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Background To Apprenticeships

The view from the UK’s policy makers is that vocational education is as an important option in supporting the growth of the economy. This view has initiated many a debate and has led to many reviews over the years to improve both the quality and the quantity of vocational education in this country. In 2011 the Secretary of State asked Professor Alison Wolf to confront the problems and review pre-19 vocational education and as a result the Wolf Report was published in 2011.

The findings of this report have set in motion the biggest change seen to the vocational and technical education system in our country with the aim of encouraging variety, innovation and greater flexibility. But above all, the new system should allow greater links for young people to the labour market and support our ever-changing economy. Following on from the findings of the Wolf report, the government commissioned an independent review in 2012 (Richard Review) on what apprenticeships should be and how they can meet the changing needs of the economy. The review made a number of recommendations that would make apprenticeships more rigorous and more responsive to the needs of the employer. As a result, the government has introduced new apprenticeship standards, which will eventually replace the existing apprenticeship frameworks.

The government ambition is to increase the number of high-quality apprenticeships that meet the needs of employers and has set a target of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. To help reach this target the government has introduced a number of incentives:

  • As of April 2017, all organisations with a wage bill of over £3 million will pay a levy into a digital account and funds can be spent on delivering apprenticeships.
  • All new apprenticeship standards are designed by employers known as trailblazers to ensure the new standards meet employers’ own skills needs and those of their boarder sector.
  • The government has legally protected the term ‘Apprenticeship’ to ensure that the brand is not diluted going forward such as the term being applied to other programmes.
  • The government wants apprenticeships to be seen as an attractive offer that young people and adults will aspire to go into as a high-quality prestigious pathway to a successful career. As such there are a number of initiatives to promote the benefits of apprenticeships to young people, parents, schools and colleges.

In 2016 the government commissioned an independent panel to review the technical education system in this country, chaired by Lord Sainsbury. The resulting report outlines the most significant transformation of the post-16 education since the introduction of A-Levels, calls for the creation of two distinct pathways post-16.

The first pathway will be ‘academic’ which has a primary purpose of supporting progression to HE. The second pathway will be ‘technical’ and will comprise of two modes of learning; namely, college based, and employer based (apprenticeships). Both pathways will align to a new framework of 15 routes which will encompass all technical education at levels 2-5. The employer based (apprenticeships) will align to the work undertaken with the trailblazers but will be reviewed once the college-based learning is defined. The government has set a target of September 2022 for all 15 routes to be available for college teaching.