Public Accounts Committee wants more DfE action on bad apprenticeships

The Department for Education must “weed out” poor apprenticeship provision, the Public Accounts Committee has said.

A new report by the group of influential MPs also presses the department to look into whether financial incentives for teacher training deliver value for money, and to increase the number of women studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

The government has “allowed poor-quality provision – especially in apprenticeships – to continue for too long without being addressed”, it warned.

While Ofsted has an important role to play in “assessing the quality of apprenticeship programmes being delivered by individual providers”, the DfE must ensure it has “systems in place to identify poor quality provision in a timely way, and take appropriate action”.

“Poor-quality apprenticeships must be weeded out and there is still much work required to address the striking gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships,” said PAC chair Meg Hillier (pictured above).

FE Week exclusively revealed last month that Ofsted will get the final say over apprenticeship quality at new providers, after ministers and officials admitted during education committee hearings to confusion about who had ultimate responsibility for policing quality.

One new provider, Key6 Group, was initially stopped from recruiting new apprentices after its provision was branded “not fit for purpose” by Ofsted in a report published four months ago, the first in a new wave of early monitoring visits that are supposed to be keeping a careful eye on newcomers to the apprenticeship market.

But that ban was lifted just two months later by the DfE, after Key6 Group provided it with a “robust improvement plan”, which appeared to undermine the work done by Ofsted.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the PAC was “absolutely right to identify Ofsted as the chief custodian of quality for the apprenticeships programme”.

“Responsibility for quality has been become a very complex area under the reforms and clarity is urgently needed to ensure that the right providers are and remain on the register while the poor ones are turfed off it,” he said.

Today’s report, called Delivering STEM skills for the economy, also claimed that the DfE “cannot say” whether people given cash incentives to train as teachers in STEM subjects are “remaining in the profession”.

It urged the department to “identify as soon as possible” whether such payments “have delivered value for money”.

On Wednesday, the Taking Teaching Further programme was launched, offering up to £20,000 per provider to train up to five industry professionals to teach T-levels.

The £5 million pot is being managed by the Education and Training Foundation on behalf of the DfE.

PAC members also asked the government to introduce targets to boost the number of girls and women in STEM learning programmes including apprenticeships.

The report said that just eight per cent of STEM apprenticeship starts are by women.

The government is “making insufficient progress in addressing the gender imbalance in many areas of STEM learning and work”, it said.

The committee examined the apprenticeships programme in late 2016, and “recommended that DfE should set up performance measures for the programme that included whether it is delivering improved access to under-represented groups across all occupations”.

“The DfE did not introduce a target relating to female apprentices, because it was satisfied with the fact that women made up over 50 per cent of apprenticeship starts overall,” it added. “But only eight per cent of STEM apprenticeship starts are undertaken by women.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said it welcomed the report “highlighting the need for good-quality STEM provisions and note the recommendations with interest”.

The DfE has been approached for comment.