Reporting on outcomes will not be mandatory, which risks undermining the status and quality of apprenticeships, says Shane Chowen

Back in November, when I first wrote about the Technical and Further Education Bill, it had only just begun its journey through the Houses of Parliament. By the time this goes to press, the bill will have moved one step closer to becoming law after completing its committee stage in the House of Lords. This is the point at which peers have the opportunity to table amendments to the bill. 

One such amendment of particular interest to me and the Learning and Work Institute, the first one to be discussed in fact, would have required the new Institute for Apprenticeships to report annually on a number of apprenticeship outcomes: job outcomes, earnings growth, progression to further learning and satisfaction rates of employers and apprentices. 

What exactly is the Institute’s role?

Rarely do amendments tabled by members of the opposition to government legislation go anywhere either in the Commons or the Lords, which makes it relatively unsurprising that on this occasion the amendment was withdrawn, following some assurances from the minister.

I want to explain why, even though reporting on apprenticeship outcomes won’t be a statutory requirement through this bill, it is still something the minister must take seriously in his mission to improve the status and quality of apprenticeships. 

For apprenticeships to sit in their rightful place as an attractive, mainstream pathway, we need to improve the information available about what apprenticeships give people. Furthermore, while everyone agrees that a start is not an outcome, we are less clear about what is, and how we know if an apprenticeship is actually working. 

What assurances will be offered to taxpayers and employers that apprenticeships are delivering the outcomes they are supposed to? After all, reporting on outcomes is becoming an increasingly important feature elsewhere in education and across most other public services. 

These problems have at least been acknowledged in part by DfE ministers. Speaking in the Lords on reporting outcomes, Lord Nash said “it is of course critical that reporting measures are in place to enable us to assess how well the programme is achieving quality outcomes”.

The minister went on to quote the Institute’s proposed operational plan, which is to “make more use of learner, employer and wider economy outcome data when reviewing the success of standards.”

Decisions need to be made within the DfE about the extent to which outcomes inform definitions of apprenticeship quality

However, he later said that the type of outcome information outlined in the amendment was “well beyond what is in scope of [the IfA’s] remit”. It sounds to me like some decisions need to be made within the DfE about the extent to which outcomes inform definitions of apprenticeship quality, as a matter of policy, rather than process. If an apprenticeship isn’t delivering positive outcomes for learners, but the development of the standard and assessment plan ticked all the right boxes, then what exactly is the Institute’s role?

This was just the first of three committee stage sessions in the Lords; the other two are still to take place. In this session, amendments concerning redefining technical qualifications, autonomy of tech-ed providers, and producing a careers strategy were also tabled and withdrawn. 

Impressively, Lord Baker did marshal cross-party support for one amendment which was accepted. This new addition would require all schools to allow a range of education and training providers access to their pupils, and require schools to issue a policy statement detailing how such providers could access the school to provide information. The government is to be congratulated for recognising that tough new legislation is sadly necessary here. 

Peers have another 54 amendments to debate over two days this week. The bill then goes back to the whole House of Lords before passing back to the House of Commons before it receives royal assent.  

Now that a conversation about apprenticeship outcomes has started, the sector needs to lead a challenge back to government that broadens what we mean by high-quality apprenticeships beyond ‘lasting 12 months’ and ‘look, employers designed the standard’. 

 

Shane Chowen is head of policy and public affairs at the Learning and Work Institute