John Hayes MP, shadow minister for vocational education and Dr Scott Kelly, lecturer in British politics and contemporary history and co-author of the recent Gold Standard Craft report on apprenticeships for the CPS talk exclusively to FE News about Conservative further education policy.
John Hayes on apprenticeships:
"Conservative policy was launched against a background situation where there are declining numbers of apprenticeships and enrolment and where the nation's skills compare unfavourably with our competitors. We believe that our apprenticeships need to be professionalised; they should be employer-based and should be mentored. They ought to have a significant workplace training element, and unless they have these things they really should not be called apprenticeships. Our professional apprenticeships should reassure both trainers and British business. We want to avoid them being little more than tick box tests conducted in classrooms"
On a report from the Conservative Vocational Skills Working Group published last month, which described the current system of vocational education as "an unresponsive, top-down bureaucracy":
"The system is unresponsive to demand, and as a result, not well understood by employers or learners. It's complex and esoteric and the [writers of the report] were looking for ways to create a system through their recommendations which was more flexible, more straight-forward, and more demand driven, with employers in the driving seat."
On replacing the Learning Skills Council with a single system:
"John Redwood argues that the LSC would effectively be replaced by sector skills councils and I guess a kind of souped up forum which would both act as a conduit for feeding analysis of labour force needs, and saw what skills employers needed. As the bodies which work with providers, further education colleges and adult training providers met those needs, sector skills councils and employer-level organisations would both work with educators to guarantee quality and to ensure a good future between supply and demand."
"There is a misconception that adult learning is wholly recreational. In fact adult and community learning is often a route back to employment for those who have either been failed by the system, by school or want to return to work in later life. A decline of adult learning narrows this opportunity for re-engagement, but actually even if it is about things unrelated directly to employment, it has an immense value socially and culturally and its decline under this government could cause them embarrassment."
Dr Scott Kelly on dilution of apprenticeship brand
According to Dr Scott Kelly, the dilution of the apprenticeship brand, which includes lower level qualifications, disguises the fact that fewer students are now being trained in intermediate skills.
"We are actually training fewer people at that level [i.e, level 2 and 3] than we were seven years ago. There's been a shift in focus within the skills budget to basic and remedial training - we are talking about the entitlement to first level 2 qualification. Train to Gain, for example, is a level 2 programme, a GSCE equivalent. There's a need for that and a lot of people leave school functionally innumerate, but if left to compete with countries that are providing high skills training and advanced vocational education then this isn"t going to solve our problem."
On the route from secondary education to apprenticeships and beyond:
"There's a need for a clear pathway. If you are 14 and you"re academic, then it's very clear what you do - GCSEs, A-levels, and university - but if you"re more practically minded, it's much less obvious. We did hope that the new specialised diplomas would provide that pathway. At the moment, it's just not clear what options [vocational students] have. Unfortunately, the diplomas don"t seem to be sufficiently vocational. There's a lot of theory and not much work-based training, and there doesn"t seem to be any at the lower level. They haven"t been integrated with apprenticeships. [You could do] a diploma, apprenticeship and a foundation degree and follow that pathway, but there's no clear connection between those different qualifications. Whereas in other countries there's a well respected route for practically-minded young people who want to do qualifications, in Britain there's an awful lot of confusion. We have more young people doing academic qualification at A-level than in France and Germany, but we lag behind in vocational qualifications. That's where the gap is.
A more comprehensive careers advice service
Careers advice in other European countries is clearly focused in the classroom at an early age, so that young people have an idea of what their choices are and the options they have. In Britain it's been integrated with other services, and to some extent de-professionalised.