Ofsted chief warns poor quality apprenticeships could be wasting public money

22 Oct 15

The quality of apprenticeships is suffering amid the government’s drive to increase their numbers and some courses may be a waste of public funds, an Ofsted report has concluded today.

Today’s Apprenticeships: developing skills for future prosperity report warned that government ambitions to boost England’s apprenticeships were being undermined by poor quality and lack of focus.

Launching the report, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said: “Our report lays bare what many have long suspected. Despite the increase in numbers, very few apprenticeships are delivering the professional, up-to-date skills in the sectors that need them the most.”

The report argued that apprenticeships could be devalued if too many of the qualifications fail to meet the needs of young people, employers or the economy.

“Employers and providers involved in poor quality, low-level apprenticeships are wasting public funds. They are abusing the trust placed in them by government and apprentices to deliver meaningful, high-quality training," Wilshaw stated.

“Being an apprentice should be a badge of honour. The reforms now working their way through the system are commendable. But we are kidding ourselves if we think our good intentions are enough. We have won the argument over the value of apprenticeships. We have yet to make them a sought-after and valid alternative career choice for hundreds of thousands of young people.

“Unless we do so, we risk leaving in place a two-tier system of high and low quality apprenticeships that short change the participants and fail to address the skill needs of the nation.”
The report found that the number of apprenticeships had increased in areas such as retail, administration and care sectors, whereas there is still a shortage in professional sectors.

In addition, the quality of apprenticeships in sectors like retail and care was found to be too variable, with courses failing to provide sufficient training to develop new skills.

Responding to the report, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it had been “concerned for some time” that such “huge discrepancies” in the quality of the provision.

General secretary Mary Bousted said there should be a minimum one year duration for any apprenticeship programme and there must be a clear distinction between real apprenticeship programmes and work-based learning opportunities that may lead to one.

“Government rhetoric would have us believe that apprenticeships are the answer for the many young people who will be unable to access vocational education as a result of the swingeing cuts to further education. This report makes clear however, that poor quality apprenticeship programmes are still being offered to our young people.”

Kevin Courtney, the deputy secretary general for the National Union of Teachers, added “headline grabbing announcements for 3 million new apprenticeships have clearly led to a dilution of quality in the pursuit of an arbitrary and futile bid to achieve target numbers”.

Skills minister Nick Boles said: “Putting an end to poor-quality training lies at the heart of our reform 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 rewarding career.”

Read Public Finance’s November cover feature on apprenticeships – Apprenticeships: tricks of the trade

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