Funding may well be key to getting anywhere near the government’s 3m apprenticeship starts target for the period of the new Parliament, but ensuring quality teaching is behind the figures will also help achieve the goal.
While money is clearly essential, understanding the pedagogy underpinning apprenticeships is highly important if we are to improve both their quality as well as increase their quantity.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) evaluation of the apprenticeship Trailblazers, mainly concerned with the process by which employers had been engaged and broadly positive in tone, stresses that we are beyond design of standards and into delivery of training.
Understanding the pedagogy underpinning apprenticeships is highly important if we are to improve both their quality as well as increase their quantity
For instance, most recently in the Queen’s speech we heard that the term ‘apprenticeship’ will, like ‘university’, become a protected word. As Skills Minister Nick Boles put it: ‘If university graduates have their moment in the sun so should people who undertake apprenticeships.’
What we now need to do, post the hype of the General Election, is to think carefully about which learning methods work best for which standard, really understanding the many different employment contexts — large and small, different sectors, different levels.
The Alliance for Research into Vocational Education of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, 157 Group, the Centre for Real-World Learning and City & Guilds — has made a start. In our report, Remaking Apprenticeships: powerful learning for work and life, we argue for a more ambitious definition of the desired outcomes of apprenticeship, suggest some of its signature ‘ingredients’ and offer a broad range of high quality learning methods.
Early on we include a little mentioned quotation from BIS: ‘Learners must demand high quality pedagogy which will necessitate that stronger links are built between employers, teaching and teachers.’
It’s an unlikely scenario to think of apprentices clamouring for pedagogy from their providers, but of all the BIS pronouncements on apprenticeship it is
In Remaking Apprenticeships we defined an apprentice as: ‘a job with significant inbuilt learning designed to prepare the apprentice for future employment, employability and active citizenship of a high quality’ and if we are to be true to our definition and really protect the brand we need to do four things.
Firstly, must be more ambitious. Focus less on whether we are using Dutch or German models and more on what will be world-class in terms of outcomes from apprentices ‘made in England’ – the resourcefulness of employees, their transferable skills and the pride they have in their work, for example.
Secondly, we must recognise what is distinctive — that apprenticeships require on and off-the-job learning, are essentially about communities of practice and need an unambiguous focus on and visibility of learning processes.
Thirdly, we must have a serious conversation about learning methods, such as using experts, with peers, through practice, hands-on, feedback, one-to-one, real world, against the clock and online.
Fourthly, we need Individual Leaning Plans to create a dynamic new kind of learner record which can be used as a means not just of recording transactions but also to reflect on and learn from experiences.