Lady Alison Wolf issues ‘headless chickens’ warning over Government’s 3m apprenticeship target

Government adviser Professor Lady Alison Wolf (pictured above) has admitted harbouring serious doubts about David Cameron’s 3m apprenticeship starts target labelling it “a big mistake”.

She told the House of Lords Social Mobility Committee that the target meant Whitehall officials would be “rushing around like a headless chicken” to achieve it.

She appeared before the committee on Tuesday (November 18) to give evidence on social mobility in the transition from school to work and was quizzed on the government’s apprenticeship target, which it aims to hit by 2020.

“I think the target is a big mistake and I am really worried about the target”, said Lady Wolf.

“Everything that I see makes me more worried because you put a target inside a government department and everyone starts rushing around like a headless chicken trying to figure out ways of meeting it.”

She described it as an “enormous target” and added that if there was an apprenticeship programme of that size then “you would actually be ending up in a situation where every young person in the country became an apprentice”.

Lady Wolf said reaching the target was “extremely unlikely” and if the Government “go on and on about it — it will distort everything else and the price will be the quality of what we are getting”.

She also commented on the idea to have even more apprentices than the previous government seems to her as “extraordinary”.

She said: “I also don’t think they [Government] are budgeting for it because they said they will put money in and will fund the SMEs and if you look at what the spend per apprentice was in the last five years it was a level of spending for which you could only afford to do large number of the low quality apprenticeships.”

Lady Wolf said she found it hard to believe in this current fiscal climate that there was the money to meet the target and still have high quality.

She added that colleges should very clearly be the place that apprenticeship training took place and she would stop the “hundreds and thousands” of small providers coming in, saying “it just doesn’t work”.

The evidence session came a week after the committee questioned Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw on promoting vocational routes.

The next House of Lords Social Mobility Committee hearing is due to take place on Wednesday, November 25, with witnesses yet to be announced.

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  1. Why stop the small providers, many provide good apprenticeship programmes in specialist areas. Colleges are not the answer to everything. I would like to know where she draws her information to make such statements.

    • Hear, hear. but where do the ‘think tanks?’ get any of the information, presumably from colleges, she should try asking would be apprentices or employers as the really good colleges are heavily outweighed by the not so good as indeed it applies to ILPS and employers. Or are they just looking at the ‘width’ and not the ‘quality’

  2. As a small private Training Provider and part of a Consortium, we have many young people who leave colleges to attend our Apprenticeship programme due to their individual needs not being met. There are also those who do not choose to attend a larger establishment and flourish in the smaller environment. We have been in existence for 35 years and have received ‘best practice’ accolades from OFSTED. We pride ourselves on good quality ‘real’ Apprenticeships and there are many more like us around. There would be many young people disadvantaged across the country if Colleges were to become the only Apprenticeship provider.

    • I also agree with your statement Rachel – some private providers are exceptional in their delivery and are very learner focussed. We deliver Engineering, Science plus Business & Administration and we have over 500 Apprentices all of which have an excellent learning experience. They are employed from day one and our success and timely statistics are in excess of 87% for both, way above the national average for those Apprenticeship programmes. Having been in existence for over 15 years, It would be heartbreaking for our apprentices to have to attend a college environment and become a number linked to funding rather than a person linked to a career.


  3. Have to disagree with Lady Wolf, ILP’s are run as educational businesses and therefore understand their customers better: learners, employers, schools and parents.
    Hence the employer engagement, the statistics speak for themselves, also the ILP’s are more financially viable than most FE.

  4. Michael Woodgate

    I’d tend to agree with Alison. Colleges still have people called teachers, too many ILPs just employ assessors.Call me old fashioned, but, while knowledge can be gained from books and e learning, you can’t beat good teaching to develop a sound understanding of what you’re doing. I’ll never forget asking the large private provider delivering a lot of Customer Service Apprenticeships which customer service training courses they offered thinking there might be things like “handling difficult customers”, “effective communication”, “telephone techniques” etc. “None” was of course the reply.

    • Rachel (QTS)

      I think that is a very blinkered view Michael. I can think of one or two ILP’s that fit your comment and yes there must be some regulation to monitor these; however I can think of dozens more that employ people called ‘teachers’ with degrees to boot, who offer the individualised support that the SME and certain learners prefer and/or need. With this in mind I feel that the Trailblazers model is a perfect fit for the reputable ILP such as mine and Steven’s (and many more) as the whole point of them is to be employer led and as Colin mentioned if research was to be gained amongst SME’s I believe the majority would prefer a good ILP whom they have worked with happily for many years. I will be the first to agree that a college is the right choice for some learners; however there are many more who would be incredibly disadvantaged and would fall into the NEET bracket if this was the only option.