The Department for Education has been criticised for spending tens of thousands of pounds on apprenticeship advisers, as a government-created careers guidance organisation says its own consultants are not “experts” on the subject.
A contract worth between £60,000 and £78,000 is on offer from the DfE for a supplier who can provide apprenticeship advisers to attend higher education exhibitions run by UCAS around the country.
The advisers, who will need to “provide expert apprenticeship advice and support to potential apprentices, parents and influencers on apprenticeships and traineeships”, will have to attend a minimum of 35 events, and no more than 50.
The higher education exhibitions currently listed online begin in Surrey on February 25, and finish almost seven months later in Edinburgh on September 17. According to the UCAS website, the events “help students explore a wide range of academic and career opportunities and discover a future that’s right for them”.
However, concerns have been raised over why this does not fall under the remit of the Careers and Enterprise Company, which was created in 2015 to “transform the provision and advice for young people and inspire them about the opportunities offered by the world of work”.
Robert Halfon, former skills minister and chair of the Commons education select committee, said it was “not clear why more duplication and expense are necessary”.
“This decision means that less money will be available on the front line where it is needed most,” he said.
“The Careers and Enterprise Company already have millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Why are they not using their existing coordinators to do this work?”
But a spokesperson for the Careers and Enterprise Company, which is thought to have been backed by more than £70 million of government funding, said its 125 enterprise coordinators and 2,000 enterprise advisers were not “experts” on apprenticeships.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it would be “logical” for apprenticeship advice to fall under the remit of the Careers and Enterprise Company.
“It is a concern that additional money is being spent on providing this service at a time when there are such acute funding pressures in the education system,” he said.
“The provision of apprenticeship advice is important and we support any efforts to give young people information and guidance. But it is also important that this provision is delivered in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
The Careers and Enterprise Company spokesperson said enterprise coordinators “are not experts on apprenticeships as they have a wider focus on supporting clusters of 20 schools to achieve Gatsby Benchmarks” which she said leaves them “limited capacity”.
She added that enterprise advisers are volunteers who are “already delivering a minimum of one day per month to schools”, and said they are “also not experts in apprenticeships specifically”.
The company’s funding agreement with the DfE says its core objectives are to roll out employer engagement, support best practice and test and evaluate new approaches to careers provision, but does not specifically mention apprenticeships.
The Careers and Enterprise Company, which is led by chief executive Claudia Harris, pictured, has attracted controversy over the past year. In December, Mr Halfon accused it of believing it has a “magic money tree” and being “ludicrously wasteful” after it emerged that the company spent more than £200,000 on two conferences using public money rather than private sponsorship.
In May it was revealed that the company had spent almost £900,000 on research in the three years since it was created.
The Department for Education was contacted for comment.