Ofsted to criticise apprenticeships for ‘accrediting existing low-level skills, like making coffee and cleaning floors’

A hotly anticipated Ofsted report will warn of a slump in the quality of apprenticeships that often fail to give learners the skills and knowledge needed by employers, FE Week can reveal.

The results of the inspectorate’s inquiry into apprenticeships are not due out until Thursday (October 22), but an Ofsted spokesperson has given FE Week a sneak preview of its damning findings.

She said it will warn that “the growth in the number of apprenticeships over the last eight years has diluted their quality, with many low-skilled jobs being classed as apprenticeships and used to accredit the established skills of people who have been in a job for some time”.

She added: “These low-level apprenticeships are particularly common in service sectors, like retail and care, and do not provide sufficient training that stretches the apprentices and improves their capabilities. Instead they frequently are being used as a means of accrediting existing low-level skills, like making coffee and cleaning floors.

Some of the learners surveyed by inspectors for the report were not even aware that they were on an apprenticeship programme.”

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw is preparing what Ofsted describe as “a hard-hitting speech” to launch the report at a CBI event in Solihull, in the West Midlands, on Thursday.

He is expected to warn against further undermining of the apprenticeships brand and say that, despite increasing numbers as the government aims to hit its 3m target by 2020, very few apprenticeships are delivering professional-level skills in the sectors that need them most.

The report will make a number of recommendations aimed at raising the quality and status apprenticeships and call for providers to be held to account “far more rigorously”, the spokeswoman said.

It comes after FE Week reported on October 9 that Skills Minister Nick Boles had told the Conservative Party Conference he expected Ofsted’s review to lay bare “quite a lot of bad practice”.

Concern was raised about future standards when the consultation on the government’s planned apprenticeship levy, which closed on October 2, asked if providers that receive levy funding needed to “be registered and/or be subject to some form of approval or inspection.

But Mr Boles appeared to pre-empt any decisions over this, before BIS published its response to the consultation submissions, at the conference on Tuesday (October 6).

He said: “You will have to spend your apprenticeship levy money with a registered training provider who is on the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) register and Ofsted will have a continuing role in inspecting those registered training providers.”

When asked today about Ofsted’s report he added: “Putting an end to poor quality apprenticeship training lies at the heart of our reforms of apprenticeships. Ofsted’s report backs up the findings of our 2012 review and provides further evidence for our decision to put employers rather than training providers in the driving seat.

We are absolutely committed to creating 3 million high quality apprenticeships by 2020 including many more at degree level, because apprenticeships can change the lives of young people and open the door to a good job and a rewarding career.”

When shown Ofsted’s findings, Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), hit back at the use of cleaning apprenticeships as an example of accrediting existing low-level skills.

He told FE Week: “All apprenticeship programmes cover a wide range of skills and it is unfortunate that Ofsted give the impression that there are programmes that consist of ‘cleaning floors’.  Cleaning floors as part of an apprenticeship programme is not in our view ‘low level’ and the next time we all need the services of a hospital or care home, we will all be grateful that whoever did it had good training.  Some of the programmes for staff involved in delivering these services are the most challenging.

“We will continue to work with our members and all training providers to support higher quality delivery.  It is particularly disappointing that Ofsted did not talk to AELP about its conclusions before publishing this report but we would be happy to discuss how we can continue to improve the delivery of the apprenticeship programme.”

Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, responded to Ofsted’s report saying: “It’s right that the Government is ambitious in raising apprenticeship numbers but we must not allow this to come at the cost of quality. Business is committed to tackling the skills shortages many of our high-growth sectors face, and the UK must do better in producing more technicians which is at the very heart of our skills problems.

“Companies are worried that the introduction of the apprenticeship levy will lead to a focus only on quantity. High standards policed by an independent employer-led body is an essential part of avoiding this.”

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  1. I agree with AELP how many care homes rated inadequate due to poor staff training, suggesting floor cleaning is a complete apprenticeship is like the idiocy of suggesting people did a degree in David Beckham.
    It is a bit like suggesting a building apprenticeship is about playing with sand and cement

  2. This shows a lack of understanding of what employers need in view of skill within their workforce. The apprenticeship program allows for progression from basic skills all the way up to management. Employer do not need a workforce full of managers but no skilled work force.changes to the apprenticeship planned for next year will see them become more challenging to acheive and provide a workforce with higher skills and therefore more opportunities to progress.

  3. Maurice Fordy

    I think it is bang on. As someone with 25 years in FE (HSC) and many more years in care and nursing I too believe that the rush to complete has overtaken the yearn to learn! I meet staff in care services who do not have a clue about how to care but hold level 2 and 3 in care QCF as Apprentices. It is a complete joke. By tge same token I meet level 3 BTEC completes at the same qualification level and they have never met a service user!!! How is that?

  4. Lets not assume that because a learning provider is SFA funded they automatically must deliver high standard apprenticeships,when in too many cases, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I am aware of vocational trainers/assessors that have been out of their respective industry for years, if they were ever in it. Tools and methods for some occupations do not match what is used in current practice. Systems for monitoring and informing learners and employers of their progression are mostly paper driven from the last century and for every employer showing an employee how to keep a work space clean or make some coffee. There is a lecturer all too happy to send a learner (on day release) to the library, as if to study something – yeah right. Employers do not trust colleges to make the best use of the time that their employee is in their care. So why do Ofsted?

