Vocational education inquiry aims to explain reduction in apprenticeship starts, committee chair announces

An education committee inquiry into vocational qualifications will look at the reduction of apprenticeships starts among 16 to 19-year-olds, its chair has announced.

Conservative MP Graham Stuart (pictured) has confirmed that the inquiry will try to pinpoint the reasons behind the decline in overall apprenticeships starts in the age groups.

The inquiry, which was announced last week, comes after FE Week revealed in October 2012 that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who started apprenticeships in the final quarter of 2011/12 dropped 5,200 from the previous year to 22,000.

It also comes despite the first year-on-year rise in apprenticeship starts in the age group since 2010/11 was reported in quarter three of this academic year.

Mr Stuart said: “18 months on from the BIS select committee report and a few years on from the Richard Report we feel the time is right to look at apprenticeships for 16 to 19-year-olds.

“While there has been a welcome increase in apprenticeships under this government  and of longer apprenticeships for young people, there has been a reduction overall in 16-19 year olds entering apprenticeships and we want to understand why this is and what should be done about it.”

The committee has called for written evidence for its inquiry to be in by noon on Tuesday, September 30, although no date has been set for hearings.

The nine areas for which evidence has been invited [see below for full list] cover the effectiveness of apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19-year-olds, including whether they meet employers’ needs and provide a “solid foundation” for employment.

It will also look at the range of courses available, employer engagement levels, the impact of recent changes to funding and whether government investment represents good value for money.

Further, the cross-party committee’s 11 member MPs will look at ways the government might encourage more businesses to offer apprenticeships and the factors which prevent more young people considering apprenticeships.

They will also ask whether young people are adequately prepared for apprenticeships and how the government could encourage more people to take on apprenticeships and traineeships.

The inquiry has been welcomed by the Association of Colleges, and Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal.

Mr Segal told FE Week: “The terms of reference for the inquiry suggest that the committee has identified some key issues for addressing by policymakers as we approach the general election.

“The Prime Minister has said that he wants school leavers during the next Parliament to have the choice of going to university or starting an apprenticeship and therefore it’s important that we engage more employers to offer more high quality apprenticeship opportunities for young people.

“We hope that the committee reviews the evidence from employers to ensure that the apprenticeship reforms are based on what businesses are saying.  AELP also looks forward to sharing with the MPs our views on how the traineeship programme can be made more flexible so that more places with credible work experience opportunities are on offer.”