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Lower bar to apprenticeships for disadvantaged, says union

Colleges offering apprenticeships are deterring students from deprived backgrounds by demanding unnecessarily high GCSE grades, a union has warned.

A motion to be discussed at the annual conference of public sector union Unison next week calls on FE colleges to be "less rigid" and relax their entry requirements, in order to allow less academically able students to receive on-the-job training.

A motion which will be debated at the Manchester conference argues that too many colleges expect prospective apprentices to have at least five GCSEs at grade C or better.

"This disenfranchises the less academically inclined - often those from poor backgrounds - and is contrary to the principles apprenticeships were founded upon," it says.

The motion praises the "more enlightened" companies that have recruited "young people with good practical skills but poor academic qualifications".

Unison's Yorkshire and Humberside Water branch has called on the union's national executive council (NEC) to "persuade colleges to be less rigid in their approach and to relax the entry requirements so that for apprenticeships practical skills are weighted higher than academic achievement".

A separate motion put forward by the NEC also calls for the union, which represents support staff in schools and colleges, to continue to oppose FE cuts, and the introduction of "vastly increased tuition fees".

It says members are "shocked" at the impact of cuts to careers services, including Connexions, and warns that, by abolishing the education maintenance allowance, "the Coalition seem to be restricting opportunities, not enhancing them as hollowly claimed".

In its response to the Wolf review of vocational education, published last month, the Department for Education admitted for the first time that offering cash to employers "can be an effective way to encourage them to take on apprentices".

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