We recently hosted a roundtable discussion on the benefits of the levy and our new hospitality standards, organised by our weekly trade magazine and attended by a dozen human resources directors from major national contract catering and hotel chains.

I was impressed by how these HR professionals have embraced the levy as a tool to improve their apprenticeship and staff development programmes. These multi-site and multi-brand operators have seen the levy and digital apprenticeship service as opportunities to control the diverse offerings they run through different providers and colleges across the country­— which have often been operating unknown to their head office training department.

Those present enthused about the quality of the new hospitality apprenticeship standards – especially those for professional chefs. However, they were baffled as to how the quality of delivery would be controlled, and were surprised to learn that, as the employer, they would be held responsible for maintaining quality. Without any external qualification in the new hospitality standards, no-one was sure how quality of delivery would be measured, quantified or assured.

HR consulting firm People 1st has put measures into place to ensure the quality of the external assessment process, but there was nothing for programme delivery. Indeed, concerns were expressed that the apprenticeship programme could slip into a format for preparing apprentices to pass their end-point assessment tests, without providing them with the vocational skills needed for their chosen career.

Again, the role of Ofsted in the new standards was questioned. While the provider will be the first recipient of the funding in the new standards – unlike before, when the provider delivered the whole package – they now only deliver parts, provide recruitment and selection, quality-assure employers’ delivery, or even simply act as gatekeeper to the end-point assessment.


Skills training needed for civil servants

The decision to appoint Peter Lauener to temporarily head up the Institute of Apprenticeships is to be welcomed, although it weakens the premise that is independent of government. However it clearly demonstrates the paucity of top expertise Britain has in apprenticeships and work-based learning, both within the department and the SFA. While one would not expect civil servants to have actually undertaken the role for which they are implementing government policy, some expertise would help.

I’m sure the sprinkling of ex-teachers, lecturers, heads and principals in the department over the years has assisted their overall understanding of schools, colleges and universities, and of course, like their political masters, the civil service will have actually attended school and university.

Providers could second staff to the SFA

Regrettably there are no ex-apprenticeship training-provider practitioners at SFA or DfE or ETF, and no senior civil servants who undertook the apprenticeship route. This might explain some of the daft, contradictory or unworkable decisions that are emerging from SFA and DfE in the lead-up to the levy, new apprenticeship standards and end-point assessments. Several colleagues who have
left the SFA in recent years to work for private training providers continually remark that when at SFA, they had no idea
of what we actually do or the complexity of our work!

In the short timescale until the April launch, maybe some of the large providers could second suitable staff to the agency or department to ensure the levy, provider and external assessment registers, and new standards and end-point assessments are fit for purpose.


How we caused the Ofsted logo fiasco

I fear my company may have been partly to blame in the Ofsted logo fiasco. I’d asked our marketing department to promote our Ofsted grades on our publicity as I noted other training providers were doing so. When they were refused permission from Ofsted, they asked for clarification, given that other providers were doing so.

It is pleasing to hear Ofsted is reviewing its policy. Maybe if all providers and colleges were obliged to display the Ofsted logo with the latest overall grade, on all their publicity and documentation – in the same way we are required to display the EU logo – it might focus college and ITP bosses to achieve higher grades and Ofsted inspectors to justify their ratings in public… or in court.