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Sector news, 12 - 17 August 2013

Apprenticeships: Are young people finally beginning to buy into the idea? TES, 12 August 2013

More than half of young people in England (54 per cent) would choose to do an apprenticeship if one were available, according to new research. The number rises to 56 per cent of those already university students, and 66 per cent of those who are employed but not receiving training, according to the poll by ICM. The findings will be a relief to the government after recent figures showed the number of apprenticeship starters in the first nine months of 2012/13 was down by six per cent on the previous year, and down 18 per cent among 16-18-year-olds. A recent study also found a lack of understanding and misconceptions about apprenticeships among parents. Despite that, the skills minister Matthew Hancock claimed apprenticeships were “fast becoming the norm” for school leavers who want to earn while they learn. The Association of Employment and Learning Proviers, whose members deliver around 70 per cent of all apprenticeships in England, welcomed the findings.

SFA publishes £283m of inter-lead subcontracting for first time FE Week, 12 August 2013

Lead providers took on nearly £300m of subcontracted provision last academic year, Skills Funding Agency (SFA) figures have revealed. More than 1,600 subcontracting agreements, totaling £283m of funding, were in place between providers who already held their own direct contracts with the SFA. Meanwhile lead providers gave out £569m of business, via 2,235 contracts, to organisations that didn’t hold direct contracts. County Durham-based Learning Curve had a direct SFA contract worth £2.7m last year and was also by far the biggest subcontractor. The firm, which has a direct SFA contract for £2m for the coming year, had £18.4m in subcontracting arrangements with 32 lead providers last year.

Language teaching crisis as 40% of university departments face closure Guardian, 17 August 2013

The number of universities offering modern languages degrees has dropped from 105 in 2000 to 62 at the start of this academic year. As many as 40 per cent of university language departments are likely to close within a decade, the former government adviser who is supposed to be bolstering foreign language uptake in higher education has warned, hitting the UK’s diplomatic and economic hopes. Professor Mike Kelly, head of the government-funded Routes into Languages programme co-ordinating attempts to increase the uptake of language degrees in England, said huge areas of the country were being left without any degree-level language courses, which was reducing the number of language teachers in schools, worsening the crisis. Last week it emerged that A-level candidates for French and German fell by 50 per cent between 1996 and 2012. The Foreign Office has become increasingly concerned about the future of its diplomatic corps, with senior figures privately voicing urgent concerns about the standard of its graduate recruits. It has built its own languages school and is spending £1m a year to bring the civil service up to scratch. The British Chamber of Commerce said it feared a "potentially disastrous" impact on the UK's export potential. The government has included the learning of a language among the core EBacc subjects, on which schools will be judged in future.

University places fill at record pace amid clearing competition Guardian, 16 August 2013

University places have been filling up at a record pace, a day after A-level results were published, as students and colleges adapt to greater competition through the clearing system for applicants whose grades differed from predictions. Some institutions, such as Exeter University, University College London and Imperial College London, took the opportunity offered by rules allowing them to seek to recruit students who scored better than ABB grades in their A-level results, a process called adjustment. The possibility of students "trading up" to a more prestigious institution has seen universities make more generous initial offers to students, to avoid a repeat of last year when some, such as Southampton, were left with a large number of unfilled places. Figures from Ucas also showed that 27 per cent of the 18-year-old age group in England had found university places, along with 30 per cent of the same age cohort in Northern Ireland and 23 per cent in Scotland and 24 per cent in Wales.

A-level results 2013: fewer students get top grades for second year running Guardian, 15 August 2013

Fewer A-level candidates received the highest mark of A* and A in 2013, causing the proportion of the highest grades awarded to fall slightly for the second consecutive year while the overall pass rate continues to rise. Some 26.3 per cent of A-level papers were given A or A* grades, a 0.3 percentage point fall from 2012, while the total number of A*-E grades rose by a sliver to 98.1 per cent. The dropoff in A and A* awards was mainly due to a lower-than-expected performance by female candidates, with the drop larger among female candidates with a 0.5 percentage point fall compared with a 0.1 percentage point fall among male candidates. Overall, the proportion of females awarded A or A* was higher than males – 26.7 per cent compared with 25.9 per cent. There was a rise in popularity of more difficult subjects, with strong increases in the number of candidates sitting science and maths A-levels. Biology, chemistry and physics accounted for nearly 18 per cent of all A-levels, a rise of 23,000 entries compared with the same examinations four years ago.

Students reminded university is not the only option by business leaders TES, 16 August 2013

As thousands of students across the UK weighed up their options after receiving their A-level results yesterday, they were being reminded that university was not the only option. As of midnight last night, UCAS said 401,540 applicants had been accepted into a UK university or college, a record high. There were a further 75,710 holding an offer, while 153,070 were free to seek a place in clearing. For those who did not get the grades for university, or are not sure whether they want to go, alternatives like apprenticeships are fast becoming an attractive prospect. Neil Bentley, deputy director general of the CBI, said: “We must tackle the perception that A-levels and a three-year degree alone is the only route to a good career. The demand for higher, technical skills will far outstrip the numbers going through the traditional university model alone. Recent ICM data showed that employers find apprentices 15 per cent more employable than young people with other qualifications, and rank higher (degree level) apprenticeships higher than degrees.