MPs told 16 to 18 apprentice reforms could hit numbers

The number of 16 to 18 apprenticeships offer from employers could fall as a direct result of proposed reforms, the House of Commons Education Committee has heard.

A panel of sector experts told MPs on the committee that the government’s decision to re-design frameworks in consultation with employers and route funding through employers, rather than providers, would increase the quality of apprenticeships.

But they also warned reform proposals, which further include an “enforced” employer’s fee for 16 and 17-year-old learners, could put employers off.

The comments came on Wednesday (December 10) with the committee investigating apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Paul Champion, assistant principal for work-based learning at Chesterfield College said: “I think they’re going reduce the number of people trained — I think they’re going to squeeze the opportunities for young people to get those skills, because they need to get them in business.”

Steve Radley, director of policy and strategic planning for the Construction Industry Training Board agreed, saying reforms “could cause smaller firms to walk away”.

He added: “You’re getting small firms to focus on dealing with bureaucracy whereas they should be left to deal with what they do best which is driving up the quality of the experience.”

However, Federation of Small Businesses policy adviser for education and business support Dan Hooper said he would be prepared to accept a reduction in number in exchange “for the increase the quality”.

He added: “The government doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of what happens when the Trailblazers end and employers then take control of the standards.

“Small businesses will be cast aside, therefore the quality wanted and expected from small firms won’t be there.”

FE consultant Mark Corney warned against the effect the “enforced fee” would have when it was proposed in a technical consultation in March. At the time, Mr Corney told FE Week the move would “kill off apprenticeships for 16 and 17 year olds”.

He added: “Why would you think imposing any charge whatsoever on 16-year-olds will increase employer demand?”

Nevertheless, the panel also warned former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms to the English GCSE syllabus could have a knock-on effect on apprenticeships.

All learners who have not gained a GCSE maths or English grade C by the age of 16 must work towards it alongside their chosen post-16 programme.

However, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The new English GCSEs focus more towards literature — 19th Century literature and Shakespeare — for students who’ve already struggled with GCSEs, that’s creating a barrier.”

Kate Stock, managing director of Smart Training, agreed, saying: “We already have an alternative programme, it’s called Functional Skills and it’s much more relevant to the actual workplace the learner is in, and it works.”

Skills Minister Nick Boles has stepped away from his predecessor Matthew Hancock’s decision to scrap Functional Skills, and is currently considering a rebrand.

No date for the committee’s next hearing has been set, and the results of the government’s technical consultation, due around a month ago, are yet to be published.