Review of Post-18 Education and Funding
There are some points to be welcomed in the Augar Report, but in many cases its analysis of Apprenticeship is incoherent and riddled with contradictions. Several recommendations will also substantially undermine the Apprenticeship Reforms.
Current Mismatch Apprenticeships vis-à-vis the Economy
On the positive the report notes ‘the mismatch between the economy’s strategic demand and current apprenticeship starts’ and recommends that ‘apprenticeships should be prioritised inline with Industrial Strategy requirements’. As a programme primarily focused on productivity this makes eminent sense.
What about the Public Sector?
Beyond the Industrial Strategy, the report, however, pays scant attention to the importance of public sector Apprenticeships and the delivery of high quality public services. Public sector employers are by far the biggest levy payers and will want to invest heavily in new Degree Apprenticeships for police constables, registered nurses and social workers. Are not such Apprenticeships a priority for Government? These are also level 6 programmes, not the level 4 and 5 provision, which Augar implies should be the priority for higher Apprenticeship. With or without Brexit, nursing is arguably the most critical skills shortage facing the country. I think there’ll be some interesting responses to Augar from NHS Trusts, Police Forces, local authorities and their sponsor departments. It’s far too early to draw firm conclusions, but initial evidence also indicates some of the public sector Degree Apprenticeships will actually promote social mobility and access to public sector professions.
It’s useful that Augar acknowledges the failure of the procurement of Apprenticeship provision for non-levy paying employers and the resulting gaps in Degree Apprenticeship provision for SMEs. This should, however, not come as news to Ministers or anyone else. Perhaps we can now have some urgent action from the ESFA, which could for example, prioritise the switchover to the Apprenticeship Service for non-levy paying employers wanting to use Degree Apprenticeship?
Management Apprenticeships vis-à-vis the Industrial Strategy
Perhaps the biggest contradiction in the report’s analysis concerns management apprenticeships. So while recommending Apprenticeships should be prioritised inline with the Industrial Strategy the report takes a swipe at employers using Apprenticeships for managers. With regard to putting senior managers through level 7 Apprenticeships paid for by the levy Augar questions ‘whether this represents good value for the public purse.’Yet the Industrial Strategy identified the deficit in management skills as a major factor in explaining the UK’s productivity gap. Augar also doesn’t get the point that the NHS and Police Forces are using ‘their’ levy payments to train the senior managers they need. So doesn’t Augar want the levy paid by NHS Trusts and Police Forces from the ‘public purse’ to be used to enhance management performance in the NHS and Police?
Apprenticeships for those with an existing degree at level 6
It’s also concerning that Augar calls for employers not to be allowed to use ‘their’ levy on Apprenticeships for individuals who already have a level 6. This wasn’t the deal with employers when the Apprenticeship levy was introduced. What about career changers, the emergence of new occupations and the need to up skill the existing workforce? And what does this mean for level 7 Apprenticeships in occupational areas, such as advanced clinical and healthcare practice or graduate engineering, that are critical to UK economic performance?
Fundamentally, Augar doesn’t seem to get the point that Apprenticeship is an employer led programme – according to Government rhetoric ‘employers are in the driving seat’. Key to its success will be the ability of employers to use Apprenticeships in the way they need to raise the productivity of their organisations. Augar seems to be calling for employers to have less choice in how they use Apprenticeships, yet employers are – according to Government – best placed to decide how to use Apprenticeship to raise the skills levels and productivity of their organisations. Augar also misses so many other issues concerning higher education and Apprenticeship, such as where’s the link between Degree Apprenticeship tackling the decline in part-time HE provision, as a way to engage successfully with employers, PSRBs, work with other providers and to support local economies?
Our final point concerns Augar’s recommendation that ‘Ofsted become the lead responsible body for the inspection of the quality of apprenticeships at all levels‘. Apart from simplicity this recommendation has little to justify its inclusion. At levels 6 and 7 professional and statutory regulatory bodies (PSRBs) are key and QAA works with around 90. PSRBs are the guardians of ensuring quality and consistency for training programmes that develop occupational competence and have worked with HE for decades to develop approaches that deliver. What does Ofsted know about the training of registered nurses, social workers, architects etc, solicitors? And how does the Common (Education) Inspection Framework ensure Apprenticeships delivered by a provider have the maximum impact on the productivity of an employer? The solution’s simple: OfS/QAA should oversee the Apprenticeship provision delivered by providers on the OfS register and Ofsted should focus on provision delivered by providers not on the OfS register. And let’s not get on to the issue of track record, but shouldn’t Ofsted be focused on school performance, where England still performs relatively poorly?
Was it worth the wait? As with its other recommendations and analysis, Augar’s suggested approach to Apprenticeship and higher education needs a major rethink.
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