FE providers focused on ‘dubious qualifications of little economic relevance’ are among ‘guilty parties’ for apprenticeships failings, Wilshaw tells CBI conference

Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw told conference delegates that FE providers dishing out “dubious qualifications of little economic relevance” were among the “guilty parties” for apprenticeships failings.

The chief inspector was in an uncompromising mood today as he addressed the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) West Midlands education and skills conference, with a speech that officially launched the publication of Ofsted’s long-awaited apprenticeships report.

“Why is it that so many local firms are forced to rely on imported skilled labour because they find it impossible to find the right capabilities locally, and who is to blame for this?” Sir Michael asked delegates at the St John’s Hotel, in Solihull.

“In my opinion there are three guilty parties: schools, FE providers and… employers.”

Sire Michael called for an overhaul of the system for delivering apprenticeships, with a focus on Germany and Switzerland as examples of good practice.

He added the “snobbery” that has seen apprenticeships packaged as “the last chance for the academically challenged” has to end.

“The fact that only five per cent of our youngsters go into an apprenticeship at 16 is little short of a national disaster and a national tragedy,” he said.

His pulled no punches when offering guidance to both educators and employers.

He advised FE providers to specialise, rather than attempt “to be all things to all men and women”.

“Our inspection evidence shows that when they focus on the curriculum, when they concentrate on specialisms that meet local employment needs — standards invariably rise,” Sir Michael added.

“We are increasingly seeing providers, especially general FE colleges, failing because they’re not engaging with local businesses and not updating their courses to match local needs.”

Sir Michael was equally unforgiving, when addressing the many employers in the audience.

He said: “It’s no good carping from the sidelines about standards, if you don’t get involved yourselves.”

He recommended that businesses should lead by example — through sponsoring academies, engaging with curriculum design, and supporting employees who act as school governors.

Addressed business leaders directly, he added: “This is my challenge to you, organise yourselves, it’s no use waiting for others to put structures in pace and then bemoaning the progress made. Use your networks and knowledge to find solutions.”

Sir Michael claimed that low level apprenticeships were “wasting public money”.

“They’re abusing the trust placed in them by government and apprentices to deliver meaningful, high quality training,” he said.

Sir Michael added that Ofsted would not “shy away” from reporting failures, and called on funding agencies and the government to “continue to be prepared to withdraw finance from those employers and providers who abuse the system”.

“I urge government to be radical in its reform of this sector. We’ve indulged in mediocrity for far too long and we should no longer accept it,” he said.

Sir Michael added: “An apprenticeship isn’t endless tea making, shelf stacking or envelope stuffing. It is not an induction course, or a six week in house training scheme. It is not a badge for doing what is already being done.

“An apprenticeship is quality training, delivered over a long period, which meets real business needs and is regularly assessed by experts.”

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  1. You have to wonder how long it will take the great and the good, and my how good are Ofsted, to realise that providers chase the funding (that is why they became “all things to men and women”) If you want providers to focus (see cuts in Adult Budget for recent example) then fund the stuff you wnat them to do and withdraw everything else – How much are we paying these people to spout this – Talk about Back to the Future

  2. There are still many providers, especially FE Colleges that accept the ‘bums on seats’ income, without the need to a) understand the sector (whats an NVQ again Colin? b) deliver quality provision and c) regard employers as ‘trade’ and their employees on day release, as second class students.
    Little wonder that some employers don’t trust the college training whilst others abuse the system leaving the apprentice where?

  3. We at Walsall Adult and Community College (WACC) find ourselves agreeing with all of Sir Michael’s points in this article. It is heartening to know that our focus on employer engagement and niche provision, specific to the needs of the local economy, is in keeping with his clear vision. We will continue to forge links with the Walsall and wider Black Country business community and we will embrace partnership working across the sector to help to forge solutions to these entrenched problems.
    Kevin Williams – Marketing Advisor @ WACC

  4. Mick Fletcher

    I have two queries about the evidence base for these assertions.
    1. What is the basis for the claim that colleges provide qualifications of dubious relevance ? Which are the qualifications he is referring to and how is their relevance assessed ?
    2.He claims that colleges are “increasingly ” failing to meet employers needs. Can he again provide the two data sets that underlie this comparison and the methodology used to assess how well needs are being met.

    It would be good for FE WEEK to challenge Ofsted on these points since I suspect that they are based on nothing but gossip and fashion.

  5. Such an easy sound bite

    The SFA dictate what is fundable and have drastically reduced the number of qualifications so Sir Michael speak to them and identify which qualifications are useless

    The EFA insist on study programmes and prescribe what is taught so again stand up and identify those programmes that add no value

    We have little discretion and offer what our communities and employers ask for as long as it makes a contribution.

    You missed out one player Sir Michael – yes Ofsted – where grades are baffling and so inconsistent and a lottery of when you are inspected. Ofsted has a lot to answer for and the ridiculous barrage of new CIFs and the recent cull of inspectors is proof that this organisation needs to take some responsibility too. Physician heal thyself

  6. I think Sir Michael needs to go and talk to the SFA about his concerns as their message is very different, we have tried to move away from the large volume low skilled areas and focus on longer more technical frameworks and have been chastised by the SFA as we are not starting as many learners as previous years for the same amount of funding, the SFA message is numbers, the more the better (3m target), not quality or more skilled.

  7. FE Lecturer

    The college where I work is being run to try to achieve a better OFSTED grade at the next inspection; the focus being on data, targets,etc. The SMT are so focussed on trying to impress OFSTED that they are are forgetting to look after their students and staff. Students without lecturers for the first few weeks as there were not enough lecturers, staff not allocated to teaching the appropriate subjects, timetables changing almost daily, simply chaos. I suspect departments in many colleges are the same.

    OFSTED are the root cause of many management problems in FE as are government cuts.

  8. MIS Consultant

    Does anyone know if Michael Wilshaw’s title is a result of his contribution to education? Perhaps he should hand it back. Perhaps he’s naive or ignorant to the processes that occur to get an apprenticeship framework into a status that is funded and therefore eligible for a provider to deliver. There are a number of other organisations involved in the framework development that he seems to have conveniently overlooked. I would hope FE Week provide a journalistic counter-argument to him rather than just be passive observers.