Skip to main content

Apprenticeships: Disabled Students

Volume 788: debated on Monday 15 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether only students with education, health and care plans are regarded as having the need for support when undertaking an apprenticeship; and if so, why.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw the House’s attention to my declared interests.

My Lords, ensuring that apprenticeships are open to people from a wide range of backgrounds is a priority for this Government. We provide specific financial support and flexibility for apprenticeships with education, health and care plans. We also provide support to care leavers, 16 to 18 year-olds and those in disadvantaged areas. In addition, training providers can access additional learning support for a wider group of learners with learning difficulties and disabilities.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that the British Dyslexia Association is discovering that only those who have the plans are having training provided for them and that all the training units that are going through are being concentrated on this group? The plan itself is designed for about 3% of the population who are taking this, and 12% have learning disabilities of some description. That means that 9% of those taking this are not getting support. Is this sensible?

My Lords, there is a range of broader supports available to apprentices with learning difficulties who are not necessarily on an education, health and care plan. There are four particular areas that are broader: they are not just for apprentices but are appropriate for apprentices. First, there is a legal duty on employers and providers to take account of any reasonable adjustments, such as extra time needed in exams. There is additional learning support, initially of £150 a month, but this can be increased through the earnings adjustment statement, up to £19,000 a year, assessed by the training provider and approved by the ESFA. There is a programme called Access to Work which involves, in particular, a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions given to the individual with a disability to give to his or her employer, and this can provide financial support of up to £42,000 a year to help with holding down a job.

My Lords, apprenticeships are in many ways perfect for people with learning disabilities, because they provide a chance for someone to show what they can do with a supportive employer. Indeed, Mencap has recently taken on seven such apprentices. However, barriers persist, including the English and maths part of the qualification. Does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that the appropriate flexibilities apply here, too, as so many people will not be able to meet those requirements?

My Lords, we are taking a flexible approach to these areas and we have recently announced, for those with learning disabilities and difficulties, that there will be additional time allowed for specific subjects including maths and English. We will also take into account the lower level of attainment needed, as long as it does not impinge upon that particular apprenticeship.

My Lords, care leavers are among the most vulnerable groups of young people in the country, with 40% not in education, employment or training by early adulthood. Part of the reason, notwithstanding what the Minister said about support for care leavers, is the inadequacy of proper support to enable them to take up training opportunities. Care leavers can get a bursary if they attend university—but not if they undertake an apprenticeship. Will the Minister acknowledge the need for an apprenticeships bursary to provide additional support for care leavers and at the same time give a government commitment to parity between higher education on the one hand and further education and apprenticeships on the other?

My Lords, through the SEND reforms we have introduced since 2014 we have made available more than £220 million to help. This includes a package of £20 million for councils, £9 million to establish local supported internship forums and £4.5 million for parent carer forums. In the Children and Families Act 2014 we included the FE sector in a single SEND system. We put four duties on to the sector: to have regard to the SEND code of practice; to use best endeavours to meet special educational needs; to co-operate with the local authority; and to admit a young person if the college is named by the local authority.

My Lords, can my noble friend say how the Government are monitoring and evaluating the quality of apprenticeship schemes? How are women and ethnic minorities being encouraged into the higher-paid and better-trained apprenticeship schemes?

My Lords, at the heart of the reforms that we have introduced over the past year has been listening to the needs of employers: they have a strong voice in the way in which the apprenticeship courses are created. We now have a system of standards that has a much higher level of rigour than existed beforehand. We have end-point assessments, which mean that employers are able to see that the quality of individual apprenticeships is to a standard that meets their needs. This is assisted by the new institute that we have created, the Institute for Apprenticeships, which has a direct mandate to listen to employers. In relation to disadvantaged groups in society, one of the most impressive statistics is that there are 530,000 more disabled people in work today than in 2014.

My Lords, do the Government provide any apprenticeships for Ministers before they are appointed to the Lords?

My Lords, unfortunately not—and I speak from experience. More broadly, the Government have mandated that 2.3% of all employees who go into government should come from apprenticeships, and are leading the charge in the programme. I was not one of them, unfortunately.

My Lords, there seems to be some inconsistency between the theory of the Minister’s replies and the practice that we are hearing about from those who work with these people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, said, many who find English and maths difficult have the practical skills that we really need in apprenticeships, and the country has an acute skills shortage. Will the Minister say what is being done by the Government to address the inconsistencies in support for these people across the country?

My Lords, we are very conscious that many able people struggle with maths and English. I come from a family of seven children; only two of us managed maths O-level, so I am very sympathetic on that. But we have made available additional skills training. There are individual courses where additional funding of up to £471 a course is available. As I mentioned earlier, there is the facility to have extra time in exams. Through some of the areas of support that I referred to in response to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, there is additional funding for things such as equipment needed for British Sign Language, for example, or more technical equipment for other disabled apprentices.