Williamson offers his reassurance that apprenticeship system will be fixed

Days after Ofsted criticised the government for locking young people out of the apprenticeship system, education secretary Gavin Williamson has offered his “reassurance”.

“I’m determined to make sure the apprenticeship system works for the people that can benefit the most”, he said.

Williamson made the comments whilst writing in FE Week’s National Apprenticeship Week 2020 supplement.

Concerns about graduate recruitment schemes being rebadged as  apprenticeships, falling starts for young people, a lack of level 2 standards and the levy budget running out have been building for more than a year.

In December 2018 the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education projected that the shortfall in the budget for England could rise to £1.5 billion during 2021/22.

The National Audit Office further sounded the alarm over the financial sustainability of the programme in March 2019 after it found the average cost of training an apprentice hit double what the government predicted.

And writing about apprenticeships in FE Week on Wednesday, Ofsted’s deputy director, Paul Joyce, said: “There is a real danger that young people aiming to step on to the career ladder are discovering that the vital bottom rungs simply do not exist.”

Numerous questions have also been tabled in Parliament from concerned MPs, including chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon.

Boris Johnson said it was “absolutely right” to follow the advice of Halfon and “reform the apprenticeship levy” at prime minister’s questions last month.

He confirmed the education secretary would be updating the House of Commons “in due course” about the proposals.

In his article for FE Week, Williamson said: “I’m aware that many of you have raised questions or concerns about funding for apprenticeships as well as the future direction of the apprenticeships programme. I want to reassure you that I am looking at all of this very carefully.

“I’m determined to make sure the system works for the people that can benefit the most from the life-changing impact apprenticeships can have, and that it works better for employers and providers too.”

He added that “improvements” are in progress – including moving
smaller employers “on to our award-winning digital apprenticeship service, so they can choose the training provider that works for them”.

Williamson also addressed other areas of concern regarding the quality of apprenticeship provision.

He said: “We’ve put in place new tougher rules for providers and employers applying to get on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, and they now have to meet strict criteria to become registered training providers.

“Strengthened oversight and tighter monitoring also means we can take swift and decisive action against poor performance by providers, or attempts by them to break, or manipulate the rules.”

The education secretary added that he had commissioned the website Mumsnet to survey over 1,000 parents about their attitudes towards apprenticeships due to the persistence of “lingering stereotypes”.

Three in five parents who responded said they were concerned their child would be “stuck doing more menial tasks, such as making the tea” in an apprenticeship.

The research also found around 45 per cent were unaware that apprenticeships go up to degree level, while a third of parents said they still associated them with manual jobs.

Williamson said he knew that everyone in the sector had been “working hard” to tackle such assumptions.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to change people’s perceptions over the coming years so that they recognise the work which goes into delivering apprenticeships and the opportunities they provide,” he added.