Head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman made some telling points in her address to the Annual Apprenticeship Conference held in Birmingham on 22 March.
In an unusually blunt speech she highlighted the key issues that her inspectors had found in their pilot inspections of apprenticeship providers since the new apprenticeship levy scheme came in.
Acknowledging that transition from the former scheme to the new levy scheme had not been easy or smooth, she identified underlying concerns that the new scheme was neither providing a good match to employers’ requirements nor those of young people leaving school for work.
For example, 40 per cent of the newly approved apprenticeships were in the higher-end, degree-level categories, while only 7 per cent of young people seeking apprenticeships were in that category. This may reflect the changing nature of work – but it mainly reflects poor preparation for the changeover from frameworks to standards.
Ofsted pilot inspections in 2017/18 have shown that the extra money for vocational education has have led to more providers to which employers may attach their trainees, but that the quality is still not good enough.
According to Ofsted, 60 per cent of providers (covering 80 per cent of the trainees in the sample) in the pilot inspections gave outstanding or good provision. By definition, 40 per cent were deemed to be giving less than adequate training, with more than 10 judged as inadequate.
Those involved in basic skills and provision for young people not in education, employment or training (“neets”) have found it hard to keep tabs on the plethora of small-scale providers that these programmes have traditionally relied upon. Ofsted now seems to have identified this as a potential problem within the new scheme of apprenticeship provision.Many providers are sub-contracting skills training to small companies. This may be unavoidable, but the pilot inspections have revealed that central providers tend to rely heavily on the sub-contractors, without close supervision – not a recipe for success.