Williamson: 'Apprenticeships are one of our successes'

Gavin Williamson calls the apprenticeship programme a great success – but shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden disagrees

Kate Parker

Gavin Williamson: 'Apprenticeships are one of our great successes'

The apprenticeship programme is one of the greatest successes of the Conservative government, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said.

Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, Mr Williamson said: "Apprenticeships have been one of the greatest successes for this government – we have achieved so much over the last nine years, encouraging so many young people to take the opportunity to train in an apprenticeship and gain the skills they need to achieve in the future and we are determined to build on that success." He also said he would "certainly be looking at how we ensure we have the right funding for apprenticeships".

Background:  What do the latest apprenticeship figures tell us?

Inspiring apprentices: 'We had next to no career guidance'

News: Apprenticeships: providers face cash shortage for SMEs

Mr Williamson was responding to a question from former skills minister Anne Milton on whether he could offer assurances that the apprenticeship programme would have the year-on-year cash needed to continue to "deliver the life-changing opportunities to people of all ages without restriction". 

Shadow further education minister Gordon Marsden said that the government was making "a complete hash of the apprenticeship levy in quality and quantity".  

He said: "It's running out of money so the trainers who provide 70 per cent of all apprenticeships can't meet demand from small businesses. There's nothing new in the spending review for providers or small businesses for apprentices, starts for 16 to 18-year-olds are down by 23 per cent on pre-levy numbers, nothing for 800,000 young people stagnating in the NEETs category.

"Not even a dedicated skills minister to tell them or us why they are in this mess? Has anyone in this disappearing government left the lights on?"

Mr Williamson admitted that there was much more to be done, but argued that labour had de-valued apprentices, and that the Conservative government have seen a change in attitude in what apprenticeships were able to deliver and had driven up the quality and status of what apprenticeships are.

The impact of the levy 

The apprenticeship levy has been a bone of much contention throughout the sector since its introduction.

Earlier this year, Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater raised concerns over the long-term sustainability of the apprenticeship system. 

He said that "shortly there isn’t going to be enough to go round for everything, and something has got to give. One of the choices for government as resources get constrained would be to prioritise some apprenticeships over others."

Only days later, however, Ms Milton told Tes that she didn't want to constrain the apprenticeship system by trying to shape the provision offered. 

The introduction of the levy saw a significant drop in the number of people starting an apprenticeship. These starts have now begun to recover, but remain below the levels of pre-levy years. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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