Ministers accused of ‘watering down’ new skills route

27th April 2018 at 00:00
Government denies lowering target for foundation apprenticeships, claiming it is ‘committed’ to scheme

Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs) are seen as one of the key ways to open up vocational opportunities for those still in school. They also link colleges and schools in a way few schemes have done before.

However, their introduction has not been without its challenges, with college leaders, for example, highlighting concerns over funding for the scheme, which typically lasts two years and is taken up by young people in S5.

Also, the marketing of FAs to parents and young people has proved a challenge, college principals told Tes Scotland last year.

FA learners remain enrolled in school, but spend time out of school at college or with a local employer, completing their FA alongside other subjects at National 5 and Higher level.

Last week, Scottish Labour called for “bolder targets” around FAs after SNP ministers “watered down a key target”. Having pledged 3,000 foundation-level apprenticeships last January, the target was lowered to 2,600 in December, the party alleged.

‘We need bold targets’

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray argued that, by lowering targets and then denying it, the SNP was cutting off opportunities for young people. “FAs should be a key aspect of developing young people for further work and training,” he said.“We should be seeing bolder targets from the government, not watered-down commitments.”

College principals remain cautiously optimistic about the FA scheme, with one college leader – who asked not to be named – saying: “Colleges have worked closely with [Skills Development Scotland] now to ensure the programmes are sustainable, but this will only happen with good recruitment, as funding is student-centred.

“Colleges are working with local schools in a positive manner; indeed, we’re offering most of the FAs. However, recruitment is slow and not the fault of the school management – this is a marketing exercise and we collectively, need to sell this new qualification to the parents. Time will tell.”

But the Scottish government has told Tes Scotland that it remains “absolutely committed to FAs, with a target of 5,000 such opportunities by 2019”. And Diane Greenlees, head of foundation and graduate-level apprenticeships at Skills Development Scotland, which delivers the apprenticeship scheme, says that in just four years since they were introduced, participation, availability and provision of FAs has grown.

“Last year, more than 1,200 young people started a FA, with around 2,600 opportunities on offer in 2018,” she says. “The introduction of FAs is a big change to senior-phase education and skills. FAs are creating vital links between colleges, schools and employers, and enabling young people to gain work experience in key growth sectors to achieve industry-recognised qualifications.”

Greenlees adds that the scheme is helping young people to develop the skills that are in demand from employers. “There are now 12 subject choices, with every local authority in Scotland offering FAs,” she says.

“The ambition is that FAs will be available in every secondary school in Scotland in the future, with 5,000 opportunities available by the end of 2019.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, says that colleges play a key role in enhancing Scotland’s workforce by working with schools and employers to deliver high-quality apprenticeship programmes. “This is a valuable route to employment for many people, creating a skills pipeline that has delivered, and will continue to deliver, a stronger workforce,” she says.

“Colleges are heavily involved in the delivery of the new FAs, working in partnership with schools and employers across Scotland to give pupils the chance to learn new skills at college, undertake valuable work experience and gain an industry-recognised qualification while still at school.”

Struthers adds that FAs are “a new and innovative addition to the apprenticeships family” and that many colleges are “looking to expand their provision in future years, as [FAs] become fully embedded within the curriculum.”

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