The “mismatch” between apprenticeships currently being delivered and the skills needed to grow the economy must be addressed “urgently”, according to Ofsted’s annual report.
While the report for 2018-19, published this morning, says that the performance of the FE sector as a whole has remained “static”, it reveals some changes in the overall quality of provision for different provider types.
The overall proportion of general FE colleges rated "good" or "outstanding" in their most recent inspection increased from 76 per cent last year to 78 per cent this year.
There was also an upward trend in community learning provision, for which the proportion increased from 88 per cent to 91 per cent. However, the proportion of independent learning providers rated "good" or better dropped by 2 percentage points, from 78 per cent to 76 per cent.
Ofsted annual report: what it says
The report points out that the number of apprenticeship providers has “risen dramatically” since the levy was introduced in 2017. As of August 2019, Ofsted had inspected around half of the 1,400 providers delivering apprenticeships.
During 2018-19, Ofsted carried out shorter monitoring visits of 334 new providers, with one fifth being found to be making insufficient progress in at least one area.
On the theme of apprenticeships, the report states that “too many training providers are not clear on the purpose of an apprenticeship. As a result, their provision can lack adequate sequencing or attention to education outside the workplace.
“The gap between the knowledge and skills required for our economy and future and current provision remains, in particular in relation to a lack of training for low-skilled workers. The [further education and skills] sector needs to work much more in tandem with the government’s Industrial Strategy.”
The report points out that, out of every 100 apprenticeships started in 2018-19, 15 were in health and 12 were in business management. These two areas accounted for “almost half” of higher-level apprenticeships in the same period, the report states, adding: “The current mismatch in provision needs addressing urgently while discussions about Brexit and future national productivity continue.”
'Incredible progress' on apprenticeships
The report also says inspectors found cases of apprentices “training for jobs they had already been doing for a number of years”, and who “did not consider themselves to be an apprentice.”
In response, Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said: "In a time of immense change, particularly in respect of apprenticeships, we should recognise that over three out of four independent training providers being 'good' or 'outstanding' is testimony to their excellent responsiveness and overall quality.
"ITPs have also changed over much faster than other providers to the new apprenticeship standards, which are longer, harder and independently assessed. Moreover, providers are adjusting to greater employer control and we believe that the [framework] will increasingly identify that incredible progress is being made."
On the targeting of apprenticeship provision, he added: “We fully support employer choice, but this needs to include the 98 per cent of non-levy payers and they need proper funding. The decline in SME [small and medium-sized enterprises] funding is a major contributor to the fall in the vital first-step apprenticeships, access by young people and in some of the hi-tech sectors. Those areas that the government wants to level up are crying out for these opportunities and it is easily solved with a separate, adequate SME budget.”