Important gaps remain in government's approach to apprenticeships, National Audit Office finds

The government should chart and follow a course from having a lot of apprenticeships to having the right apprenticeships, according to the NAO

Julia Belgutay

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More must be done to ensure the quality of apprenticeships as the government's recruitment drive gathers pace, the National Audit Office has said.

In its report on apprenticeships, published today, the NAO said that while the Department for Education was making progress in a number of areas in what was a complex challenge with a tight timeframe, there remained “some important gaps in its approach”.

"At the most strategic level, the DfE has not set out the collective impact that the programme is intended to achieve, how the increase in apprenticeship numbers can deliver the maximum gain in economic productivity, and how it will influence the mix of apprenticeships in order to deliver the most value,” said the report.

It added: “It has further to go in ensuring that all apprenticeships meet basic quality requirements, and that the quality of training is consistently high. Alongside this, the DfE needs to strengthen its approach to managing some of the risks associated with a programme of this size and complexity, putting itself in a position to respond quickly and decisively should risks begin to emerge.”

According to the NAO, around 2.4 million new apprenticeships were started between 2010-11 and 2014-15, compared with around 1.1 million in the previous five years. Annual public funding of apprenticeships has also grown over time, from just under £1.2 billion in 2010-11 to around £1.5 billion in 2015-16.

'Achieving value for money'

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The Department for Education needs to chart and follow a course from having a lot of apprenticeships to having the right apprenticeships in order to help improve the UK’s productivity, and achieve value for money, in return for the costs of the programme.”

The report was welcomed by the FE and skills sector. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said it was right to focus on the quality of apprenticeships and how it could be ensured that programmes work for both students and employers. “The government’s expansion plan will be at risk of failing unless it establishes high-quality programmes quickly," she said. 

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, added: “Currently it is a free-for-all allowing employers to develop apprenticeship standards, irrespective of whether there is a skills shortage in their sector or at the level at which the apprenticeship is being developed."

And Mark Dawe, chief executive of  the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the NAO was right to highlight that further progress is needed to manage the risks involved in the reform programme because if "we don't get the transition process right, there's a real danger that the quality of apprenticeships will be adversely affected”.

He added that the AELP shared the NAO’s concerns about the new apprenticeship standards and the proposed introduction of end-point assessment. “A full review of of the standards and EPA reforms is therefore required,” Mr Dawe said.

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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