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Apprenticeships and higher education: good sound-bites, bad policy making A paper from the Learning and Skills Network (LSN)identifies significant differences between the content and delivery of apprenticeships and higher education. Considers how they can best complement each other.

Hogarth et al.(2011) Options Study for the Long-term Evaluation of Apprenticeships This study was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and undertaken by IER in order to investigate the options available for a long-term evaluation of Apprenticeships. Such an evaluation would produce robust quantified estimates of the outcomes of Apprenticeships for successful trainees, in terms of progression into further and/or higher learning and improved employment outcomes and establish under what conditions Apprenticeships produce the best results, for whom and the relative added value of an Apprenticeship compared to other forms of learning.

TLRP researchers Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller (2008) have produced a commentary on Towards Expansive Apprenticeships. Their earlier work in this area includes their 2003 article on Learning as Apprentices in the Contemporary UK Workplace: creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation that illustrated the variable learning opportunities that were being created for apprentices under the Modern Apprenticeship. In Turning Apprenticeship on its Head: how young people pass on skills and knowledge they illustrated how apprentices teach others as well as learn and in Fostering workplace learning: looking through the lens of apprenticeship they argued that the pedagogical relationships between apprentices and older workers need to be better understood. Safety in stereotypes? The impact of gender and 'race' on young people's perceptions of their post-compulsory education and labour market opportunities (together with Vanessa Beck) examined the impact of gender and 'race' on young people's perceptions of the educational and labour market opportunities available to them after they complete their compulsory schooling in England. Its findings are based on a study of the views of girls and boys about the government-supported 'Apprenticeships' programme, which, because it reflects labour market conditions, is highly gendered and also segregated by ethnicity.

There is also a contemporary policy debate about the future of apprenticeship. The Skills Commission published in March 2009 a major report on Progression through Apprenticeships, which investigates how the Government can ensure a greater proportion of apprentices progress through to higher levels of learning. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published Apprenticeship: a key route to skill in July 2007. The government produced a formal response in October 2007 and the evidence underpinning the report has also been published: Apprenticeship: A Key Route to Skill - Volume II: Evidence. The Nuffield Review of 14 - 19 education and training has also produced some Issues Papers with a view to widening the debate, testing out tentative conclusions and seeking further evidence. Apprenticeship I: Prospects for Growth asks: 'To what extent will the apprenticeship route contribute to the desired increase in post-16 participation in England?' It examines quantitative aspects of the prospects for growth in apprenticeship in England, while Apprenticeship II: A High Quality Pathway for Young People? addresses the issue of whether a balance can be struck between making apprenticeships attractive to employers and ensuring that they provide high-quality training for young people.

Paul Ryan and Lorna Unwin (2002) produced a trenchant criticism of the state of British apprenticeship at the time: Apprenticeship in the British 'training market'. Modern Apprenticeship was compared in this paper to both German apprenticeship and its national predecessor, Youth Training. Modern Apprenticeship shares many of the attributes of Youth Training, and shows some improvement in terms of skills produced. British apprenticeship performed poorly, in terms of rates of qualification and completion, as well as in breadth and depth of training, relative to its German counterpart, despite the provision by Modern Apprenticeship of substantial government financial support. The fact that MA resembles YT more than German apprenticeship reflects continuing institutional differences between the two countries, notably the limitations of the training quasi-market in which both YT and MA have operated. The prospects for MA to flourish, let alone perform the educational role that the government envisages for it, were considered bleak in the absence of institutional development along different lines.

Partly as a result of such criticisms, the Apprenticeships Task Force was set up in 2003 in order to increase the opportunities available for young people to participate in high quality Apprenticeships programmes with a range of employers; and to recommend effective and innovative ways of ensuring that Apprenticeships and Entry to Employment programmes responded to the changing needs of employers and young people. The Apprenticeships Task Force produced their interim report in November 2004 and their final report in July 2005. Employers still believed that that the delivery system was complex and that there was a need for greater collaboration and partnership between the key players. Areas of common purpose related to the structure of frameworks, including key skills, and the further linking of employers’ own training arrangements to the requirements of the Apprenticeship framework. A new ministerial-led steering group had been set up to address these issues and to consider include the balance in numbers between Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships and ensure adequate funding to support the expansion of Apprenticeships. A report on the effective delivery of apprenticeships was produced by the LSDA in June 2005.

The Employers for Apprenticeships website which supported the work of the Apprenticeships Task Force during its consultation phase 2003 - 05, and is now part of the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network, has produced a number of documents on apprenticeship, including:

  • an article in the CBI Human Resources Report, December 2004. by Richard Wainer, CBI policy adviser, on the business case for apprenticeships;
  • the Joint DfES/LSC end to end review of modern apprenticeships, January 2004;
  • a paper by John West on Improving completion rates in apprenticeships, 2005
  • a background paper Finding Our Way: Vocational Education In England produced by John West and Hilary Steedman in April 2003. The paper analyzes the weaknesses of vocational education in this country and suggests how to remedy them. It argues that vocational education should be about progression, both to skilled employment and to further levels of education. Despite some strengths in the current system, the authors argue that vocational education has suffered a chequered history with numerous intiatives that has resulted in: "a confusing plethora of qualifications, with no image in the minds of young people, parents and employers about what vocational education involves;
    high degrees of non-completion with switching between the many different courses and a dropping off of participation at 17; poor linkages both between the various types of vocational courses on offer, and between them and vocational offerings in higher education. A third of vocational students are on courses which could not lead to higher education, either directly or through further related course, even if someone excelled on it; poor linkages to the labour market, not helped by the fact that the industry bodies who are meant to set standards have been reorganized five times in the last thirty years, and twice in the last five years alone" (West and Steedman, 2003, pp i- ii).

    West and Steedman (2003) went on to argue from the experience of other countries that the lessons for the UK are:

    • "trying, as we seem to be, to offer vocational courses both as pathways in their own right and as options which can be mixed with academic subjects is unlikely to succeed;
    • linkages with both higher education and apprenticeship is both possible and desirable;
    • vocational education can be a respectable option, and certainly is not seen abroad – as it sometimes is here – as an alternative to academic subjects for those who are struggling at school;
    • the quest for ‘parity of esteem’ between academic and vocational subjects is a wild goose chase. Far from raising the reputation of vocational courses it is likely to distort them and make them pale imitations of academic studies, with little purpose of their own.
    • The right way forward is to develop substantial national vocational programmes, perhaps 15 to 30 in all, each culminating in an award at level 3, the first point at which vocational education has a demonstrable pay-off in the labour market" (West and Steedman, 2003, p. ii).

    The Skills White Paper (2005), Prosperity for all in the global economy – World class skills (the Leitch review, 2006), A Summary of the Leitch review: a roadmap directing the UK towards world class skills, and the Leitch Implementation Plan (2007) and the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee report (2007) on Post-16 Skills show it is also important to see how apprentieship policy fits within a broader debate about national skill formation policy.

    Other material on apprenticeship that may be of interest includes:


    Other related TLRP links: