Stewart Segal considers the 16 to 18 education and training landscape in light of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) participation inquiry.

The PAC was right to identify in its latest report that more needs to be done to support young people aged between 16 and 18.

There have been some positive developments in recent years with the launch of traineeships and the focus on functional literacy, numeracy and IT skills. Unemployment figures are generally moving in the right direction, but we can do much more.

Securing a job or moving onto an apprenticeship is now recognised by the Department for Education as a valid programme outcome and an example of this new approach has been the creation of traineeships where the programme design follows the recommendations made by AELP over many years.

Traineeships got off to a modest start, as we predicted, because it did not have the full support of the Jobcentre Plus network and government restricted both the eligibility of learners and the providers that could deliver the programme.

The changes which came into effect at the start of this year should yield a significant increase in participation during 2015, but we are calling on government to allow all training providers with a track record of quality delivery and employer links to be able to deliver this key programme.

The PAC report looks at the effectiveness of the Youth Contract, but AELP was never convinced that wage subsidies were the way forward.

Our view is that work-based opportunities for young people should be built around the core programmes of traineeships and apprenticeships.

What we don’t want is new initiatives and programmes that undermine and confuse an already complicated market

We should also support the continuation of programmes that have worked such as the Troubled Families programme. What we don’t want is new initiatives and programmes that undermine and confuse an already complicated market.

Raising the Participation Age (RPA) is a major risk to ensuring that young people are offered all of the options open to them. Too many schools will promote RPA as the raising of the school leaving age.

We need an effective communications campaign to ensure the RPA will not be seen just as a raising of the school leaving age and schools must give access to experts such as training providers to ensure young people get best advice on their post-16 options.

Training providers can provide the link between schools and employers.

Since the PAC took evidence, the DfE has announced the creation of a new careers and enterprise company for schools. This must not become just one more organisation operating in a crowded and confusing careers space.

Our long-standing position is that England should have an integrated all-age service with the DfE and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills presiding over a single structure built around the services of the National Careers Service.

The PAC report was obviously drafted before Skills Minister Nick Boles’s statement on the reboot of the apprenticeship funding reforms.

Nevertheless, we welcome the committee’s comments on the need to ensure that small businesses are not put off the programme because of a possible increase in the administrative burden and a perception that the costs might rise under the reforms.

The start figures for 16 to 18 apprenticeships went up in 2013/14 after a fall the previous year, and the arrival of traineeships as a stepping stone to an apprenticeship gives employers and providers a further opportunity to maintain the upward trajectory.

But this will only happen if we get the reforms right for businesses of all sizes and so for some months AELP has been advocating a voucher system for employers which will give them the type of purchasing power that the minister is now talking about.

However, the proposal that employers should make upfront cash contributions remains on the table when we feel that the government should focus more on tracking the other significant contributions that support apprenticeship completion.

Improved careers choices, focus on the core programmes and flexible personalised delivery by high quality training providers would provide a clear and effective solution for our young people.