AoC proposes restriction on apprenticeship funding

FE sector leaders want wholesale reform as a result of the government's post-18 review

Julia Belgutay & George Ryan

post-18 apprentices apprenticeships government funding AoC

Funding for new apprenticeships should be restricted to 16- to 25-year-olds, according to the Association of Colleges.

In a consultation document for members, published by the AoC today, the association said: “There is obviously a benefit for employers and those over the age of 25 from their apprenticeship programme but it comes at quite a high cost,” says the document.

“Our proposal to stop apprenticeship funding at age 25 would disrupt some positive activity so should only apply to new starts, with some notice and once there are clear alternatives via the proposals we set out elsewhere in this paper.”

Post-18 review

The proposal is one of a number of suggestions from the AoC on which it is consulting members, and which also include improved support for Level 2 and 3 provision. This is in response to the government’s review of post-18 education and funding, announced three months ago by prime minister Theresa May at Derby College.

Chaired by Philip Augar, the former non-executive director of the Department for Education, the review will examine how disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support from the government, universities and colleges, and how the system can deliver the skills our country needs.

Tes understands that the panel is still in the early stages of the process, setting out how the review will be carried out. However, there are already fears that, given the strength of the universities’ lobby and the fact that HE funding is a matter of significant public interest, the review could end up getting bogged down in university funding.

Wholesale change

The review should be an opportunity for wholesale change across post-18 education, according to sector leaders. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the review panel was in “listening mode”. Focusing primarily on HE would be a “missed opportunity”, he said.

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the AoC, said: “There’s a high risk that the post-18 review will confine itself to university issues. I’ve seen a sample of responses [to the government consultation ahead of the review] – from Universities UK, Russell Group, Million+ and GuildHE – and, although there are differences, they all focus on adjustments to student loans, reintroducing HE maintenance grants and avoiding anything that fundamentally changes the way the system works.”

He added: “But it is very much a post-18 review, not an HE one, so we’ve taken the government at [its] word. We want to change the conversation about post-18 education.”

Wider adult education

According to the latest government statistics, 37 per cent of those who sat GCSEs in 2004-05 had not achieved level 3 qualifications by the time they were 25; 14 per cent had not even achieved level 2.

“We’re not suggesting putting the money into level 2 and level 3 [per se], but into the half of the population who don’t do so well at school and who find it increasingly difficult to catch up later on,” said Gravatt. “The EU referendum drew attention to divisions that were already well known but that risk holding the country back.”

Hopes that the review will do more than simply rejig funding for university courses are also high in the wider adult education sector. Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Workers’ Educational Association, said the review provides a “real opportunity for change at a very crucial time for adult education”.

“We hope that the post-18 review will not end up with a narrowed focus as we need to make sure the large numbers of adults who lack skills in literacy, numeracy and digital skills have clear pathways, and issues of access and progression are addressed so that they can go on to level 2 and 3,” she added.

This is an edited version of an article in the 25 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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