NAS concerned about quality following rapid apprenticeship expansion



The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and Skills Funding Agency have this week published a statement (click here) saying they are “determined to see that recent rapid expansion of Apprenticeships is not achieved at the expense of quality”.

This follows exclusive coverage published by FE Week which detailed training providers delivering 12 Week Apprenticeships (click here) as well as the dramatic surge in 25+ apprenticeship starts (click here).

The NAS ‘Statement on the Quality of Apprenticeship Delivery Models’ says: “NAS will work with the Skills Fuding Agency and look critically at Apprenticeships delivered in a condensed way” and where the learner does not need to achieve the full apprenticeship framework “partial completion should be reflected in a reduction in the funding”.

The Statement also stresses that “An apprentice must be employed in a job role with a productive purpose, which will allow them to have the wider employment experience key to an Apprenticeship.

NAS will work with the Skills Funding Agency and look critically at Apprenticeships delivered in a condensed way”

“It is not acceptable for a provider or associated organisation to directly employ apprentices without such real work, purely with the intention of them achieving the Apprenticeship” and “Apprenticeship funding provided by The Skills Funding Agency cannot be used to pay Apprenticeship wages”.

The NAS employ more than 300 staff, most of whom have been focused on selling apprenticeships to employers and achieving government targets. However, with targets for the number of 19+ apprenticeship starts smashed early and questions being raised about the quality of delivery, their remit has recently changed.

A BIS spokesperson said: “A clearer role and remit for the NAS has been set out by Business Secretary Vince Cable. On 18 July the Secretary of State issued a Direction to the Chief Executive of Skills Funding Agency requiring him to delegate a range of functions to the Chief Executive Officer of the NAS”.

BIS went on to tell FE Week that the NAS will now be “accountable for ensuring quality and standards and securing value for money for public investment in apprenticeships. The underpinning services that will support these new arrangements are currently being finalised within the NAS and Skills Funding Agency and are expected to be in place by early autumn.”

It remains unclear how the NAS sales force will take on a new quality assurance role, but their statement concludes that they “will continue to work with external partners including AELP, AoC and Ofsted to develop this statement as part of our joint ambition to support the delivery of high quality Apprenticeships. We will also look to issue updates and examples on how this statement is applied in practice.”

Questions also remain as to how the NAS will monitor delivery models and value for money given a recent announcement from the Skills Funding Agency that to “reduce bureaucracy and to simplify the future funding of adult skills” they will no longer collect Apprenticeship group and one to one delivery hour data from providers (click here).



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8 Comments

  1. This is all well and good but what happens to the thousands of kids who have been let down by these ‘fast track’ apprenticeships, because of NAS chasing targets in the first place? Is there going to be some sort of change in policy so these kids can go to a real training provider or college and be put through a real apprenticeship? As it stands at the moment these kids are now ineligible due to already attracting funding on the fast track apprenticeship

    Doesn’t sound like NAS and the SFA are taking responsibility for initially starting the ball rolling on these programmes. This is what happenes when the focus is on target chasing and not quality.

    How the SFA, who are not innocent in this fiasco, can agree to give a training provider over 10 million in funding (public money!) without the provider having had a visit from Ofsted is astounding.

    Stats look great but when they start to affect the delivery and quality then they count for nothing.

  2. The whole “fiasco” of Government funded training is, in my opinion, a joke.
    In general the colleges deliver a very poor service (as a freelance assessor and IV I have been “parachuted in” to clear up the mess left by departments who just did not have the knowledge or expertise to start, let alone complete these awards). Private training providers are no better, I have met only two (in the past five years) to whom I would be happy to send my son.
    It is a money making exercise with no regard to the end product. Paperwork and signatures are what drive most providers and a chase to achieve the maximum income from each student.
    I really do hope that the truth will come out and the Government will see what a waste of time and money this whole exercise is. Although I very much doubt anything will be done as it would open up an enormous can of worms.
    I think that the quality assurance of the provider is far to complicated and focused on the wrong areas. It is easy to “produce” a student or two who have been coached to say exactly what is required and ticks many of the boxes that both awarding bodies and the funding agencies want to see. Paperwork, again, is very easy to ”manage” and this is exactly what providers do. Bits of paper mean absolutely nothing. Interview every learner, see them at their workplace, observe them with the assessor. Somewhere along the line the system has lost sight of the object of the exercise which is, that at the end of an apprenticeship there should be a well trained and capable person who has had a considerable amount of on the job experience and is set up for a productive future in his or her chosen field. This is simply not possible with the system of offering an “Apprenticeship” in 8-12 months.
    The whole system is irretrievably flawed and someone brave enough needs to take a deep breath, scrap it all and start again.
    This, of course, will not happen because NAS and SFA have a vested interest in delivering good statistical evidence to Central Government that all is well. It is an “Emperors New Clothes” scenario. Come on chaps, who is going to be brave enough to tell the truth?

    • An interesting development, especially when the SfA have massively increased the contract of a very large IT provider who uses the “employed learner” model. I would be surprised if they rock that particular boat very hard

    • I could not agree more with this satement my other half used to work for a provider but left once the well being of students was ignored and it was all about numbers signed up so the provider could get paid! She was pushed through a management course in one month and told by her previous boss to fabricate paperwork just so they got their funding before she left this was a course she never even agreed to do! I have been involved with sales management and junior staff for the last ten years I was very keen to work for a provider due to the great work I was lead to believe they did! Now seeing that they are only out for the money means I will go no where near the industry, it makes sense now why 75-85% of this particular providers workforce are apprentices

  3. I think that if the SFA want to furnish the sector with some operational solutions in a QA role we would all welcome them with open arms!

    Unfortunately, I suspect that this will not be the case and as usual the majority of providers will be held in the same regard as those that exploit public money for their own short term gains.

    In relation to Linda’s comments above, the majority of colleges do not deliver a poor service and having experienced a number of inspections and audits, the very idea that Osfted and the NAO do not undertake a robust analysis/inspection is absurd. The majority of hard working staff in this sector have the interests and the future success of their learners at the very heart of what they do and their roles constantly monitored through robust quality assurance and a whole host of other mechanisms.

  4. For me I hope that this will start moves to end political gratification over apprenticeship numbers. Too often politicians get credit for whoever announced the most impressive numbers. Numbers numbers numbers. It’s never been about how many actually complete which is bad enough, but now thankfully people are finally starting to ask about quality too.

    Am all in favour of more, so long as it’s more of the good stuff.

  5. It’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

    Apprenticeships for people aged 25+ have a real potential to increase labour market mobility among mature career-switchers. In an ageing society this is no bad thing (particularly given that the taxes of thousands of manual workers have paid for the higher education experience of an elite of young people). A knee-jerk reaction to stop abuse by narrowing opportunity may deter dodgy providers (like the ILA fiasco) but damage real learners.

    When it comes to apprenticeship status (and public support) for the workforce development of existing employees there’s a finely-balanced argument about what the state pays and what employers pay. In MOST cases, the onus should be on the employer – but I’d hesitate to say in ALL. For anyone not driven wholly by ideology, it’d be interesting to explore where the line is drawn!

    “Something Must Be Done” is a great red-top headline – but if it shuts down routes for adults who benefitted least from initial education, I’d prefer reforms to closing off the 25+ apprenticeship route.