War of words continues as AoC boss accused of putting ‘institutional self-interest before learners’ interest’

A dispute between the leaders of FE’s two biggest associations has taken another twist, with one accusing the other of putting “institutional self-interest before learners’ interest”.

Last week, Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, traded verbal blows with David Hughes, boss of the AoC, over the quality of apprenticeships delivered by private training providers.

Mr Hughes had claimed that independent providers offer apprentices “not very much” training, mostly assessing them “on the job”.

Mr Dawe then challenged the AoC chief to “produce the evidence” to back up his “disappointing and plain wrong” allegation.

Now, the AELP boss has taken another swipe at Mr Hughes by accusing the AoC of putting “institutional self-interest before learners’ interest”.

His comment came in the AELP’s latest weekly email sent out to members on Friday morning (November 11) after FE Week had reported on the original war of words.

Mr Dawe firstly addressed last week’s “strange and incorrect” report by left-wing think tank IPPR, which called on the government to phase out level two apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds, and replace them with a pre-apprenticeship programme only offered by colleges, which was welcomed by the AoC.

One of the IPPR report authors who made the recommendation was Charlynne Pullen, who at the time of drafting was on secondment to IPPR. Controversially, Ms Pullen is now head of workforce data at the Education and Training Foundation, which is jointly owned by both the AELP and the AoC.

The AELP chief then wrote to his members: “Initially I was absolutely stunned that the AoC supported this proposal; however it would appear that their approach is to put institutional self-interest before the learners’ interest in this case.”

He added: “Anyone who believes an ounce of what has been recommended in the IPPR report should put down their latte, leave their London based office, and come out and witness the challenge of motivating young people who have been spat out of the school system with no more than entry level skills.”

In response to Mr Dawe’s latest comments, Mr Hughes firmly defended the AoC.

He told FE Week: “We have been calling for the introduction of a pre-apprenticeship offer for some time because many young people need support before they are ready to enter work.

“Colleges find that many young people need to improve their English and maths before employers will consider them.

“All FE colleges provide apprenticeships and are adapting to the new levy and other funding rules which come in next year. IPPR’s suggestion that a pre-apprenticeship offer only be open to colleges and not-for-profit training providers came a bit out of the blue.

“It is an interesting idea but not something we will be pushing for.”

The ongoing dispute is likely to be a lively debate at AoC conference which kicks off tomorrow and runs from November 15 to 17 at the ICC in Birmingham.

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