Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Programme-led apprenticeships need greater promotion and understanding following a sharp fall in participation, says Ofsted

Ofsted's latest report finds programme-led apprenticeships produce learners that are better prepared for the workforce and achieve their full apprenticeship in a shorter time. However despite this, participation has declined, raising concern that more needs to be done to promote and understand the benefits of the programme.

The report, 'The impact of programme-led apprenticeships', published by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) evaluated programme-led apprenticeships in terms of improving participation and achievement by learners.

Programme-led apprenticeships are found to be an important alternative to traditional employer-led apprenticeships, providing a path for young people who may find it difficult to gain employment, or for those who require an initial phase of upfront training before progressing onto an employer-led apprenticeship.

The survey reveals that the majority of employers are positive about the impact of programme-led apprenticeships. Learners were found to be better prepared to meet the challenges of the workplace, buoyed by greater confidence, increased skills and knowledge, and a general ability to complete the full apprenticeship framework in a shorter time.

Despite this, and the fact many learners were positive about their experience on programme-led apprenticeships, participation in the programme fell by 58 per cent from 2005 to 2007.

Overall, the Learning and Skills Council was found to be slow in implementing their strategy for programme-led apprenticeships in England. In over half of the organisations surveyed, inadequate promotion has resulted in a lack of understanding of the full potential of the programme, and a general fall in participation. Furthermore, only two of the Sector Skills Councils surveyed had started to consider the implications of programme-led apprenticeships for their apprenticeship framework.

The report highlights that learners who spent too long on a work placement, without the prospect of securing employment, often lost motivation and became disillusioned with the course, in some cases causing them to drop out. The low level of financial support available to learners on programme-led apprenticeships acted as a further deterrent; particularly following the introduction of the means tested Education Maintenance Allowance, disqualifying some learners from any financial assistance whilst on the programme.

Melanie Hunt, Director Learning and Skills at Ofsted, said:

“It’s encouraging to find that apprentices and employers were positive about their experience with programme-led apprenticeships. But it is important to ensure that these programmes continue to enable young learners to progress into the workplace. When learners spend too long on work placements without the prospect of securing full-time employment, they lose motivation and in some cases drop out.

"Ofsted has made some important recommendations in this report. These include introducing Unique Learner Numbers to improve the collection of data, and greater efforts by local authorities and providers to promote the benefits of this type of apprenticeship. Taking these steps should bring benefits to this clearly valuable programme."

Ofsted Recommendations

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills should take steps to ensure more employers become involved in apprenticeships by promoting the benefits and different routes available. They should also review the applicability of the Education Maintenance Allowance for learners on PLAs, particularly those on non-employed work placements.

The Learning and Skills Council should use the introduction of the Unique Learner Number to improve collection of national data and promote the importance of colleges increasing the number of programme-led full-time vocational courses with progression to an employed apprenticeship. They should also set a maximum time period for learners on PLAs to be on work placement before they progress to an employer-led apprenticeship.

Sector Skills Councils should ensure that they define how a PLA fits within their sector qualification strategy and that guidelines are issued to providers on the structure of the programme-led phase.

Providers should consider the benefits for learners on PLAs, and for employers, of including an initial period of planned training. They should aim to achieve employed-status for their learners on PLAs on work placements as soon as possible, ensuring that all employer agreements clearly identify this as a requirement of the placement.

Notes For Editors
  1. The role of PLAs is to provide a flexible route through which young people can acquire the underpinning knowledge and skills that will be required for successful completion of the full apprenticeship framework. There are two types of PLAs, one delivered through work-based learning and the other through further education. All learners on PLAs are non-employed. PLAs are followed by an employed phase in order to demonstrate practical working skills in a real working situation.
  2. PLAs are funded by the LSC. The programme was introduced to work-based learning providers in 2003 and to further education colleges in 2004 under the title 'programme-led pathways'. The programme was later re-titled 'programme-led apprenticeships'. In providers of work-based learning, learners on PLAs are either on a period of planned initial training or on work placement with an employer. In further education colleges, learners on PLAs are enrolled on full-time vocational programmes with the intention of progressing to employment, preferably through an employer-led apprenticeship.
  3. This report is based on a survey of programme-led apprenticeships (PLAs) carried out between August and December 2007. Inspectors carried out interviews with the LSC, the National Employer Service, six further education colleges, 19 work-based learning providers and 10 sector skills councils. It also looked at the implementation of the report Strategy for programme-led apprenticeships in England for 2007-2010, published in July 2007 by the Learning and Skills Council.
  4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) now has the responsibility for the inspection of adult learning and training, the regulation and inspection of children's social care, the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Ofsted inspects or regulates the following services - childminders, full and sessional day-care providers, out of school care, crèches, adoption and fostering agencies, residential schools, family centres and homes for children, all state maintained schools, some independent schools, Pupil Referral Units, the Children and Family Courts Advisory Service, the overall level of services for children in local authority areas (known as Joint Area Reviews), further education, Initial Teacher Training, and publicly funded adult skills and employment based training.
  5. The Ofsted Press Office can be contacted on 08456 4040404 between 8am - 6pm Monday - Friday. During evenings and weekends we can be reached on 07919 057359.

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