The new secretary of state for education introduces National Aprenticeship Week with his vision for how the sector will change on his watch. His focus will be on challenging misconceptions about apprenticeships, tightening oversight of providers, and encouraging headteachers to promote the apprenticeship concept to their students

I’ve enjoyed so many great “firsts” since becoming education secretary—my first visit in  the role, my first results day — but one of the things I’ve been most looking forward to is my first ever National Apprenticeship Week. And what a week it’s been!

The 13th annual National Apprenticeship Week got off to a flying start on Monday, and was as jam-packed as ever, with – by my last count – an amazing 800 or so events and activities taking place across the country to celebrate apprenticeships and all the great opportunities that schools, colleges, training providers and employers have to offer.

I’m determined to make sure the system works for the people that can benefit the most

I kicked off the festivities in Stratford, where I met apprentices working for MACE construction on the UCL East development.

The 35,000 square metre project shows exactly how exciting and cutting-edge a modern apprenticeship can be: after donning all the traditional construction site gear, including the obligatory hard hat, I was led by apprentices round a virtual reality “cave”, a cube made up of projectors that allowed us to virtually walk around the project as it was being built around us.

My visit to MACE construction was just a taste of the opportunities on offer this week.

Other events taking place included “have a go” workshops in Nantwich, an open evening in Sunderland, and an awards ceremony in Somerset to celebrate all the wonderful work apprentices do in all sorts of sectors.

The theme of National Apprenticeship Week 2020 involves looking beyond misconceptions of apprenticeships, including outdated ideas about their range and variety. One great way of celebrating that theme is by checking out grime artist P Money’s latest track The Calling, released a few weeks before National Apprenticeship Week. The video, which you can watch online, was put together with the help of seven apprentices working across sound and video production, lighting, hair and make-up and even drone engineering.

However, as I know you’re all aware, lingering stereotypes about apprenticeships persist – which is why I also marked National Apprenticeship Week by commissioning
Mumsnet to survey parents about their attitudes towards apprenticeships. The results were illuminating: some 45 per cent of those parents were unaware that apprenticeships
go right up to degree level, for example, while one-third said they still associated them with only manual jobs.

I know that everyone in the sector has been working hard to tackle these types of assumptions and show just how varied modern apprenticeships are, and 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.

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.

We are making improvements, including moving smaller employers on to our award winning digital apprenticeship service so they can choose the training provider that
works for them, and we are making funding available to support for up to 15,000 additional apprenticeships.

It’s also vital that we continue to have high quality providers to deliver apprenticeship training, both so that people gain the skills they need to get ahead and to give us the workforce our economy needs to grow. I know the vast majority of you are doing a fantastic job – I’ve seen this first hand – but there are still some areas of concern.

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.

Finally, we also want to make sure every young person is aware of just how rewarding  doing an apprenticeship can be, which is why the Department for Education’s own Lord
Agnew has just sent out a letter to headteachers across the country reminding them of their duty to make sure they are letting apprenticeship providers into their schools to talk to their pupils about the range of opportunities available, no matter what their skills, interests and aspirations.

All in all, the past seven days have been a testament to all the hard work being done to boost apprenticeships up and down the country.

As we mark the closing of the 13th National Apprenticeship Week, here’s to another brilliant year!