Uptake on the government’s flagship traineeship scheme is failing to reach expectations, according to senior FE figures.

It is too soon for Ofsted to report on the quality of traineeships in any detail…

Skills Funding Agency boss Keith Smith (pictured) said colleges would deliver 57 per cent of projected 19 to 23 traineeships, while Ofsted FE and skills director Matthew Coffey (pictured right) described recruitment to the scheme as “disappointing”.

The pair’s comments about traineeships came during the Association of Colleges annual conference.

Mr Smith, the agency’s executive director for funding and programmes, told delegates that “colleges have indicated they will deliver around 57 per cent of projected 19 to 23 traineeship starts for 2013/14”.

However, the agency said Mr Smith had given out a figure that was “not official” and could not supply the numbers behind his claim.

An agency spokesperson said: “This indicative figure is based on discussions we have had with providers on what they intend to deliver.

“The first official data on traineeships is expected to be available in the Statistical First Release in January 2014.”

But Mr Coffey challenged colleges to increase the number of traineeships on offer. However, Ofsted too was unable to back his claim with figures.

He said: “The initial recruitment to traineeships is disappointing. In making the impact of vocational training a priority for us, we will work to increase the quality of provision — but we expect providers to engage with employers to increase the number of places available.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “It is too soon for Ofsted to report on the quality of traineeships in any detail as, so far, we have not come across as many as expected during our inspections of FE and skills providers.”

Traineeships, programmes including high quality work experience as well as literacy, numeracy and employability training, were launched in September, and are designed for young people who lack the skills and experience to be accepted into work or an apprenticeship.

Learners who spend more than 16 hours a week in lessons or the workplace as part of their traineeship programme are not eligible to claim job seeker’s allowance, which has previously prompted fears that young people will be discouraged from taking part.

The option to run traineeships is currently only available to providers with an Ofsted grade one or two inspection result, which the education watchdog spokesperson said might account for the lack of traineeships seen by inspectors.

“One of the reasons is because our risk-based approach to selecting providers for inspection, prioritises those previously judged to be grade three and four for overall effectiveness and so are not able to provide traineeships,” she said.

However, she added: “Having said that, what evidence we have does not suggest good recruitment levels.”

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said the policy of restricting traineeships to grade one and two providers could be limiting numbers and called for a review.

An AELP spokesperson said: “There are many providers with a strong employer reach currently excluded from the programme.

“Given that work experience is such a critical element of traineeships, provider eligibility needs to be reviewed.”