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A welcome step for apprentices but ..

As FE Focus has reported, it is encouraging that ministers have responded quickly to the need to protect the interests of apprentices facing the prospect of redundancy in this recession.

On behalf of my members who train a significant majority of apprentices, I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for flexibilities in the apprenticeship programme to make this happen, and the latest support package is a welcome step towards this.

Work-based learning providers accept that support may involve increased provision of off-the-job courses, but these should not be branded as part of the apprenticeship family and should only be used as a last resort. One of the more effective alternatives would be financial support for providers to expand their sales capacity to open up more employers' places.

We would still welcome support for employers to retain potentially redundant apprentices by government payment of a training allowance. However, we are opposed to all funding of apprenticeships being channelled through employers, because the likely outcome would be far fewer businesses offering them when they see the bureaucracy involved - something which is currently handled by the provider.

The Government should support further development of group training associations to encourage the employment on behalf of a group of employers of apprentices and indeed the development of other similarly focused organisations capable of delivering apprenticeship frameworks in close co- operation with employers.

Whatever the outcome of the deliberations in Whitehall, the key elements of an apprenticeship must be retained to protect what has become a highly valued programme by employers and young people. These are: adherence to the employer-designed apprenticeship frameworks to ensure relevance, fitness for purpose and quality; direct links to an employer or group of employers; and the bulk of the training being on the job (supported by off-the-job activities), all competence focused and, critically, employer located.

Finally, the Association of Learning Providers welcomes apprenticeships being put on a statutory basis in the bill now being considered by Parliament, but is strongly opposed to the provision which permits schools only to advise pupils about apprenticeships "if it is in their (the pupils') best interests to do so". To allow young people to be denied the information to help them to make an informed choice about their options after GCSEs or A-levels is potentially enormously damaging to their career prospects and the country's economy.

Graham Hoyle, Chief executive, Association of Learning Providers.

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