Ministers' U-turn overon-the-job training

Likely reprieve for work-based courses that fall outside mainstream apprentice schemes. Steve Hook reports

MINISTERS look set to reverse their decision to scrap training that falls outside mainstream government schemes.

Currently some 60,000 traineees are on work-based courses that are funded by the Government but do not lead to Modern Apprenticeships. Last year the then Education Secretary David Blunkett said that this so-called "Other Training" should be replaced by the foundation MA. From September 2002, said Mr Blunkett, every new trainee would on a mainstream course - either an MA or a pre-apprenticeship "Entry to Employment" scheme.

Now, however, ministers could be forced to concede that Mr Blunkett's vision of a four-year programme catering for all state-funded trainees in the workplace was unrealistic.

Many firms prefer non MA courses which avoid its unpopular compulsory key skills element.

The Learning and Skills Council is backing a reprieve for alternative training. It wants its local branches to decide if such non-standard courses should continue to get funding.

"We have said that each local LSC should look at what is appropriate," said a spokeswoman for the council. "There are people out there for whom training within the (ma) framework, which includes key skills, and increasingly, technical certificates, is not appropriate."

"So, instead of having no more new starts in Other Training from September 2002, as Mr Blunkett has called for, we are now urging that Other Training should stay."

Businesses fear that scrapping non-mainstream training would leave a gap that could not be filled Britain's Chambers of Commerce argue that such training must be preserved, because it is often better suited to learners' needs. In some cases, they say, there is no other way for trainees to progress.

The chambers see Other Training as a complement to the MA rather than a competitor.

Corrina Langelaan, policy advisor to the chambers, said: "Other Training serves a number of purposes. The first is that it can tailor learning to the learner and provide an attainable route of progression.

"Other Training also provides stand-alone qualifications for those who want progression after their apprenticeship is concluded. In some sectors, the only way people can gain an NVQ level 4 is through Other Training."

The standing of the MA has also been undermined by poor-quality training and high drop-out rates. Inspectors said that work-based training on the programme was inadequate in 60 per cent of cases and that less than 40 per cent of Modern Apprentices achieved the qualification.

The Association of Colleges has become increasingly concerned about the 300,000 people it says are being "failed by the system" as a result of poor work-based courses.

The chambers' national body has written to Education Secretary Estelle Morris on behalf of the 135,000 firms it represents in support of non-mainstream training.

At the moment it remains unclear whether the Department for Education and Skills will grant such training a permanent reprieve or still intends to phase it out in the long-term.

The chambers would like the department to remove the uncertainty and actively promote such alternative work-based training as part of a wider approach to vocational skills.

In the letter, acting director general David Frost said: "Other Training trainees are more likely to be from ethnic minorities or have special training needs.

"Other Training can be tailored to the ability of any learner, offering valuable qualifications for those who may not fit into more inflexible frameworks."

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