For the past ten years I have been working for a private training company offering apprenticeships. Previous to this, I spent 14 years in an FE College leaving after reaching the dizzy heights of Director of Studies.

Transferring a college based quality system to work based training has been an interesting experience. We have achieved this without the overly bureaucratic layers associated with college committees and the tiers of administration. It has grown a successful group of individuals who were rewarded with a Grade 1 status which is still in place to this date.

To my mind, quality is integral to the successful delivery of training and education and has been central to my mission. Quality has grown the reputation of the company on a local level, enabled repeat business and loyalty from employers who value the service provided. It has enabled us to offer a wider provision to our existing employer base through Train to Gain whilst still delivering high success rates and satisfied learners.

We have worked hard to dispel early criticisms of NVQs being a tick based exercise into a valued part of employee continued professional development. Our philosophy has always been to encourage learner ownership and, with trained assessor staff, encourage an atmosphere of self reflection and improvement.

I am proud of what we have achieved but in today’s climate there is no room for complacency. The big boys are moving in – our loyal employers are being courted by national companies promising to deliver an Apprenticeship framework in 4 months without employer contribution against our traditional 12 month delivery before we even ask for money.

As Darwin would say, in a period of change, “adapt or perish”; the niche we have created in a small rural backwater is at risk of no longer being viable to command an SFA contract in its own right.  Fortunately, we have escaped the Minimum Contract Level (MCL)  hurdle for this year but nervously await the next one with some trepidation.

I am proud of what we have achieved but in today’s climate there is no room for complacency.”

The Apprenticeship Act has put the framework as a central pillar for economic recovery and rightly so, stipulating the expectations of a framework. This can only be good for quality if guided learning hours are prescriptive and employers are asked to show their commitment through paid off-the-job contribution to the qualification. This should guarantee the quality but the real truth is that for many providers funding will be a key driver.

And so we move into a new era of performance management where decisions about which learners we work with will be down to a financial formula. Assessors have targets, marketing have targets and there is monthly reconciliation to ensure that all learners funding is maximised to generate income. The pressure will be on us to deliver more for less.

In 1991, I remember my old Principal addressing our staff group by saying that we were being asked to provide “more for less and with even higher quality”. It is a mantra that I have met all my teaching profession. It would be a sad service to our sector if those common words get shortened to “more for less”, quality sitting it out on the bench until such a time as the inspector calls.

Philip Broomhead is Director of Learning and Quality at Riverside Training

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  1. Louise Preston

    How worrying that our Apprenticeship system seems to be encouraging a race to the bottom in terms of quality, rather than the improved quality that the government claims to want to promote! We need to agree what an “Apprenticeship” is – a four month programme surely does not suffice!