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AELP Editorial – 30 January

By Mark Dawe, Chief Executive at AELP:

I was writing this yesterday and thinking – this is all very serious and sensible as an intro.  Then bang – DfE show their hand this morning. (Click here for details). £38m capital for T levels – hoorah. But only for colleges – Boo.  I had to double check – not even the ITPs that managed to scrape into the pilots – nope they don’t need capital either.  Oh, and it is worse.  Colleges that aren’t even in the pilots can bid for money.  Read the FE week article here.
This isn’t inappropriate scaremongering or exaggeration by FE week.  This is 100% provider bias – implicit all the way along, and now totally explicit.   AELP has always been very clear.  A classroom-based programme is always going to have a large proportion of college providers.  Nothing wrong with that.  But there are very good ITPs who could add enormous value as well, and indeed are.  On top of that, the apprenticeship providers with their employer contacts could really lead to a step change in this technical reform and engaging with the employers.  But oh no, let’s do the same old thing in the same old way and then watch the numbers of learners crawl in.  Because those learners and their families will realise genuine employer opportunities sit with work-based provision – and then we can add the reform to the GNVQ, Diploma list.  AELP response to this was as follows:

“The bias towards colleges has been implicit for a long time and now the DfE has made it explicit.
It’s just more money being thrown to colleges when it’s the ITPs that are delivering what employers want.

There have been multiple offers from ITPs to engage their business networks, especially to meet the major challenge of finding appropriate industry placements, but the DfE has been ignoring or rejecting the offers.

We wish them luck with T-levels, because we think the DfE are taking the same old path ignoring those that can make a difference, and it will be added to the list of failed technical policies.”

Just as I was finishing the intro this came into my inbox “I have not responded yet as I have yet to go through the guidance released today.  Assuming this to be the case, then there is no bloody point continuing with T levels- it’s a farce” – sums it up nicely!

Do you think that is clear enough in terms of our position?? I have to apologise to those watching the CEO webinar this morning.  I still hadn’t calmed down and slowly recovering now!!

Yesterday was very focussed on social mobility, and the fuller reports are below – this feels like a calming influence- but oh no.  Policy Connect Higher Education Commission report on Degree Apprenticeships – great take up, no social mobility, limited offer in SMEs – and as I said at the event, the report could have been written about all apprenticeships, not just degree apprenticeships.

This was reported in the Times over the weekend

“Middle-class teenagers are taking the vast majority of degree apprenticeships because so few are offered within reach of deprived areas, according to a report. Disadvantaged school-leavers must travel up to 12 times as far as wealthier peers to access degree apprenticeships, which allow students to earn and to study alongside other undergraduates without paying tuition fees. The report, by politicians, business leaders and academics on the Higher Education Commission, led by Lord Norton of Louth, describes a “middle-class grab” and says that poor teenagers are being let down because of a “serious mismatch” between the aims and reality of the system”

At the same time, the Social Mobility Commission produced their adult skill gap report – same conclusions really.  These are really important reports with independent evidence proving what has been said over and over.  Policy great but the implementation is damaging the very groups we thought stronger apprenticeships would serve – the under 25s, SMEs, level 2s.

But at a time of scarce resource, it isn’t enough to make the argument on pure social mobility – it is what employers want and the impact on productivity.  But this is what we are hearing from employers over and over – big and small.  Apprenticeships are a key part of the solution to the skills shortage, to their productivity needs (human capital is now the scarcest resource – not financial capital).

We shouldn’t forget that the government recognised statistic is that for every “£1 government invested in a L2 or L3 apprenticeship yielded a return of between £26-£28”.  I wonder what more evidence they are looking for and let’s remember those figures were for frameworks, not newer “higher quality” standards…

Take a look at the article this week in people management.  There is some great commentary from Ben Rowland of Arch Apprenticeships.  In addition, Specsavers, one of our employer members, talking about the benefits of apprenticeships at all levels – “Specsavers is one of a number of companies using apprenticeships as a way to plug skills gaps, both now and for the future. It developed its own apprenticeship in spectacle-making, and now has almost 300 apprentices training to be optical assistants across its stores, an achievement that made it overall winner at the 2018 CIPD People Management Awards.

One of the key benefits has been retention – 90 per cent of apprentices stay on with the company once they’ve completed their apprenticeship and 65 per cent have either been promoted into store management or completed professional qualifications”.

EPA / EQA – we have added the two slides used for the CEO webinar on the position re EPA and EQA. Firstly EPA – two-thirds of all EPAs have either no EPA organisation or one – others have over 20 – do we think that is right, is it giving employer choice, is it helping apprentices and providers preparing for EPA?  And then EQA – look at the pie chart – almost three-quarters provided by Ofqual or the backstop (popular word at the moment, but EQA not so fiercely debated in parliament) of the IfA.  So much for the employers falling over themselves to be the EQA.  And where professional bodies are working on EQA, in many cases it is exactly that. – working on it, not delivering it Two years in and a significant number of the EQAs are not in a position to do the job they should be doing as we have live EPAs.  This is a disgrace and needs action now.  The only answer is to give it to the people who understand assessment – and that is Ofqual.  A bit of the £34m proposed to support the many EQA organisations can be passed to Ofqual to ensure they have proper employer engagement to ensure the right competency in developing and delivering the assessment and ongoing review of the assessment outcomes to ensure they properly reflect the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviour of the apprentices (and don’t get me started on the IfA employer panels – apparently they are not allowed to come and talk to the AELP sector groups – nice! Remember this is the organisation in charge of the curriculum and assessment of T levels.  Let’s hope there is something to deliver in all those new college buildings – maybe we should call them Centres of Vocational Excellence??)

I had a great day with the West Yorkshire Learning Providers network on Friday – celebrating 15 years of existence.  Really good speakers and a yummy cake.  Some incredible work on the ground and it is easy to forget the blood sweat and tears of all providers in the area – and that is colleges, ITPs, local authorities – everyone.  It is petty central government bias that drives wedges between everyone trying to working together on the ground to benefit their community and employers, ensuring the right provision goes to the right individual delivered by the right provider.  I also witnessed one of the best sessions on Prevent I had ever heard – the NE DfE official – previously working in some sort of terrorist role in the police force (and I don’t mean the T level implementation team).  So here is a little test for you – Google “how to make a b@mb” and then “how best to commit s*@cide” – I know, a little blunt and might stop this newsletter getting to you – actually, let me replace a couple of the vowels. Does your provider system allow access to these websites/searches?  Secondly – if it does block the search, is it recorded somewhere so someone in your organisation can identify students that might be a safeguarding or prevent concern.  You never know your Ofsted inspector might do the same when sitting on your system – so be warned!!  The session was as inspiring as it was depressing – a beautiful mix.

I am going to end there this week – 2019 is not going to be quiet!

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