The latest report from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) recommends abolishing level two apprenticeships for all 16- to 18-year-olds. It proposes forcing all those in this age group who are not taking an academic route to university, to undertake a two-year pre-apprenticeship programme at their local FE college or not-for-profit training provider.

Even before the government’s reforms have been implemented, let alone evaluated, the authors are suggesting, somewhat prematurely, a total change in the way young people enter the world of work. But the report is based on highly selective statistical data without any context.

The failure is not in post-16 vocational education or apprenticeships but in the 11 years of education leading up to this point. Our current school curriculum and examination system are designed to prepare pupils for university. It needs to be changed also to prepare pupils for the world of work with a vocational skills route as opposed to an academic route.

To subject pupils to an additional two-year pre-apprenticeship programme at an FE college would be a disservice to the pupils concerned – not to mention an admission that state education has not properly equipped them for employment.

As judged by Ofsted, FE colleges’ track record for delivering apprenticeships is disappointing, with a few notable exceptions. Indeed, FE colleges are minor players in apprenticeship delivery and were strenuously encouraged to increase it by the previous skills minister Nick Boles. When modern apprenticeships were introduced some 30 years ago, FE colleges, third-sector and private providers all had an equal opportunity to deliver them.

Yet today 76 per cent of all apprenticeships are delivered by private training providers, with the remaining 24 per cent equally split between employers with their own direct contract and FE colleges.

The massive growth in apprenticeship numbers and the astounding increase in success rates from a low 50 per cent to 75 per cent plus today has been achieved mainly by private sector providers. This report choses to ignore this and proposes a monopoly of FE colleges and charities to deliver their ill-conceived pre-apprenticeship programmes. This is more reminiscent of a Stalinist approach than a 21st century solution to producing a skilled workforce.

The statistics this report uses to justify its two-year pre-apprenticeship programme are based on those leaving full-time education with poor results, not those entering apprenticeships. Vocational learning in schools and colleges, through a variety of initiatives, such as TVEI and vocational GNVQs, has produced poor results.

This concept of a two-year pre-apprenticeship programme would be ideal for 14-year-old pupils, for whom a vocational career is the best route and a programme including early work experience – especially for those disillusioned with full-time education – would be a benefit. At 14 it’s a brilliant concept; at 16 an irrelevance.

The authors are suggesting, somewhat prematurely, a total change in the way young people enter the world of work

There will always be a sizeable group of young people at 16 for whom entering employment is the most suitable route, and an apprenticeship the best thing for both the young person and the state. This report’s plan to prevent this is undemocratic and demonstrably not in the public interest.

This government has already introduced the traineeship programme for unemployed young people and the take-up has not been brilliant, partly because the Youth Training Scheme it aimed to replicate paid both trainees and employers, which the current programme fails to do. There are other reasons why traineeships are not successful, such as the fact that in many sectors there are entry-level job vacancies available – in retail, hospitality and catering, for example – so young people would prefer paid work to working for free.

The statistics in this report appear to have been selected and the contents written to support a preconceived outcome for the FE sector – to deliver a two-year pre-apprenticeship programme – without any alternative being considered, or the bigger role of the economy and of employers in the programme being discussed.


John Hyde is the chairman of HIT Training


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