I am writing this on the eve of the General Election knowing that by the time you read this all the votes will have been cast and the scramble to form a government will most likely be under way.
Politicians who have been rubbishing their competitors’ policies and promises throughout the campaign will be making loving overtures to each other and if the polls are to be believed the future of our county will be decided in the ubiquitous ‘smoked-filled rooms’ of the parties’ managers and not by the ballot box.
Eventually we will welcome the 62nd Skills Minister to pick up the apprenticeship mantle which all the parties have been professing to support and he or she will find out the sad truth of the current state of the programmes.
Apprenticeship numbers are falling, apprenticeship completion rates are falling and apprenticeship funding has been falling throughout the last administration’s tenure.
Is there a correlation between reductions in funding and reductions in apprenticeship starts and completions compounded with the continual changes?
As reported in FE Week, apprenticeship completion rates have fallen by 5 percentage points over the past three years.
The principal reason for this was the introduction of Functional Skills to replace Key Skills.
At the time of their introduction, both the department and then minister publically stated they were prepared for a 10 percentage point drop in completion rates with the introduction Functional Skills.
Eventually we will welcome the 62nd Skills Minister to pick up the apprenticeship mantle which all the parties have been professing to support and he or she will find out the sad truth of the current state of the programmes
It is of some credit to the apprenticeship providers, despite the shortage of specialist maths and English teachers, that completions have only fallen by half than the minister and officials expected.
The introduction of Technical Certificates by David Blunkett many years ago was a sensible way of ensuring apprentices had sufficient theoretical knowledge to support the vocational skills they practiced at their workplace.
However, with the recent Govian wave of tests and tests and more tests, driving out assessment of these theory skills by assignments and projects, many practically-minded apprentices who are both competent and knowledgeable are failing their online tests.
Again, ministerial bias for exams adds nothing to the skill set of the apprentices and reduces completion rates for no apparent advantage, rather to the disadvantage of those who have difficulty taking examinations.
Much is made of individual learners’ learning styles, but styles of assessing, quantifying and marking their achievements does not reflect this.
So, new Skills Minister, when you unravel your brief you won’t find a simple apprenticeship scheme for you to expand.
Your predecessor left a half open can of worms that ignored progression to provide an apprenticeship framework that met the needs of the employer, the learner, the community and the national economy, not just the narrow needs of the employer.
Compulsory employer contributions became blurred as did the funding route.
The employer pilot scheme failed badly and where employers delivered apprenticeship themselves without a provider or college, they achieved disastrously low completion rates averaging 40 per cent. But then empirical evidence was always behind political expediency.
So what’s the betting on how many ministers we will have if the new administration goes the full five-year term — will we reach the 70 mark?
Will skills, FE and higher education remain with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or return to the Department for Education and can Peter Lauener still straddle both the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency?