‘High quality’ apprenticeships at risk from policy blind spots

15 Feb 2019, 12:41

This week we expose four oversight gaps that have emerged since the implementation of apprenticeships.

They each put the credibility of the programme at risk, and need sorting, and fast.

Blind spot 1: Office for Students has still not committed to monitoring the quality of the rapidly expanding level six and seven ‘non-degree’ apprenticeships.

Incredibly, because Ofsted are not permitted to step in, this means some providers simply fly under the inspection radar.

Blind spot 2: When new providers fail an Ofsted monitoring visit the ESFA policy is that they pause new starts until a full inspection.

Yet providers like BBP University can continue starts at level six and seven as it is not inspected by Ofsted.

They can also continue the paused level two to five apprenticeships by switching it to a different legal entity.

Surely Ofsted and the Department for Education need to close this major loop-hole that makes a mockery of their intervention regime?

Blind spot 3: Apprenticeship standards are approved for delivery by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) before end-point assessment bodies have been approved by the ESFA.

And in one case, for the nursing associate apprenticeship, thousands have been on the course for a year or more despite there still being no assessment body in place.

Blind spot 4: The IfATE has responsibility for overseeing the apprenticeship external quality assurance (EQA) bodies.

Yet the IfATE is itself an EQA body, therefore overseeing itself. This is something the National Audit Office is likely to question in their forthcoming report.

At present the IfATE contract out their EQA responsibility, but as we report this week it remains unclear who will do the work in April.

In what appears to be a hastily arranged tender, the IfATE cannot get a new contractor in place fast enough.

These are all technical areas but combined they highlight significant policy failure that needs fixing.

But who to fix them?

The alphabet soup of acronyms neatly highlights a more general blind spot over who is actually responsible for overseeing quality: DfE, ESFA, Ofsted, OfS, IfATE, EQAs or EPAOs?

Nobody should pretend policy implementation is easy, but it’s been more than four years since the first apprentices started on a standard.

To put it in Ofsted terms, apprenticeship quality oversight it is still ‘inadequate’ and there has quite clearly been ‘insufficient progress’.

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