DfE ditches Boles back-to-school plan for apprentices

DfE ditches Boles back-to-school plan for apprentices

A plan to force apprentices to go back into schools and promote apprenticeships has seemingly been dumped just a year after it was announced by the former skills minister.

Nick Boles told the parliamentary sub-committee on education, skills and the economy last April that the government would introduce the “commitment on the part of an apprentice and of the apprentice’s employer”, an idea that was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry.

Mr Boles first mentioned the idea in October 2015 at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, when he proposed “asking every apprentice to sign a simple contact”, requiring them to return to their schools when they’d finished their training and “talk about the values of the apprenticeship they did”.

But the government has been quiet on the scheme since Mr Boles resigned last July – prompting FE Week to ask the Department for Education if the plan had been scrapped.

A spokesperson stopped short of confirming a cancellation, but admitted that there was now “no obligation” for apprentices to go back into schools, adding: “Our Get In Go Far campaign is raising the profile and we have launched the ‘ASK project’ to raise the prestige of apprenticeships. We are also developing the Young Apprenticeship Ambassadors network who will bring their recent experience directly into schools.”

The government had talked the talk and not walked the walk

Her reference to ‘Get In Go Far’ follows Mr Boles’ comments last year, that apprentices returning to schools would “do more to correct the bad impressions than any amount of government marketing”.

He said that hearing from other young people about positive experiences of apprenticeships would “probably be the most powerful thing of all”.

‘ASK’ or ‘apprenticeship support and knowledge for schools’ aims to deliver apprenticeship and traineeship information to young people in years 10 to 13, through teachers, careers advisers, parents and governors – but not those young people directly involved in the training.

The CBI welcomed the plan last April, when its head of education Pippa Morgan told FE Week that businesses were “keen to engage with schools to help children and young people understand the opportunities their subjects can open up”.

The organisation refused to comment on the apparent demise of the scheme.

However, shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said the government had “talked the talk and not walked the walk”.

“It is part and parcel of the overall debate about how we get more knowledge of apprenticeships into schools, and it seems to me if the minster is serious about that as part of his career strategy, he shouldn’t be allowing his department to backtrack on this particular commitment,” he told FE Week.

Mr Marsden backed development of a young apprenticeship ambassador network, which it is understood would involve a limited number of apprentices speaking with young people about the training, but warned it would “take some time to do”.

He said: “They could be actually doing a lot more with some of the existing networks, for instance the National Union of Students sponsors the National Apprenticeship Association.”

Shakira Martin, the NUS’ vice president for FE, also refused to comment directly, but did tell FE Week that if “apprentice ambassadors are well trained”, the resulting network would have “a fighting chance of getting the message out there”.