If you’re like me, my Twitter feed, LinkedIn group and inbox has been dominated by one subject over the last few weeks… Ofsted.
Ofsted’s review of Apprenticeships has certainly ruffled some feathers. As with many reviews of this kind, the relatively small amount of bad practice identified in the system has left the whole sector feeling tarred.
Ofsted have been quick to point out the rise of Apprenticeships in the service sectors, whilst traditional industries such as manufacturing and engineering have experienced low levels of growth. The service sector however is almost 80% of our economy and latest GDP figures show that it is largely responsible for our economic growth. So is the increase in Apprenticeships just reflecting the current economic market?
According to the Ofsted report, where employers have made a financial contribution and been heavily involved in the design of the programme, Apprenticeships have been most successful. The point being that where employers have stumped up cash, they will have a vested interest in the training their employees are receiving – and therefore drive up quality. The Government have bought into this idea too. The Apprenticeship reforms and introduction of a Levy are based on this very notion.
But the Ofsted spotlight is on the service sectors. So, based on the Government’s own assumptions, will an employer-led purchasing system drive up quality in sectors such as hairdressing, hospitality and leisure? Probably not – SMEs dominate these industries and are therefore unlikely to be make any financial contribution.
So what’s the answer? How can we drive up quality in service sector Apprenticeships?
Here are some ideas (by no means the silver bullet):
- Rigorous employer-owned Standards
Currently, 143 new Apprenticeship Standards are being developed by Employer Groups (replacing Frameworks by 2017). This is a significant opportunity – an opportunity to make sure each service sector Apprenticeship is fit for purpose and will equip the apprentice with the high-level professional skills they need in the workplace. It is important this is validated by rigorous assessment.
- SME engagement
Recent research conducted by SDN highlighted a lack of SME engagement among Groups developing Standards. SMEs lack the resource and time. But it is vital, particularly in the service sector, that they are fully behind the new Standards. BIS and Employer Groups need to explore ways to better engage with SMEs and not just assume larger employers will consult with their supply chain. In some cases, this may need modest financial support to ensure involved in the design of Standards, perhaps drawing on the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE).
- Industry governance and quality assurance
In many cases, Apprenticeship Standards and Assessment Plans have been published without clear guidance as to who is ultimately responsible for assessing quality and managing Standards longer-term. If employers are to have confidence that service sector Apprenticeships train learners to be highly skilled in their trade, then there needs to be independent employer-owned governance of the Standards so quality is maintained.
- Supporting training providers
Developing a full curriculum from a two-page Standard is a challenge. To avoid inconsistent quality, support is required to make sure training providers consistently interpret the Standard. Over the last year, SDN have been supporting AoC to set up Provider Readiness Groups for this very purpose. The Future Apprenticeship programme is also soon to launch. Among other things, the programme will be an important vehicle to support training providers developing an Apprenticeship offer that can be tailored to the needs of SMEs.
Ofsted rightly pointed out that shockingly, only 5% of school leavers go on to do an Apprenticeship. If we can raise the quality bar and increase recognition from employers, then this will only help to evidence to young people, schools and parents that Service Sector Apprenticeships are a high quality route to work, and not a second-class option.
SDN have been heavily involved in the Apprenticeship reforms since its inception, working closely with Trailblazer/Employer Groups and training providers. We offer unique insight and support, from tailored consultancy and events, to research and resources. We specialise in other areas of learning and skills too. Sign up here for more free content and events – or contact us to find out how we can support you.