The chief executive of the government’s apprenticeship quango has defended the decision to reject a business administration standard at level 2 – claiming it would “undermine” efforts to create a “well-regarded” programme.

Last week FE Week revealed how Jennifer Coupland had shattered hopes for the apprenticeship after she turned down a final plea from employers.

Addressing delegates on the second day of the sixth Annual Apprenticeship Conference this afternoon, the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education boss tackled criticism of the decision head on.

She made clear it was “nothing to do with being averse to level 2”, but simply that the proposal did not meet the required length or quality of an apprenticeship standard.

And when quizzed on why she would not entertain another proposal for the standard, Coupland said she wants to be “blunt” and not give the employers “false hope”.

Here’s what she said during her speech in full:

“I know that one of the big stories last week in the world of apprenticeships and in the conference room this morning was the institute’s decision not to endorse a level 2 business administration proposal.

“I want to talk briefly about why we made that decision. Firstly, take-up on the new level 3 business administration standard has more than doubled since it launched in 2017. That shows there is a great route into skilled employment in an administrative role via an apprenticeship and appetite from providers, apprentices and employers for that.

“And as Doug Richard said in the Richard Review, apprenticeships should not be the only skill show in town, there should be a place for other forms of vocational training and pre-employment provision, and great classroom-based technical routes too.

“We have an opportunity now to really build a high-quality, well-regarded apprenticeship programme and the more we stretch the definition of an apprenticeship the more we undermine attempts to finally achieve that.

“So when we do hand out the apprenticeship label it must be an indicator of a high-quality training programme. It must be for training for skilled occupations that require at least a year of sustained and substantial training to become competent in the role.

“The proposal for a level 2 business administration standard did not meet those tests and that is why we did not back it.

“To be really clear, this is nothing to do with being averse to level 2. There are plenty of level 2 qualifications that meet those tests. Since our establishment the institute has approved over 80 new standards at level 2 across a huge variety of fields.

“We have level 2 apprenticeships for plasterers, for scaffolders, for bricklayers, for sewing machinists, for beauticians, health care support workers, hospitality team members, hair professionals, culinary chefs, and even fish mongers, and that is just a few.

“More than half a million people across the country have now received much better skills training because of this new and more rigorous employer-led approach to setting standards for apprentices.

“To count as an apprenticeship an occupation must take at least a year to learn, there must be scope for a minimum 20 per cent off-the-job training. It is a high bar set by both us and employers themselves, and the reality is that sometimes proposals for new apprenticeships won’t reach it.”