A hotly anticipated Ofsted report will warn of a slump in the quality of apprenticeships that often fail to give learners the skills and knowledge needed by employers, FE Week can reveal.
The results of the inspectorate’s inquiry into apprenticeships are not due out until Thursday (October 22), but an Ofsted spokesperson has given FE Week a sneak preview of its damning findings.
She said it will warn that “the growth in the number of apprenticeships over the last eight years has diluted their quality, with many low-skilled jobs being classed as apprenticeships and used to accredit the established skills of people who have been in a job for some time”.
She added: “These low-level apprenticeships are particularly common in service sectors, like retail and care, and do not provide sufficient training that stretches the apprentices and improves their capabilities. Instead they frequently are being used as a means of accrediting existing low-level skills, like making coffee and cleaning floors.
Some of the learners surveyed by inspectors for the report were not even aware that they were on an apprenticeship programme.”
Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw is preparing what Ofsted describe as “a hard-hitting speech” to launch the report at a CBI event in Solihull, in the West Midlands, on Thursday.
He is expected to warn against further undermining of the apprenticeships brand and say that, despite increasing numbers as the government aims to hit its 3m target by 2020, very few apprenticeships are delivering professional-level skills in the sectors that need them most.
The report will make a number of recommendations aimed at raising the quality and status apprenticeships and call for providers to be held to account “far more rigorously”, the spokeswoman said.
It comes after FE Week reported on October 9 that Skills Minister Nick Boles had told the Conservative Party Conference he expected Ofsted’s review to lay bare “quite a lot of bad practice”.
Concern was raised about future standards when the consultation on the government’s planned apprenticeship levy, which closed on October 2, asked if providers that receive levy funding needed to “be registered and/or be subject to some form of approval or inspection.
But Mr Boles appeared to pre-empt any decisions over this, before BIS published its response to the consultation submissions, at the conference on Tuesday (October 6).
He said: “You will have to spend your apprenticeship levy money with a registered training provider who is on the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) register and Ofsted will have a continuing role in inspecting those registered training providers.”
When asked today about Ofsted’s report he added: “Putting an end to poor quality apprenticeship training lies at the heart of our reforms of apprenticeships. Ofsted’s report backs up the findings of our 2012 review and provides further evidence for our decision to put employers rather than training providers in the driving seat.
We are absolutely committed to creating 3 million high quality apprenticeships by 2020 including many more at degree level, because apprenticeships can change the lives of young people and open the door to a good job and a rewarding career.”
When shown Ofsted’s findings, Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), hit back at the use of cleaning apprenticeships as an example of accrediting existing low-level skills.
He told FE Week: “All apprenticeship programmes cover a wide range of skills and it is unfortunate that Ofsted give the impression that there are programmes that consist of ‘cleaning floors’. Cleaning floors as part of an apprenticeship programme is not in our view ‘low level’ and the next time we all need the services of a hospital or care home, we will all be grateful that whoever did it had good training. Some of the programmes for staff involved in delivering these services are the most challenging.
“We will continue to work with our members and all training providers to support higher quality delivery. It is particularly disappointing that Ofsted did not talk to AELP about its conclusions before publishing this report but we would be happy to discuss how we can continue to improve the delivery of the apprenticeship programme.”
Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, responded to Ofsted’s report saying: “It’s right that the Government is ambitious in raising apprenticeship numbers but we must not allow this to come at the cost of quality. Business is committed to tackling the skills shortages many of our high-growth sectors face, and the UK must do better in producing more technicians which is at the very heart of our skills problems.
“Companies are worried that the introduction of the apprenticeship levy will lead to a focus only on quantity. High standards policed by an independent employer-led body is an essential part of avoiding this.”