudices, and finally be consistent in his or her views, not changing them according to the audience they are addressing.

Ofsted inspectors will have to understand the new standards, which unlike the frameworks they replace, have no continuity with components and end assessments criteria differing widely from standard to standard.

Continuous assessment throughout the apprenticeship programmes are replaced by end tests.

The absence of qualifications in many new standards results in the removal of the awarding organisations quality assurance. Ofsted will need to fill this gap.

The analogy has been made by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills officials that new standards replicate the driving test — so when the learner is ready, they then sit the test.

But we all know, we really learn to drive properly after we have passed the test.

Current apprenticeship frameworks ensure apprentice complete their programme skilled and competent.

Let’s hope the standards don’t leave us with learners who can just complete tests, but aren’t competent to do their job.