The case for change is undeniable. It’s decision time

Shane Chowen, FE Week editor

Welcome to FE Week’s special supplement marking this year’s National Apprenticeship Week. With the support of NCFE, we’ve brought together the highlights of this year’s key news, announcements, and highlights. 

In the following pages, you’ll also find exclusive and sometimes provocative opinions from sector leaders and insiders. 

Getting people to write for a publication like this is the easy bit; everyone wants to make the apprenticeship system work. As you’ll see for yourself, the sector isn’t short on ideas either. 

What sets 2024 apart from previous years though is the sense of urgency behind calls for change. There will almost certainly be a general election this year and the sector is hungry for detail from politicians on what’s to come. 

Since last year’s National Apprenticeship Week supplement, there’s been some good progress. Funding for functional skills qualifications was increased last month following a concerted lobbying effort from training organisations and, as Billy Camden reports on page 12, there are signs small businesses are making use of the removal of the cap on apprenticeship starts. 

Apprentices Susan Loughlin and Adam Henderson have their say on pages 14 and 15. Loughlin’s inspirational story reminds us of the harsh realities faced by young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and makes a powerful argument for a living wage to widen access to apprenticeships. 

Organisations like the Association of Apprenticeships, the Chartered Institution for Further Education and the Union of Jewish Students are also doing their bit to improve the status and experience of doing an apprenticeship on pages 16-17. Debates about funding and tweaks to the levy are of course important, but we shouldn’t forget that with low completion rates in much of the sector, apprentices themselves have to see the value. 

New AELP chief executive Ben Rowland shares what he has learned from touring the country on his CEO roadshow, paying tribute to the “unsung heroes” that make up the apprenticeship eco-system on page 10. And Ofsted’s FE chief Paul Joyce shares what his inspectors find are the common elements to the very best training on page 24. 

While there are debates about detail, what is uniting the apprenticeships sector is that the current system isn’t doing enough for young people or small businesses. The longer we go on as we are, the deeper inequalities in the system will be entrenched. The status quo isn’t acceptable to anyone. Now is the time for choices. 

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