The government must do more to boost the quality of apprenticeships on offer, MPs have said, after years of “mismanaged” transition to a system of national standards for the qualifications.
Too many apprentices are receiving sub-par training because the move to introduce standards has been “mismanaged by successive governments, resulting in delay after delay and frustrating employers who invested much effort and enthusiasm trying to make apprenticeships better”, the Education Select Committee said in a report today.
The government wants to replace all of the existing frameworks for apprenticeships developed by trade bodies with official standards. This work was originally meant to be completed in 2017/18, but has been “repeatedly delayed”.
The Institute for Apprenticeships, which was given oversight of the standards when it was created in April 2017, was not beyond reproach, the committee said. “We could do with fewer unseemly spats and vainglorious announcements, and more action,” it said.
But ultimately, MPs said the responsibility lay with the Department for Education and that employers have also been “let down” by a dearth of standards.
“It is important to remember that the institute has overseen the standards creation process for just 18 months. It has been playing catch-up for the mistakes the department made before it was created,” the report said.
“The institute was always going to need time to get things back on track. It remains to be seen whether it will.”
To improoe quality, the committee recommended giving the education regulator Ofsted greater oversight over apprenticeship providers, their training and assessment. New providers should only be allowed to deliver a limited amount of training before being visited by the standards body in their first year, and “if they fail, they should be out”, it said.
Subcontractors should be held to the same standards as lead providers, said the report, asserting that “The opaque world of subcontracting needs far greater scrutiny.”
The government must ensure the institute has the funding to carry out this role, the committee said. “We recommend that the government continues to carefully monitor whether bodies responsible for apprenticeship quality have enough resources to fulfil their roles and acts quickly to remedy any emerging capacity issues,” MPs said.
The committee also called for changes to the way the apprenticeship levy is managed. Employers should have four years to spend funds they accrue, rather than two as they do now, the committee said, and the top funding band should increase.
The report, which was finalised ahead of chancellor Philip Hammond’s speech to Conservative Party conference last week, also called for employers to be able to transfer more of their apprenticeship funds to other organisations. In his speech, Hammond announced he would do just that, allowing employers to give 25% of their funds to their suppliers from next year, up from 10% now.
The government should also make apprenticeships more accessible to people from disadvantaged backgrounds with extra funding for the organisations that hire them and introducing bursaries, the committee said.
It also urged the government to raise the minimum wage for apprentices and inflict harsher punishments on employers that flout the legislation.
The Social Mobility Commission should carry out a study into how the benefits system helps or hinders apprentices, the committee said. “The government should act on its findings. No apprentice should suffer any financial disadvantage as a result of taking up an apprenticeship.”
MPs also called on Equality and Human Rights Commission to conduct a review of apprenticeship participation by gender, ethnicity and by people with learning difficulties or disabilities every three years. “Each review should recommend changes to improve government policy and employer practice,” the committee said.
Apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton said her department would “look at the report with interest as we want to make our apprenticeship system work even better”, and would respond in the near future.
“It is essential that apprenticeship training is of high-quality. We have given Ofsted additional funding so it can hold the rising numbers of training providers to account,” she said.
“Of those registered providers that have been inspected, 83% were rated as good or outstanding. Any provider that falls short of the required standards will be removed from our register and stopped from taking on new apprentices until they have improved.”