Apprenticeships no longer to fall second to University
Towards the latter end of last year we saw the new Apprenticeship Levy announced; a new ‘payroll tax’ to help fund an increase in apprenticeships. Set at 0.5% of the employers wage bill and due to be collected through PAYE, the levy has already had a significant impact in the industry, with a lot of larger employers creating new apprenticeship programmes as a result.
For those young people who are less interested in going to university and keen to earn as they learn, the levy is set to create a another attractive route into employment. Whilst it’s big news for employers, getting the information across to other key stakeholders is a different matter. It’s widely recognised that there is a stigma surrounding apprenticeships - both parents and young people see university as a measure of success - and the government has finally responded.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past fortnight, you’ll have most likely seen the headlines: ‘Schools must drop “outdated snobbery” against apprenticeships’ or ‘Schools must promote apprenticeships’. Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary stated:
“As part of our commitment to extend opportunity to all young people, we want to level the playing field - making sure they are aware of all the options open to them and are able to make the right choice for them.”
Meaning, schools must promote apprenticeships as much, and as well as, they promote the higher education route. In theory, it sounds fantastic - and exactly what we were all hoping for - but what does it actually mean? When will it come into practice and how? What will change in schools?
Firstly, good! It’s no secret that schools can be biased towards university being the preferred choice for students - according to the Sutton Trust, 65% of teachers have said that they wouldn’t advice a students whose predicted grades were high enough to get into university to instead sign up for an apprenticeship - perhaps, we can blame performance tables which are still ranking schools based on university placements; and parents reinforcing the notion - leaving students at risk of ‘missing out’ on certain opportunities, or worse - going to university for the sake of it!
On January 11th, 2016, the Prime Minister announced a commitment of £70 million to the careers strategy over this Parliament in order to transform the quality of careers education, advice and guidance offered to young people. This follows concerns from ministers about careers advice - with some schools only offering apprenticeship routes to the lower ability students and the university option to the highest achievers - effectively creating a two-tiered system of careers advice.
Nicky Morgan also added:
“For many young people going to university will be the right choice, and we are committed to continuing to expand access to higher education, but for other young people the technical education provided by apprenticeships will suit them better.
That’s why I’m determined to tackle the minority of schools that perpetuate an outdated snobbery towards apprenticeships by requiring those schools to give young people the chance to hear about the fantastic opportunities apprenticeships and technical education offer.”
Unfortunately, there isn’t much information out there (yet!), detailing when this legislation is going to come in only that the Government will bring it in at ‘the earliest opportunity’. Not only will schools be required to promote the wide range of opportunities to their students, they will also be required by law to collaborate with colleges, university technical colleges and other training providers to do so.
The announcement builds on the previous reforms to remove low quality qualifications from performance tables and increase the quality of apprenticeships on offer by employers. All in all, the new reforms appear to be creating solid guidelines for schools and employers when it comes to implementing the Apprenticeship Levy.
In line with this announcement, the Apprenticeships Policy, has also been updated. I have compiled the facts below, but if you want to read the policy in full - it can be found here.
- The Government have committed to 3 million more apprenticeships between 2015 and 2020.
- New employer designed apprenticeship standards are being developed to replace the current apprenticeship frameworks (which currently has over 200 different types of apprenticeships available in England).
- Traineeships - differing from apprenticeships - are for unemployed people with little work experience who can be prepared for employment or an apprenticeship within six months.
- Government grants are available depending upon the age of the apprentice. A grant of £1,500 is available to some small employers taking on an apprentice aged 16-24.
- Apprenticeships must meet Government minimum standards - including a 12 month minimum contract with a minimum 30 hour work week, an English and Maths requirement and off the job training.
- Apprentices have the same rights as other employees and are entitled to be paid at least the apprenticeship rate of the national minimum wage.
The questions remaining:
I feel that the recent changes are really starting to have a positive impact on the way we deliver careers advice in England. We’re moving away from the traditional route - school, university, employment - into a 21st century pathway, where students are able to choose what suits them best from the varied options available. However, it does raise more questions:
- What does ‘earliest opportunity’ really mean? We know the Government can sometimes be slow to put things into practice - though they do seem to really be on the ball with this sector. Exactly when will this new law come into practise? Will it be before or after the Apprenticeship Levy?
- Where does this leave private schools? Arguably, fee paying schools are more likely to push their students into university, so how can the government ensure that they make their careers advice more rounded and informative about the different routes to employment
- What about universities? It’s a difficult time for universities currently, as we are constantly seeing increasing press about the decreasing value of a degree. Are the Government placing too much emphasis on apprenticeships at the detriment of universities? Personally, I don’t think this is the case, but it’s an interesting question nonetheless.
- Are we placing too much pressure on young people? It’s difficult being a teenager without the stress of added variety right now. Is it too much?
- What’s the penalty if schools don’t promote? This really is an interesting question, as there is already a massive pressure on schools. Will there be a penalty (like the dreaded holiday fine for parents!), and how will this be implemented?
- And more importantly, how are we going to measure schools? If we are to measure by destination data (eg. how many pupils secure apprenticeships) are we at risk of artificially increasing numbers despite it not being the right route for every student? Or by awareness? How is it possible to measure the differing student perceptions or changing opinions if we do not start gathering comparative information now?
Bringing it all together
Personally, I think it’s a good move by the Government, but there are questions remaining. (And I’m sure you have thought of many more that need answering too!) The announcement of the Levy has seen many employers increasing their apprenticeship numbers, and schools are now being told that they must come together with employers to provide a fair and equal service to all students. The upshot?