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UK | The Trouble With Apprenticeship – Do You Remember The Wolf Report ?

Apprenticeships face ‘identity crisis’, according to Forum of Private Business writes HR Magazine 

The Forum of Private Business yesterday warned a group of MPs that apprenticeships are facing an ‘identity crisis’, with business owners in certain sectors concerned that shorter schemes do not provide the same value as longer courses.

The Forum’s senior policy adviser Alex Jackman gave evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) select committee’s inquiry into apprenticeships in the House of Commons yesterday.

Jackman told MPs shorter apprenticeships have faced criticism from UK business owners, particularly those in traditional industries such as manufacturing and engineering, who argue they do not provide the same value as the longer schemes they run – despite evidence of their popularity among more service-orientated sectors including retail.

He said: “At a general level we have spent decades devaluing GCSEs, A-levels and degrees by making them easier to pass. It is just not acceptable to devalue apprenticeships in the same way.

Apprenticeships are facing an identity crisis over how entrepreneurs view shorter courses. Business owners in more traditional industries often doubt their value relative to the longer schemes they run, and even question whether they should be branded as apprenticeships at all, but others – in retail, for example – see many benefits.

“It is of course important that shorter apprenticeships are more than simply glorified training schemes, hitting businesses in the pocket for little in return, and we should guard against diluting courses so they fall below industry standards, but, providing these schemes are accredited, shown to address real skills needs and are well regarded, even as ‘entry level’ apprenticeships, they should rightly be valued, protected and promoted.

But we do need more awareness of the differences between intense, four-year apprenticeships and shorter schemes, greater clarity about their applicability to businesses in different industries and more centralised information about where to source information, funding and courses.”

via HR Magazine – Apprenticeships face ‘identity crisis’, according to Forum of Private Business.


The Wolf Report – Vocational Education in UK : The system needs to be simplified dramatically

All this was written a year ago and the Report was endorsed by the Goverment.

“In England, today, around two and a half million young people are aged 14 to 19. The vast majority are engaged full or part-time in education, and they are growing up in a world where long periods of study and formal credentials are the norm. It is a world in which record numbers of people enter university, and in which the aspiration to higher education is almost universal among the parents of young children. And it is one in which governments must and should acknowledge families’ and students’ aspirations, and take seriously their own political commitments to equal opportunity. No young person should be in an education or training programme which denies them the chance to progress, immediately or later in life, or fails to equip them with the skills needed for such mobility.”

Source: merinews.com

“The world of our 14-19 year olds is also one of very high youth unemployment and continuing economic change. It is a world in which employers value the skills learned in employment and the workplace, as well as those acquired in classrooms; and in which a substantial number of economically important and well-paid jobs… Many of today’s teenagers, like those of preceding generations, do not want to remain in academic programmes; they want to be in work, treated as (and earning like) adults, even though they may well return to study later. And a sub-group, because of personal circumstances, struggles to cope or engage with school or training of any sort.

So how good is the education we are providing for these young people, and for their, and our, future? Good only in parts; which is to say, not good enough.”

The system needs to be simplified dramatically, as a precondition for giving people good and accurate information, to free up resources for teaching and learning, and to encourage innovation and efficiency says Wolf Review. The government should give more funding to employer-led apprenticeships and training and take it away from vocational qualifications that offer nothing to the employability of young people, the report says.

The system is complex, expensive and counterproductive,” said Professor Alison Wolf, the author the report. “The funding and accountability systems create perverse incentives to steer students into inferior courses. We have many vocational qualifications that are great and institutions which are providing an excellent education and are heavily oversubscribed. But we also have hundreds of thousands of young people taking qualifications that have little or no value”. “Many low level vocational qualifications, obtained outside apprenticeshipdo not bring their holders any apparent income gains whatsoever.”

“Among 16 and 17 year olds about a third are in, or moving in and out of, ‘vocational’ provision which offers no clear progression opportunities.” This is the case for an estimated “350,000 young people in a given 16-19 cohort are poorly served by current arrangements. Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way.”

“The priority must be to move 14-19 vocational education away from the sclerotic, expensive, centralised and over-detailed approach that has been the hallmark of the last two decades. Such a system inevitably generates high costs, long delays and irrational decisions. The best international systems, in contrast, delegate a large amount of decision‑making and design to the local level.”