  5. It’s all a question of terminology. If someone is working towards a traditional degree they might say they are studying A Levels with a view to achieving a degree. Equally, someone could say they are doing a traineeship with a view to achieving an apprenticeship. This would help everyone understand what a traineeship and aprpenticeship can provide and give apprenticeships the kudos they deserve.

  6. Mike Smith

    I think it’s very unfortunate that the Chief Inspector has used this specific analogy to highlight, what is after all, a very serious problem for the sector i.e. the continuing poor quality and value of some of our apprenticeship provision. As Stewart Segal quite rightly points out, cleaning services play a vital part of our health and elderly care services, and we’d all wish for the highest standards in these sectors. There are still far too many apprenticeships, however, that do not increase or extend the learners expertise and knowledge, instead being a purely ‘tick box’ approach to confirming existing skills and competencies. Until we address this head-on, apprenticeships will still be seen by many as a 2nd class progression route compared with higher education. In short the Chef Inspector’s quite right; just his analogy was poorly made.

  7. Gail Dalton-Ayres

    I get so fed up with reading articles and comments blasting training providers for poor quality apprenticeships!! As usual the few spoil it for the many who do deliver high quality training. If providers and colleges who deliver apprenticeships are found to be inadequate then Ofsted identify these and if your a training provider contracts can be removed but if your a college you get more cash to ‘make improvements’. So it is sensible to state PT’s have more to lose if they are inadequate!
    As far a the comment regarding sweeping floors and making coffee, it just goes to show how far removed these people are from the real world of work. These activities are a natural part of many job roles, linking to PSE development and raising communication skills especially dealing with clients and keeping an environment safe, hygienic and presentable.
    I started my career sweeping floors and making coffee learning my trade from the bottom and working up, I am now a director of a company. Some of these Politian’s and policy makers would do well to go back to the shop floor instead of going to straight to university. Wake up and smell the coffee!!

  8. Shame that the report pre-publicity is all about highlighting poor practice and not any that is good. Sounds like a ‘half-full glass’ approach if that proves to be the case? I have led every inspectorate report on apprenticeships prior to this one, going back to the Training Standards Council. One thing I do know is the ability of Government to totally misinterpret what is written as a recommendation in a survey report. Going back a long time ago in TSC we highlighted the need to ‘up’ the theoretical content of apprenticeships as required knowledge was being diluted by those with NVQs going into training and teaching to their limits. Technical certificates was their answer but with very limited guidance and compliance. In Ensuring Quality in Apprenticeships the short duration (by which we were really highlighting the shallow content that could be quickly delivered) was magically ‘quality’ fixed by insisting all apprenticeships lasted a year (thus leaving the shallow content and lack of parity between apprenticeships to continue until this survey highlights it yet again). The lack of apprenticeships being ‘new skills and jobs’ was also previously highlighted almost three years to the day this new survey will be published, but with ineffective action having been taken in that time. Please remember that we have some world class apprenticeships in this country which we should be using to raise the standards in others. I’d rather be on a plane serviced by someone who has been through an apprenticeship in aeronautical engineering than by someone who has been through the degree route. I look forward to the actual report rather than the headline snippets. I wonder if the survey takes account of those new providers of apprenticeships who have been around for their third common inspection framework without undergoing an inspection by Ofsted, yet have websites claiming to have trained a thousand of apprentices?

    • Good reply Phil.

      I do take exception to the headline that ‘providers accredit low level skills’. Accreditation is the remit of awarding bodies, not providers. Awarding bodies have a duty to check and monitor compliance and are paid to do so – largely from taxpayer generated funds when all is said and done. Also, let’s not forget that most of the currently approved frameworks have been developed by sector skills councils, with employer representation.

      • Yes Graham, Ofsted appear to be laying all the problems with the actual frameworks and inequality of levels (that has never been got consistently right) at the door of colleges and providers rather than the various quangos and awarding bodies who have accredited qualifications at a particular level. Never mind, rather than actually consulting those who understand this we can look forward to further ‘initiatives’ such as having to hit a minimum contract volume preventing some really good small providers and employers having their own contracts. The way the word ‘quality’ is bandied around by many politicians is as misguided as the use of the term ‘hard working families’. I could make a pun about ‘waking up and smelling the coffee’, but I would only draw attention to the apprenticeship of a company where the previous Barista training was half a day – who approved that framework in conjunction with the employer?

  9. mike motley

    As a provider of Apprenticeships I find it hard to take the criticism of poor practice. We deliver to a set of standards that were constructed by the industry under both the old (SSC) and the new (Trailblazer) regimes. We cannot deliver anything unworthy, of lower “quality” that is not in and does not meet the standards. We do not deliver the Barista Mastery Apprenticeship but, if we did, I’m sure coffee making would be one aspect of the wide-ranging standards in the framework. Also worthy of note is that the winner of the government-sponsored Apprenticeship Champion award for the North West is a young service sector apprentice (a sector lambasted by Wilshaw) who happens to be the first apprentice on the NUS Executive Council. If Ofsted regard this as low quality, then shame on them – Wilshaw should leave the apprentice arena, Joubert-style