Williamson offers his reassurance that apprenticeship system will be fixed

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Days after Ofsted criticised the government for locking young people out of the apprenticeship system, education secretary Gavin Williamson has offered his “reassurance”.

“I’m determined to make sure the apprenticeship system works for the people that can benefit the most”, he said.

Williamson made the comments whilst writing in FE Week’s National Apprenticeship Week 2020 supplement.

Concerns about graduate recruitment schemes being rebadged as  apprenticeships, falling starts for young people, a lack of level 2 standards and the levy budget running out have been building for more than a year.

In December 2018 the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education projected that the shortfall in the budget for England could rise to £1.5 billion during 2021/22.

The National Audit Office further sounded the alarm over the financial sustainability of the programme in March 2019 after it found the average cost of training an apprentice hit double what the government predicted.

And writing about apprenticeships in FE Week on Wednesday, Ofsted’s deputy director, Paul Joyce, said: “There is a real danger that young people aiming to step on to the career ladder are discovering that the vital bottom rungs simply do not exist.”

Numerous questions have also been tabled in Parliament from concerned MPs, including chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon.

Boris Johnson said it was “absolutely right” to follow the advice of Halfon and “reform the apprenticeship levy” at prime minister’s questions last month.

He confirmed the education secretary would be updating the House of Commons “in due course” about the proposals.

In his article for FE Week, Williamson said: “I’m aware that many of you have raised questions or concerns about funding for apprenticeships as well as the future direction of the apprenticeships programme. I want to reassure you that I am looking at all of this very carefully.

“I’m determined to make sure the system works for the people that can benefit the most from the life-changing impact apprenticeships can have, and that it works better for employers and providers too.”

He added that “improvements” are in progress – including moving
smaller employers “on to our award-winning digital apprenticeship service, so they can choose the training provider that works for them”.

Williamson also addressed other areas of concern regarding the quality of apprenticeship provision.

He said: “We’ve put in place new tougher rules for providers and employers applying to get on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, and they now have to meet strict criteria to become registered training providers.

“Strengthened oversight and tighter monitoring also means we can take swift and decisive action against poor performance by providers, or attempts by them to break, or manipulate the rules.”

The education secretary added that he had commissioned the website Mumsnet to survey over 1,000 parents about their attitudes towards apprenticeships due to the persistence of “lingering stereotypes”.

Three in five parents who responded said they were concerned their child would be “stuck doing more menial tasks, such as making the tea” in an apprenticeship.

The research also found around 45 per cent were unaware that apprenticeships go up to degree level, while a third of parents said they still associated them with manual jobs.

Williamson said he knew that everyone in the sector had been “working hard” to tackle such assumptions.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to change people’s perceptions over the coming years so that they recognise the work which goes into delivering apprenticeships and the opportunities they provide,” he added.

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One comment

  1. Philip Gorst

    Given that the government scarcely listens to it’s own MP’s never mind those working at the sharp end, Yasemin’s excellent article should make us all weep.

    ‘Mumsnet thinks that their children will be making the tea’, and this typifies the commonly held belief about work based learning. Those of us with long memories know the struggles providers faced in convincing employers and learners that an ‘NVQ’ had value. This battle was largely won, when the government decided that ‘apprenticeships’ were a better option.

    The issue is this: speak to a young person who is at university and they will invariably say – ‘I’m at uni’. Not – ‘I’m learning to be a…….’.
    The ‘uni’ badge has served to devalue all other forms of learning and is seen as more ‘grown up’ that work based learning.
    So what does the government do? They launch ‘apprenticeships’ thus dumbing down work based learning even more. No wonder the Mumsnet review defaults to ‘tea making’.

    The problem is that whatever the government does the die has been cast.
    Gavin Williamson knows that his career as a minister will not end where it is currently, so his successor will again pick up a broken pot and will not have sufficient glue to ever fix it. Meanwhile, good people leave the profession, good providers hand back their contracts, Ofsted still don’t get it,
    and mum and dad don’t want their child to be an ‘apprentice’.

    Elsewhere is FE Week, it is reported that Gateshead College has dropped two grades in their recent Ofsted inspection due to issues of management and leadership, not progressive learning, not employer and employee engagement, not teaching practice nor the abilities of the staff.

    It could have been so much better………