Kirsty Donnelly was one of a number of witnesses to give evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee on 16 to 19 apprenticeships and traineeships this month. She outlines her evidence and explains what she wanted the committee to make of her views.
I recently gave evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee during a lively session on apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19-year-olds.
I gave them three recommendations about how to strengthen skills in the UK, but did they take them to heart? Well, we won’t know until their report comes out, but if adopted, they’ll pave the way for a much stronger system.
Firstly, don’t ditch Trailblazers — but let’s make them stronger.
Over the past couple of years, the apprenticeship system has come on in leaps and bounds. They are now available in a variety of sectors and at higher levels, meaning young people have more choices and more opportunities. But there is always room for improvement, which is something the Trailblazers are certainly pushing.
So far, they have made good headway. That’s why we need to keep the apprenticeships Trailblazers intact.
They have tremendous potential — but they need to be more aligned. For example, we need to see minimum standards for quality assurance and moderation across all industries.
And awarding organisations must be involved as early as possible when it comes to developing assessment strategies — while preventing new entrants from entering the market to deliver assessment services without demonstrating robust quality assurance processes and regulation.
Finally, we need to be careful not to label all work-based training as apprenticeships. While there are some level two apprenticeships that certainly merit the ‘apprenticeship’ tag, for some this is not the case. In these instances, they would be more effective as a vocational traineeship, or as a vocational course that leads into an apprenticeship at a higher level.
Secondly, don’t forget traineeships.
While there are some level two apprenticeships that certainly merit the ‘apprenticeship’ tag, for some this is not the case
But although traineeships are distinct and separate to apprenticeships — we must remember that they are a stepping-stone to an apprenticeship — that doesn’t mean that they should be of a lesser quality.
They provide fantastic preparation, but they need to be refocused in two ways, so they can work more effectively with full-time post-16 vocational education.
For a start, trainees on a year-long level two pre-apprenticeship programme should be treated as employees.
And also traineeships should prepare young people for employment, by making sure that high-quality vocational training is part of the programme. Only then will they be a true route to progression.
Thirdly, stop the change for change’s sake.
My final message to the committee was about the need for coherence, consistency and stability in the skills and employment system.
City & Guilds’ recent Sense and Instability report looked at the last three decades of policy in this area. No one in our sector will be surprised to hear that change has been extensive.
We’ve seen 61 Secretaries of State responsible for skills policy, 13 major Acts of Parliament, the responsibility for policy flipping between departments — or being shared between departments — 10 times since the 1980s.
How does that compare to academic education? There have been 18 ministers in charge of schools policy over the same period, and 16 in charge of higher education. So much change has left its mark on our skills system.
If we want a high-quality, highly-valued system, we have to learn the lessons of the past and stop change for change’s sake.
Looking forward it’s fantastic that the committee is making vocational education a priority, and I’m eager to see what happens next. It’s also encouraging to see apprenticeships and traineeships being a firm fixture on the political agenda.
However, there are still other areas that need to be addressed alongside this. For example, there are still widespread concerns about the lack of effective careers advice and guidance for young people, and we know more needs to be done to provide young people with high-quality work experience opportunities so they are better-prepared to find employment.
Apprenticeships and traineeships are just one piece of the puzzle — an incredibly important piece of course — but only by exploring the bigger picture will we truly see a long-lasting difference.