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£500m spent every year on substandard apprenticeships, study warns

Up to a third of new programmes aren't 'fit for purpose', according to research

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Up to a third of new programmes aren't 'fit for purpose', according to research

Some £500 million is being spent every year on apprenticeships that fall short of expected quality levels, according to a new report.

The research, published by thinktank Policy Exchange today, concludes that “as many as a third” of the new approved apprenticeship standards do not represent value for money.

“As a conservative estimate, £500 million of public money will be spent every year supporting young people and adults to undertake apprenticeships which are not apprenticeships,” the study states.

To arrive at this figure, the authors compared all apprenticeship frameworks and standards released by July this year with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of an apprenticeship. They also compared some standards with other apprenticeships of the same occupational grouping or benchmarked them against apprenticeship standards in other countries.

“In the authors’ estimation, around 30 to 40 per cent of new approved apprenticeships standards do not meet [ILO definitions],” the report states. “An estimate of £500 million a year – representing a fifth of all apprenticeship spending by 2020 – is therefore a robust assumption.”

'Lack of clarity'

The weaknesses found in some approved apprenticeships programmes include content that is insufficiently stretching to meet the demands of the profession and the level of qualification within it.

The research also identifies apprenticeship programmes not requiring substantial and sustained training, and apprenticeships that are, in fact, just rebadged CPD courses.

Apprenticeships with inadequate assessment methods also don't represent a worthwhile investment of public money, the report concludes.

However, it adds that it is “hard to place much blame” on employers and employer groups who “have in many situations worked hard and in good faith within the Trailblazer process to design a programme to meet their sector’s skills needs”. Instead, the authors believe the fault lies with the government.

“The government failed to clearly define what the reforms were supposed to achieve and what was meant by an ‘apprenticeship’ – ensuring a move away from internationally recognised definitions of what an apprenticeship is, and meaning that there has been a lack of clarity from the start as to the goals of the reform programme,” the report says.

This is an edited version of an article in the 11 November edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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