The report “proposes a fundamental simplification of the vocational education system for 14-19 year olds. It proposes major changes in its organisation and funding, its regulatory structures, and its quality assurance mechanisms. These will allow institutions to respond to local and changing labour markets; and engage employers more directly in delivery and quality assurance. They will give schools greater access to vocational professionals, and young people greater access to specialised instruction. The proposed changes will increase efficiency across the system, and reduce direct expenditures in a number of areas. It will also ensure that the courses and qualifications offered to young people have genuine labour market value and credibility.”

According to the report, something other than formal education is needed given the vanishing youth labour market, the fact that full-time education until the age of 18 is the OECD norm and that higher education is a more or less universal aspiration. “The consensus of all studies of apprenticeship is that it is generally a highly effective route into stable employment. Apprenticeships tend to be highly sought after.” Moreover, apprenticeship is “highly valuable even when, as very often happens, people move to an occupation different from the one in which they originally trained” as “young people are very likely to change not just jobs but occupations in their first years of employment”.

“The conventional wisdom has been that developed countries need to employ more and more ‘knowledge workers’, that the skill requirements of all jobs are rising fast, and that unskilled employment will effectively vanish. These ideas imply that youth unemployment is likely to be the result of the young people concerned not having high enough skills, and have driven recent governments’ policy on both skills and productivity.

The argument that there is a severe shortage of skills across the whole labour force is impossible to sustain. Youth unemployment is an OECD‑wide problem. European experience of long-standing youth unemployment, current experience with English apprenticeships, and rising credentialism at the higher ends of the occupational scale also suggest that a self-reinforcing dynamic may be at work.”

In response to a changed labour market, developed countries’ education systems delay specialisation to later and later stages. The pressure to delay specialisation is directly linked to parents’ and students’ desire to keep options open and secure the chance of progression.” “Across the developed world, a more or less entirely common curriculum until age 16 is the norm, and in recent decades specialisation has been progressively and substantially postponed.”

Large numbers of students progress directly from vocational courses to higher education…Vocational qualifications offered by English awarding bodies include awards with an international, as well as a national reputation.” But “the content of many current vocational qualifications is not actually valued by employers and the labour market. Yet these qualifications form a major part of what is offered to 16-18 year olds.”

On the other hand, “the labour market recognises qualifications that are stable and familiar, but English vocational qualifications have been and remain subject to constant change... It has involved redesigning and comprehensively re-labelling more or less every vocational qualification in the country at enormous cost”.

“What is happening here has nothing to do with respect for vocational qualifications and for a variety of skills. It involves young people who are being deceived, and placed on tracks without their full understanding or consent.”

“The English economy suffers from some important and clearly discernible skills shortages” as, for instance, “maths and science skills”.

“16-19 year old students pursuing full time courses of study should not follow a programme which is entirely ‘occupational’, or based solely on courses which directly reflect, and do not go beyond, the content of National Occupational Standards. Their programmes should also include at least one qualification of substantial size (in terms of teaching time) which offers clear potential for progression either in education or into skilled employment” says the report in its recommendations. And “programmes for the lowest attaining learners … should concentrate on the core academic skills of English and maths, and on work experience.”

Moreover, “employers who take on 16-18 year old apprentices should be eligible for payments (direct or indirect), because and when they bear some of the cost of education for an age-group with a right to free full-time participation. Such payments should be made only where 16-18 year old apprentices receive clearly identified off-the-job training and education, with broad transferable elements.”

“Yet the youth labour market has imploded, and, even with the reforms suggested above, apprenticeship cannot substitute entirely, even medium term.

“Helping young people to obtain genuine work experience – and, therefore, what (is called) ‘employability skills’ – should be one of the highest priorities for 16-18 education policy in the next few years. It is far more important than even a few years ago, because of labour market trends; and is made critical by the impact on youth unemployment of the most recent recession.” And on that matter, “being enrolled in a educational institution, and obtaining a credential is not necessarily worthwhile.”

With respect to the regulatory framework, it “should be examined and where necessary amended, in order to clarify the respective responsibilities of the regulator and the Secretary of State.”

Chosen excerpts from the report with emphasis added by Job Market Monitor.

Full Report @:


Wolf Report – Official Government Response | UK: We accept all of them and take action on all individual recommendations

“We must… put in place the reforms needed in our education system to address the long term weaknesses in practical learning. Professor Wolf’s review establishes the principles on which we can do that.”says the Government Response to the Wolf Review of Vocational Education.

