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Wilshaw: ‘Colleges are not delivering enough apprenticeships’

Ofsted has found too many apprenticeships that 'add little value' for learners or employers, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector

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Sir Michael Wilshaw has claimed that colleges and providers are not delivering sufficient apprenticeships, and questioned whether the FE sector is targeting the right age group for training.

Ofsted's chief inspector also said that too many apprenticeships were not being created in the sectors where they were most needed, and blamed schools for failing to provide many young people with the literacy, numeracy and behavioural skills required for an apprenticeship.

Sir Michael's latest comments come after he strongly criticised the sector earlier this month, describing it as being "in a mess". He told the Commons Education Select Committee that believed 16- to 19-year-olds should be educated in schools and not in FE institutions, which he claimed were "large and amorphous".

'Little value'

Speaking today, he said: "Colleges and other providers are often not delivering high enough numbers of apprenticeships overall, and certainly not in the right areas. Taking some local examples, two of the biggest colleges [in the Birmingham] region have less than 10 per cent of their student population on apprenticeship courses. And these in colleges of nearly 30,000 students.

"Are we training the right age group? The number of 16- to 18-year-olds being taken on as apprentices has barely changed in a decade. For the 19-24 age group there has been an increase, but only of 10 per cent in the last five years. The reality is that the bulk of the increase in apprenticeships in recent years has come from the over-25s."

Sir Michael's speech echoed comments made by skills minister Nick Boles, who has criticised colleges for allowing independent training providers to "nick [their] lunch" by delivering the majority of apprenticeships.

In response to Sir Michael's comments, Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said colleges have been “delivering high quality apprenticeships for a long time, often when they were not the subject of such close political and public support and attention”. “The average college trains 1,200 apprentices and this includes half of all construction, engineering and manufacturing apprentices,” he added. “Colleges work closely with employers to provide the right education and training opportunities for the local community.

“It must be remembered that apprenticeships are a job with training and they are not right for everyone... Better careers advice and guidance would make young people aware that an apprenticeship could be an option for them to get a foot on the career ladder and there also needs to be a greater level of understanding of apprenticeships amongst all those who influence young people’s life choices. Even given this, in comparison to other providers, proportionally colleges work more with young people and in key occupational sectors like construction and engineering."  

Speaking at the FE Week Annual Apprenticeship Conference in Birmingham today, Sir Michael also said that inspectors had found evidence of apprenticeships that were "simply accrediting jobs" and had little value to the individual.

"Inspectors [have] found too many apprenticeships that were simply accrediting existing jobs and adding little value to the individual or the company," he said. "Inspectors have even found examples of participants who were unaware that they were even on an apprenticeship programme. This is a nonsense and debases the currency of apprenticeships."

School failure

Sir Michael also said that schools do not prepare candidates for future jobs and that poor behaviour in class and low attendance rates lead to a lack of respect and concentration in the workplace.

"It’s not just about English and maths," he said. "Too many young people are in schools where behaviour is less than good. That means they are studying in a school that is not preparing them for the world of work. A young person who isn’t expected to show up on time for school is likely to be tardy for work. A young person who hasn’t learned to concentrate at school will struggle to focus at work. And a young person who hasn’t understood the need to respect their teachers and classmates isn’t going to easily respect their colleagues."

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