21st November 2003 at 00:00
Ministers and inspectors are yet again exhorting those responsible for work-based training to improve their act. The trainers have done much better this year than last, but still have a long way to go.

David Sherlock's report on a year of visits by his Adult Learning Inspectorate shows considerable improvement - a drop in the number of sub-standard schemes from 60 per cent to 46 per cent. It is the sort of figure that allows the chief to give praise and the minister - in this case Ivan Lewis - to give a drubbing.

Poor leadership and management were identified as a serious cause for concern as youngsters were "walking away disillusioned". The comparison with colleges, where management standards were generally seen as superior, was quickly made.

But, before rushing to too many conclusions, two things must be borne in mind. First, the failure statistics kick in a lot earlier in the workplace.

Someone who quits after a week is labelled a failure regardless of where they move on to. Not so with college students.

Second, the idea that drop-outs from work-based schemes such as Modern Apprenticeships are necessarily failures is a nonsense. It has become a device like so many to satisfy bureaucrats who want ticks in boxes. FE Focus recently wrote of a woman who quit her apprenticeship because, having acquired the necessary skills and knowledge, she was promoted to director of the care home she worked in. But, no, for the record, in the Department for Education and Skills, she was a failure.

Okay, a training provider, as identified in the report, who can only get seven out of 500 trainees through a course, has to be challenged. But that is the exception, not the rule.

However, too many other issues must be dealt with before we can really say how well work-based trainers, colleges or anyone in the post-16 sector is really performing. The rules of engagement (and definitions of failure) must be the same for all. The standards across the different courses and qualifications must be equal. The cash spent on the different courses has to be fair. And the exam system still needs sorting out.

Much is being done to create a level playing field. With each successive official report, the sense of urgency increases.

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