Summary of the Government Response (quoted & freely adapted excerpts)

“As Professor Wolf points out, there are areas of strength in vocational education in this country, and examples of excellent vocational provision for young people… However, these examples of excellence do not add up to an excellent system, and too often are provided in spite of, rather than because of, the structures that Government has created. In short, the current system of vocational education is failing too many young people.”

Source: globalpost.com

Different causes are , according to the Government Response reading of the Wolf Report:

  • Indifferent teaching of highly specialised subjects from teachers who are not well enough versed.
  • Young people taking courses and qualifications designed to meet the needs of working adults which offer no route to further education nor entry to employment for them.
  • Perverse incentives from performance and funding systems which do not encourage qualification that will support young people to progress.
  • Students without a solid grounding in the basics being allowed to drop the study of English and maths.
  • Not enough Apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds and a lack of incentives for employers to be involved in the programme.
  • And underlying these problems, an attitude that vocational education is a second choice reinforced by easy options which are unbelievably claimed to be of “equivalence.

So, “we need to ensure that every student studies only the best vocational qualificationsappropriate for their age, which ensure they can progress to further study or into a job. We need qualifications to respond easily to changing labour market demands … We need to ensure that the approach for adult learners is different: adults need to have access to programmes that are directly relevant to their immediate or future career needs and be able to measure their skills by the flexible, employer-led qualifications in the new Qualifications and Curriculum Framework.”

“We will take action on all of Professor Wolf’s individual recommendations”. “We accept all of them, and what follows sets out how we will take them forward” says the Government Response “on three key themes” :

  1. Ensure that all young people study and achieve (an ideal target level) in English and mathematics by the age of 19. For those young people who are not immediately able to achieve these qualifications, we will identify high quality English and maths qualifications that will enable them to progress later.
  2. Reform performance and funding rules to remove the perverse incentives such that vocational qualifications that attract performance points will be the very best for young people – in terms of their content, assessment and progression.
  3. Look at the experience of other countries to simplify Apprenticeshipsremove bureaucracy and make them easier for employers to offer.

The Government Response call that “a substantial programme of reform that will transform the lives of young people. While system change on this scale cannot happen overnight, we are determined to act as quickly as possible to ensure that improvements can begin to have a positive impact for young people as soon as possible and urge all delivery partners to do the same.”

Source & details:


Mixed reaction to the endorsement of Wolf Report

  • Glenys Stacey, chief executive, Ofqual

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the Wolf report in a way that complements the government’s response.

  • Andrew Hall, chief executive, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

“We support the call for a continuance of Maths & English post-16 for learners who don’t achieve GCSE.”

  •  Christine Blower, general secretary, National Union of Teachers

“We need to move away from this unnecessary and ineffective way of measuring a school’s progress, not add to it.” (league tables)

  • Chris Keates, general secretary, NASUWT

“It comes as no surprise that the coalition government has accepted, in its entirety, this package. The worrying development is that the Labour opposition has been seduced by these arguments.”

  • Toni Fazaeli, chief executive, Institute for Learning

“As the professional body for teachers and trainers, IfL is pleased to see in the announcements new opportunities for professional teachers and trainers in further education and skills…”

Read More @: Mixed reaction to Gove’s endorsement of Wolf report

CBI Comments on Government’s response to Wolf Review

“We welcome the announcement that young people who didn’t get A*-C English and Maths GCSEs will now be supported to achieve this benchmark by 19.

“These subjects are essential for work, but the latest CBI / EDI survey shows that 35% of employers are unhappy with school leavers’ numeracy and 42% with their use of English.

“Maths is particularly important so that the UK can compete and grow in a range of key industries, but currently only 15% of students study this beyond GCSE, well behind competitor nations such as France and Germany.

“All young people should do work experience and we’re concerned that the Government removing the statutory duty on schools could lead to some students missing out on this vital way of developing employability skills.”

Susan Anderson, CBI Director for Education and Skills 

OCR on the Government’s response to the Wolf Report

“We are delighted with the Government’s response to the Wolf Report which confirms that “vocational education is immensely valuable”. Overall, the approach is balanced and we are very pleased that the response confirms there is no need for a “wholesale development of new, untried and un-trusted qualifications”.” (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations)


19 thoughts on “UK | The Trouble With Apprenticeship – Do You Remember The Wolf Report ?


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