The boss of the AELP wants the education select committee to help him get rid of the 20-per-cent off-the-job training rule hated by so many small ITPs

The education committee’s inquiry this week into the quality of apprenticeships could not be more timely after the change at the top of the Department for Education.

The good news is that Damian Hinds brings with him the same commitment to social mobility as his predecessor. AELP’s pitch to both the secretary of state and the select committee is that the drive for more social justice is endangered by the current state of the apprenticeship reforms. The committee could play a very important role in putting them back on track.

The government remains resolute about pursuing its target for three million starts, and the committee is understandably concerned that the reforms should safeguard the quality of provision within the apprenticeship programme. After all, the interests of social justice are not going to be served if apprentices are experiencing poor training at any level.

So first of all, we want to acknowledge that four out of five apprenticeship training providers in the independent sector are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted – and a long succession of employer and learner surveys have given providers the kind of satisfaction ratings that other industries could only dream of.

The interests of social justice are not going to be served if apprentices are experiencing poor training at any level

But there is no room for complacency and one very positive gain from the new apprenticeship standards is the greater emphasis on ensuring the apprentice receives hands-on training rather than an assessment of progress.

However, we cannot properly improve quality without adequate funding, and the new system under the levy requires the funding to cover not only the actual training but also the new end-point assessment, and the quality-assurance of that end-point assessment.

How can any provider deliver a quality apprenticeship with 20-per-cent off-the-job training on a minimum 12-month programme, when the maximum amount of funding on some standards and frameworks is only up to £1,500 per apprentice? Adequate funding is required, particularly at the lower levels, to ensure that programmes can be delivered in a compliant way that also produces ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ results for all levels in all sectors.

In AELP’s submission to the committee, we cite evidence from employers that that the rigid implementation of the off-the-job rule is reducing recruitment of level two apprentices.

This has a particular impact in sectors with high-volume, lower-wage employment and typically lower margins, those where many of the first steps in education and training are taken. Meeting the off-the-job rule is often a poor substitute for properly supported on-the-job training, and AELP believes it is no measure of quality.

The government should not allow the price of an apprenticeship to be negotiated downwards by employers

We are urging MPs to dismiss the ill-informed, elitist rhetoric that level two learning, even when meeting a new standard, does not count as an apprenticeship, nor that it involves adequate development of knowledge, skills and behaviours.

The government should not allow the price of an apprenticeship to be negotiated downwards by employers, as this potentially reduces the quality of the experience for the apprentice – the only current example of reverse auctioning in the education system.

Removing nationally recognised qualifications from apprenticeship standards further reduces apprentices’ job mobility.

Another policy that runs counter to social justice is that provider funding for maths and English in apprenticeships is miserly, at only 50 per cent of the classroom rate. This comes in below the cost of delivery and provides no incentive to take on the most challenging individuals.

AELP is pleased that the committee is looking at the issue of subcontracting, although time is short if we want to stop the repercussions of the disastrous non-levy procurement, which threatens to remove hundreds of good-quality, niche providers from the programme.

We want the MPs to join us in demanding greater flexibility in subcontracting rules and reinstating the previous rules for the 15-month transition period until the next set of levy reforms take effect.

Mark Dawe is CEO of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers