Scrap the Institute for Apprenticeships, says Lords report

The Institute for Apprenticeships should be scrapped, according to an influential committee that sits in the House of Lords.

The Lords economic affairs committee has also poured scorn on the government’s target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020.

“The IfA should be abolished,” it said in a new report. The role of the institute is “unclear” and it doesn’t seem to act as an effective policing body for apprenticeships standards, it was claimed.

The IfA has many responsibilities, including developing and maintaining quality criteria for apprenticeship standards and assessment plans, which it also publishes, and quality-assuring the delivery of end-point assessments.

It plays a dominant role as external quality-assurance provider of choice for many trailblazer groups – even though it’s supposed to be the “option of last resort”. Many in the sector feel this responsibility should solely lie with specialist regulator Ofqual.

And it will soon even be overseeing prestigious new T-levels that are being developed as a technical education equivalent to academic A-levels.

Today’s report wants a simplified regulatory system across further and higher education, and sees no place for the IfA.

“The quality and outcomes of level two and three apprenticeships should be the responsibility of the new further education regulator,” it said. “The quality and outcomes of level four and above apprenticeships should be the responsibility of the Office for Students.”

The OfS is the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the higher education sector in England.

Authors also want the skills and apprenticeships minister Anne Milton to “provide oversight of both” the FE and HE regulators.

The IfA has come in for mounting criticism since its launch last year, and there are fears it has too many responsibilities and is struggling to cope.

There have been significant delays to the approval of new apprenticeship standards, which the IfA’s chief executive Sir Gerry Berragan is trying to address with his “faster and better” initiative.

The cross-party lords committee also pulled no punches with its criticism the government’s target of three million apprenticeships by 2020, warning it “has prioritised quantity over quality, and should be scrapped immediately”.

“Framing a target in terms of starts makes no sense when about 40 per cent of starts are not completed,” the lords said.

Recent progress towards the manifesto target has in fact been poor. Apprenticeship starts were down a massive 40 per cent in February on the same period in 2017.

This has largely been attributed to delays among employers adjusting to last spring’s apprenticeship reforms, especially the new apprenticeship levy.

“Despite the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, the UK is still a long way away from the effective apprenticeship system needed,” the report warned.

Forcing large employers to pay towards training through the levy has “encouraged the rebadging of training activity”, and more investment in higher-level apprenticeships for existing staff.

“It is also concerning that over half of training providers for apprenticeships were recently rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ in a recent Ofsted inspection,” the report continued.

Part-time study and adult learning have also “declined dramatically”

“This neglect of part-time and mature students is short-sighted: flexible learning is important for mature students looking to learn new skills to adapt to changes in the labour market and working practices,” authors claimed.

They also want more FE funding and better treatment of the sector compared to HE, and the committee’s chair Lord Forsyth has insisted the current system is  “deeply unfair”.

“The structure and distribution of funding in the post-school education sector is unfair and inefficient. Further education is the poor relation to higher education.”

“We ‎will consider the report and respond in full in due course,” a Department for Education spokesperson said.

“We agree that for too long young people have not had a genuine choice post 16 about where and what they wish to study.

“That is exactly why we have overhauled apprenticeships to focus on quality and why we are fundamentally transforming technical education, investing £500m a year in new T Levels that will provide a high quality, technical alternative to A levels and make sure we can keep up with the world’s best.

“On top of this, we are undertaking a major review of post-18 education and funding, to make sure students are getting value for money and genuine choice between technical, vocational and academic routes.”

The IfA declined to comment.