Pocket Watch – Update on Quality in Apprenticeships


This week John Hayes provided a further update on steps being taken to ensure quality in apprenticeship programmes. The government is clearly taking the issue seriously; at least one case of ‘short duration’ has been referred to the Special Investigation Unit and the Minister is setting up his own special panel so that any future cases can be reported directly to him


It’s just over two months since the Minister announced his Quality Action Plan for Apprenticeships. At the time, he was responding to concerns about the nature, duration and legitimacy of some apprenticeship programmes arising in some cases out of a rapid growth in apprenticeship numbers. The Action Plan set out certain ground rules including an expectation that programmes for 16-18 year olds should extend for at least 12 months, that English and maths provision would be made available and that further quality reviews would follow. Much of this is under way, the SFA for instance announced a couple of weeks ago that it expected all providers to commit to a minimum programme duration of at least 12 months for 16-18 year olds as soon as possible and certainly by 1 August this year. In addition, a new certification process is now in place, the NAS is looking at the relationship between funding and actual delivery and the Select Committee Inquiry is under way. But concerns still linger and indeed a recent report on sub-contracting and alleged malpractice in some welfare to work contracts have only served to heighten the pressure

So what did the Ministerial Statement cover?

  1. Short duration programmes, those that run for a few months or in some reported cases, just a few weeks. This is not a straightforward issue, some sectors require more ‘training’ time some less, some apprentices come with more prior knowledge, some less but there’s clearly been concern about programmes of just a few weeks. Two things are now happening in response. First, a major review of all short duration programmes is being undertaken by the NAS and SFA and is due to complete by April. 87 cases have been examined with cases involving 10 primary and 3 sub-contractors still to be resolved. Second, the NAS is reviewing how far a minimum duration should extend to adult aprenticeships
  2. Subcontracting arrangements. Not a new issue but always a tricky one as the current Work Programme is finding out. The issue is how to ensure that as elements of provision are parcelled out, the same diligence and quality assurance is maintained. In trying to tighten up the delivery chain model, the Minister has gone for clearer guidelines, stricter minimum levels of performance and greater transparency with all sub contracted provision over £100k being published by the SFA from this month and breeches publicly exposed. In addition a new contractual clause, following not just the regulations but the intent, will be added
  3. Further steps. In a sense a lot hangs on the series of reviews that are now under way. However, it’s worth noting that the NAS will be publishing a revised, and no doubt stricter, Quality Delivery Statement, further guidance on the SASE will follow and of course Ofqual will be undertaking its review of the adult quals market

Steve Besley
Head of Policy (UK and International)

Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning

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Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

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