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Drop-outs from MAs will keep credits

The Government is to overhaul its flagship scheme to improve young people's workplace skills.

Ministers are expected to announce radical changes next month to the Modern Apprenticeship programme, which has been widely criticised for high drop-out rates and a lack of support from employers.

Last week, Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, described as "absurd" the fact that young people who stop mid-way through MA courses get no credit for their work.

The Government is to respond by giving youngsters the chance of recognition for completing only parts, or units, of the scheme.

Those dropping out during their programme - three-quarters do so - would be able to return to complete it at a later date. Modern apprenticeship programmes with high drop-out rates are criticised by inspectors - even when students have left because the training enabled them to get promotion or a better-paid job.

It is intended that some units would also be transferrable between modern apprenticeships covering different industries, where the skills are seen as relevant.

This change will be part of wider reforms under which all academic and vocational qualifications will be broken down into transferable units over the next five to 10 years.

Ministers will lift the age cap on MAs. The age limit has already been raised in Wales, where it was seen by the National Assembly as a form of discrimination.

Currently, employees have to start an MA by their 25th birthday. It is likely that older employees will now be given a chance to take part, but funding may be limited to those who lack level 2 qualifications - the equivalent of GCSE grades A* to C.

At the other end of the age spectrum, it is possible that vocational courses for 14 to 16-year-olds will be brought within the modern apprenticeship scheme.

There is also speculation that the changes, expected to coincide with a marketing campaign to employers, could also see a name change for the modern apprenticeship.

Ivan Lewis, the skills minister, revealed to MPs last week that the Government would be announcing reform despite the fact that there was much that was positive about the MA.

Some 250,000 young people are now on courses, compared to just 2,000 when the scheme was set up 10 years ago. However, complaints about drop-outs have bedevilled the qualification.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers, whose members run three quarters of MA courses, said: "Any move to identify the separate elements of the apprenticeship, so that apprentices can take their achievements with them, has got to be common sense."

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the education select committee, said: "Anything the Government can do to ensure young people get qualifications on their way to an apprenticeship must be very welcome."

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