We often hear calls for parity of esteem between vocational and academic education. Right now, the focus needs to not just be recognition of the congruent value of qualifications and skills but ensuring that there is equal treatment for all students and no one is disadvantaged because of the choices they've made.
It goes without saying that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on everyone’s education: last week, it was announced that students who expected to take exams this year – GCSEs or A-levels – will be awarded grades based on teacher assessments and their work so far. The teachers’ judgments will be based on “evidenced data” including mock exam results and marks from submitted work. Exam boards will combine this with other data, including grades achieved in previous exams.
GCSE results will inform the grades of those taking A levels, while Sats results are likely to be used for GCSE pupils. There may not be a consensus on this method, but at least it removes some uncertainty and clearly outlines what will happen.
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How coronavirus could hit apprenticeships
Whilst we appreciate these are challenging times for everyone, at the Apprentice Voice, we are concerned that apprentices' education and training could potentially be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Not only are they facing disruption to their learning but they also must negotiate the seismic impact on workplaces and, for many, the possibility of redundancy. Anecdotally, we know that the lack of clarity and uncertainty is a source of anxiety for many.
For apprentices to thrive, it is important that they can continue work and study without compromising health and safety or the quality of training. We believe that, wherever possible, training providers, colleges and universities should provide distant learning. Alongside this we would also like to see a relaxation in the 20 per cent off-the-job regulation in the short-term. Although not ideal, this compromise would beat a break in learning that then precipitates further delays. Apprentices should then be entitled to an extension in their course.
We believe apprentices should be allowed to continue their training as normal, should they wish to, and apprentices who do face redundancy need to be supported, whilst also being allowed to continue their training.
While the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic might be unpredictable, it seems inevitable that there will be a serious impact on the UK economy and the possibility of a recession. It is more critical than ever that we continue to invest in and nurture apprentices so we have a skilled workforce to support economic recovery, matching skills to industry needs.
It goes without saying that we strongly recommend that employers fully consider the impact of making an apprentice redundant, not just on the apprentice but to the business. The time and money put into training is a long-term investment, but even whilst training the average apprentice increases a business’ productivity by £214 a week
Our hearts go out to apprentices who are being made redundant; there needs to be more flexibility in learning breaks for them as they are most vulnerable. We welcome the government’s confirmation that in the case of redundancy, alternative employment and continuation of an apprenticeship should be arranged as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks. However, our fear is that this ambition will not be met and apprentices will be left high and dry with no job and no qualification. This isn't just unfair, but also adds to the stigma and negative perceptions that surround apprenticeships.
Our advice to any apprentices who has been made redundant after 1 March is to contact their employer immediately, request to be kept on the payroll and suggest they take advantage of the government’s assistance scheme to enable them to do so. Given that around a third of apprentices already fail to complete, we believe it in the best interests of employers and the wider economy to go the extra mile to support apprentices, providers and employers.
Last year, the Department for Education invested heavily in a glitzy national advertising campaign promoting apprenticeships as a golden career ticket for ambitious, talented young people. If the government fails to implement fully funded support measures for apprenticeship programmes, it will not only jeopardise apprentices' futures but also reinforce negative perceptions of apprenticeships as the second-rate education option.
Dexter Hutchings is a founder member of the Apprentice Voice.