Adult skills minister Ivan Lewis this week told his funding chiefs to get tough and close down work-based learning schemes which fail to deliver the goods.
He was speaking at the launch of the Adult Learning Inspectorate's annual report, which described nearly half of all on-the-job training as inadequate.
While the report showed that standards had improved, Mr Lewis said continuing poor performance meant unacceptably high numbers of young people who came back to education walked away disillusioned.
"We need to be ruthless in removing the poor providers," he added. "We have to ensure that the quality of provision is up to scratch, otherwise we won't enthuse and motivate these people to continue their learning."
The starting point in dealing with a struggling provider, he said, is for the Learning and Skills Council to help them improve.
But if they cannot raise standards or improve quality, "then surely we have a primary duty to intervene".
He added: "There are 230,000 people taking Modern Apprenticeships. It shatters the myth that young people see vocational education as second-class.
"But it is not acceptable that such a high proportion of learners fail to achieve a qualification."
He said qualifications do matter. "They have huge importance with employers and higher education," he said.
Mr Lewis was echoing a call from David Sherlock, chief inspector of adult learning, who said: "My first agenda item is a call to cut off poor providers from the support of public money."
The ALI report revealed that 46 per cent of work-based learning providers were inadequate though this was an improvement on the 60 per cent said to be failing last year.
It identified 95 providers of work-based learning as "unsatisfactory" or " very weak", of which 75 were funded by the LSC.
Of these, 24 have had their contracts withdrawn, one further contract ends this month, two contracts have been adjusted, 13 have been re-inspected and judged satisfactory or better, and five have emergency action.
The remaining 30 contracts are being monitored by the LSC and ALI. The chief inspector said the inadequacy rate must be cut to below 10 per cent in the next three years.
He said the Association of Learning Providers is right to say that work-based training has to meet tougher criteria than FE colleges and schools.
But there are examples of retention and achievement rates that "no one could possibly defend". He cited one provider that enrolled 494 foundation Modern Apprentices in three years. Only seven achieved a qualification.
He conceded that some blame lay with the continuing complexity of disjointed systems and a confusing array of syllabuses. "I challenge the Government to insist on simplification in the sector."
The ALP said it supports the loss of LSC contracts for those that consistently deliver poor training, but wants a new framework that better recognises the success achieved by learners.
Graham Hoyle, ALP chief executive, said: "Our members feel their true contribution to the Government's skills strategy is not being properly recognised."
Avril Willis, director of quality and standards for the LSC, said: "We will never be complacent where quality is concerned."
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