Apprenticeship funding reform in England

Posted: Tuesday, 23 August 2016 @ 11:14
Since the Government announced the need for the SFA funded Apprenticeship programmes to be fundamentally reformed there has been much debate amongst Apprenticeship providers throughout the sector.

As Apprenticeship programmes have developed and grown in popularity, providers in particular have built a level of delivery expertise which is now recognised far beyond the UK. It is therefore quite understandable that the debate is forthright and passionate.

The Government has proffered a number of reasons why Apprenticeships should be subject to such fundamental reforms. Most of these come directly from the pages of the Richard’s review which propose sweeping changes to the existing arrangements. The changes cover a wide spectrum and strike at the very core of what is being delivered and how it is funded. This short of root and branch review usually takes place when there is something dysfunctional happening with a programme, process or system. Over the past 5 or 6 years the number of companies employing Apprentices has grown significantly year on year to over 200,000 and the number of people undertaking Apprenticeships last year reached over 850,000.

This is clearly a very successful programme probably one of the most successful Government funded initiatives of its kind in recent times. Not only is it successful in terms of customer and consumer take up but it is contributing hugely to the country’s economic recovery. Indeed during the recent annual Apprenticeship week celebrations Government ministers were enthusiastically praising the programme’s success. It is therefore safe to say that the existing arrangements do not need a root and branch review.

In sifting through the proposed reforms and focusing on the measures which are intended to build on this success, it is important to be clear about the objectives of the changes. There appears to be two key areas where the Government want to see improvements, one is making sure that Apprenticeship programmes deliver the skills employers want, the other is persuading more employers and potential Apprentices to take part. The Government are anxious to raise participation levels and increase penetration within the business community.

As the debate goes on and consultations takes place, providers are becoming more and more concerned that the objectives of the reforms will not lead to increased participation levels. In fact many of the proposed changes will have the opposite effect and damage the current standing Apprenticeships have amongst employers.

Many improvements and advances have been made over the past few years in establishing Apprenticeships as a mainstream career option for young people. Employers have become advocates of how well the Apprenticeship programmes are meeting their needs. CBI and BIS surveys indicate high employer satisfaction ratings. All of this has been largely delivered by providers and employers working together to bring about a new era in work place, work based training. This partnership has revitalised the Apprenticeship system with many new industries coming on board and embracing the concept of work based skills development. This has been achieved through the introduction of individual learning plans and re-energising people to achieve qualifications they did not achieve at school.

Slowly but surely the Apprenticeship programmes of today have become nothing short of a learning revolution that has been quietly building based upon consumer choice. All involved, employers and Apprentices, are experiencing tangible benefits from their involvement.

Ironically, this success seems to be troubling some of the educational establishment who are concerned that all this success maybe just an illusion. It appears that with their expertise, knowledge and background they feel Apprenticeship programmes should be remodelled on more academic lines.

There are a couple of areas where the reforms suggest improvements to the content of Apprenticeship programmes; one is an attempt at grading competence at either pass, merit or distinction and another is the insistence that Apprentices achieve GCSE Maths and English.

Employers have been saying for years that a GCSE grade in Maths and English does not guarantee competence in functional numeracy and literacy.

It appears that the academic lobby are having quite an influence on the size, shape and content of the reforms. It also appears that this input is being accepted without question by the Government.

The debate surrounding the reforms present an opportunity for employers and providers to share their experiences of how skills training and development is successfully delivered in a work place, work based setting and to challenge the rationale behind the reforms.