The new boss of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has laid out his top priorities.
Ahead of his first speech as chief executive — which he will deliver at the FE Week Annual Apprenticeship Conference (AAC) tomorrow — Mark Dawe told FE Week that getting the levy right, making sure employers are fully engaged with high quality delivery, and ensuring that small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) are not left to “pick up the scraps” were top of his agenda.
The former OCR chief, who takes over from the outgoing Stewart Segal at AELP, said the FE sector is entering a “critical period where we can get it right”.
On the apprenticeship levy, which was revealed will give employers a 10 per cent top-up to their monthly contributions in yesterday’s budget, Mr Dawe said the sector should be aiming for a “simple but effective” system.
“The levy should be understood by all those involved, particularly employers, and we will ensure providers get funding as it has been described. There should be no barriers to either.”
Mr Dawe also told FE Week that he was concerned with the government’s recent comments about SMEs.
Last week, Skills Minister Nick Boles re-emphasised plans to make SMEs rely on unspent apprenticeship levy funds from larger companies to pay for their training.
Mr Dawe said: “It feels like the SMEs are getting the scraps. If you hear how the large employers are talking they could be using up the levy and more in the next two years.”
On the need for high quality providers, Mr Dawe said the government’s money should be targeted at ensuring high quality good provision is supported, and not undermined by sustaining poor quality weak provision.
“The sector’s aim should be to ensure high quality delivery with excellent outcomes for student and business, whatever the type of provider, and we hope that ministers will keep their word about making no attempt to ‘fix the market’ for apprenticeships.”
Speaking about the introduction of Trailblazers, Mr Dawe said: “Let’s just step back and make sure this is a long term sustainable set up, which is valid, reliable and a manageable assessment.
“It should give employers what they want but also learners training and qualifications that allows them flexibility.”
Following a morning speech from Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw at the AAC, Mr Dawe said the chief inspector “needs to retire before he does any more damage to our education system and the economic wellbeing of this country”.
He added: “Inspection of delivery, whoever is delivering to the learner, is important, but it has to be relevant and should facilitate high quality provision. I have enormous respect for what they are trying to do and many members of the team, particularly Paul Joyce, but even today we are hearing worrying comments.
“Everyone seems fixated on the need for an apprenticeship to require the operation of a lathe or use of a spirit level rather than a coffee machine or leg wax – I know which ones I have had more contact with recently, and the training is really important.”
He said education as a whole needs an inspectorate which “appreciates the benefits of work based learning, understand the needs of the employers in each sector, operates a framework that is appropriate for work based learning, and with inspectors who understand it”.
Commenting on 16 to 18 learning, Mr Dawe said that schools and parents need to realise that further learning can be completed in the workplace, including higher apprenticeships, which for many would be a “better route”.
He said: “Parents need to think hard about the £50,000 debt that comes with going to university and only 50 per cent of students end up going into graduate level jobs.
“Vocational routes provide a salary and relevant industry training along with generic skills.”
Mr Dawe said he will also fight for “absolutely unfettered access” to schools and their students and to allow providers into schools.
“Even when it isn’t deliberate, there is still a bias in many schools to staying on to do academic programmes or classroom based vocational rather than more suitable work based programmes.
“The government recognises this but at end of day, they have to convince the parents. We all have a role in providing high quality information advice and guidance, particularly employers and providers.”