Schools should be set targets on how many pupils go move on into apprenticeships, the chair of the House of Commons education select committee has said.
Robert Halfon said Ofsted should be charged with ensuring these were met, and with checking that schools allowed colleges and apprenticeship providers to inform pupils of the vocational and technical options available.
Speaking to Tes before a speech for the Edge Foundation on how an apprenticeship guarantee for young people could be implemented, Robert Halfon said: “You could have the best apprenticeships in the world in the world but nothing will change unless careers [advice and guidance] change.”
Access to information
“Schools should be inspected by Ofsted on whether they do the Baker clause,” said Mr Halfon, adding that the number of pupils who go on into apprenticeships and vocational education should be considered in the same way the number heading to university is.
The Baker clause was introduced in 2018 and sets out that schools need to give pupils access to a range of further education providers to provide them with information on apprenticeships and other vocational training options.
“The Baker clause was something I brought in in my old role, but there are too many cases where it is not being implemented,” said Mr Halfon. “Teachers are under enormous pressure from Ofsted but it needs to come from Ofsted,” he stressed.
However, he added there should also be an opportunity for schools to gain awards, similar to the Investors in People scheme, for guiding people into apprenticeships. “It needs to be a carrot-and-stick approach,” he said.
Mr Halfon suggested the idea of an apprenticeship guarantee for all young people a few weeks ago, and it has subsequently been floated by prime minister Boris Johnson.
To make such a guarantee possible, Mr Halfon said funding raised through the apprenticeship levy, paid by all large businesses, could be used in a “very strategic way to close the skills divide and help those from disadvantaged backgrounds”.
Despite the fact the number of apprenticeship starts had dropped since its introduction, the levy was “a good thing”, Halfon said. “It has changed the culture in big businesses in our country and made apprenticeships part of the furniture. There have been millions of apprenticeship starts.” However, he said it needed to be looked at further and redirected so it supported primarily apprenticeships for 16- to 24-year-olds and to tackle disadvantage.
Mr Halfon said the National Skills Fund should be used “as much as possible” to subsidise the wages of apprentices. “It needs to be a significant subsidy,” said Mr Halfon. There also needed to be support, particularly for small businesses, in tackling the bureaucratic burden taking on an apprentice creates. “Businesses are very weary about taking on apprentices because of the bureaucracy involved. The Australian system, for example, does all of that for the businesses and that reduces the bureaucracy. That would be a very good model for consideration. You create financial incentives, but also a bureaucratic incentive.”
He said funding currently used by universities for access and participation should be used to increase the number of degree apprentices.
“It can’t be just MBA management degrees. It needs to be in areas where we have a deficit. Why can’t we have 50 per cent of students doing degree apprenticeships?
In his speech for the Edge Foundation today, Mr Halfon added: “With evangelisation from the prime minister, with detailed policy worked through by the government, think tanks and pressure groups, we must be able to come up with a really exciting apprenticeship offer for young people. It was not so long ago that Tony Blair talked about 'university, university, university' and achieved the target of 50 per cent of students going to higher education. Surely, the same can be the case if we have a real will for apprenticeships, with our battle cry: 'skills, skills, skills'."
Edge Foundation chief executive Alice Barnard said: “The Edge Foundation are longstanding champions of apprenticeships and the amazing opportunities that they offer. As we set out in Our Plan for Apprenticeships, the ambition of more apprenticeships for young people is a brilliant one. But apprenticeships are fundamentally real jobs, so at this very challenging time for the economy, a significant injection of resources and support would be needed to make a reality of the guarantee.”