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Volume 797: debated on Monday 13 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people are currently registered as undertaking (1) Intermediate, (2) Advanced, (3) Higher, and (4) Degree apprenticeships.

My Lords, in the first half of 2018-19, there have been 214,000 apprenticeship starts: 38% were at intermediate level, 44% were at advanced level, and 18% were at higher level. Included in the latter were 14,000 level 6-plus and degree apprenticeships, representing 7% of apprenticeship starts. Our apprenticeship reforms are raising the quality of training and assessment at all levels. They are providing the skills that employers need and creating life-changing opportunities for apprentices.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. We should all congratulate the people participating in these apprenticeships, but there are still not enough of them. Today, two dozen significant bodies have written to the DfE asking for more time to spend the money generated by the levy. Only 9% of the money raised last year was actually spent on workplace programmes, and if that money is not spent it goes to the Treasury. I am sure that everyone, with the possible exception of the Treasury, wants the money that is set aside for training apprentices to be spent on training them. Will Her Majesty’s Government respond positively to the spirit in which these organisations have laid out their request to the DfE? Will the DfE provide them with the flexibility so that they can provide the training for future workers?

As the noble Lord is aware, we have listened consistently to feedback from employers since the scheme began two years ago, which is why we extended the time employers could use their levy from 18 to 24 months. We have also increased the amount of money they can pass down their supply chain. We continue to engage regularly with all employer groups.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his personal support of university technical colleges. Some 30% of students from these 48 colleges become apprentices each year. The one at Sellafield had 80% apprentices last year, which compares with an average of only 6% from ordinary comprehensives in England. All technical education is being squeezed out of pre-16 education, because it is being asked to follow EBacc. EBacc should be scrapped if you want more apprenticeships.

I disagree with my noble friend on EBacc, but applaud all the work he has done on UTCs and their role in the apprenticeship programme.

Can the Minister say how many children in care and care leavers get on to and complete apprenticeships? He may prefer to write to me. Does he agree that it is a priority to ensure that such young people access apprenticeships and are supported to sustain them?

I will write to the noble Earl with the exact figures, but there is good news; I have come reasonably prepared for this question. The percentage of BAME apprentices—black, Asian and minority ethnic —went up from 9.9% in 2011-12 to 11% last year. Importantly, the number of apprentices with learning disabilities has gone up from 7.7% to 11.9%.

My Lords, one of the causes of the Government falling so far short of their laudable target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by next year is that not enough young people are directed towards apprenticeships in schools. A recent survey showed that only 9% of current apprentices found out about theirs through their teacher, and just 6% through a professional careers adviser. That is totally unacceptable. When will the Government start enforcing the requirement introduced last year for all schools to have a designated careers leader and—under the Baker clause of the Technical and Further Education Act—for head teachers to allow outside speakers to come in and inform young people of the rewarding alternatives to the academic route after they leave school?

The noble Lord is right that schools are still not engaging enough to encourage apprenticeships. I accept that as fair criticism, but we are improving. We have just had the Youth Voice Census back for 2019, which shows that the percentage of children learning about apprenticeships has gone up. For example, specifically for engagement at FE level, “meaningful encounters” with sixth-form colleges have gone up from 52% to 60% and with FE colleges from 52% to 58%, and independent training provider engagement has risen from 29% to 34%. The work is ongoing.

Is the Minister aware—and, if not, I and perhaps other noble Lords are ready to give examples—of the bureaucratic burdens and delays being experienced? For universities, the added obligation to report to and share data with the Education and Skills Funding Agency, as well as the three usual reports, is exacerbated by an identical reporting requirement for levels 2 and 7, NVQ and postgraduate. The burden seems disproportionate. For large levy-payers, there are unexplained delays in approving new apprenticeship standards. Will the Minister urgently address these to improve take-up?

On the right reverend Prelate’s first point about universities, I encourage him to write to me and I will pass that to the Universities Minister. We have put a tremendous impetus behind the universities sector to engage particularly with areas of lower attainment. It now spends £800 million a year trying to reach areas where university access has previously been low. We now have 440 standards approved and another 50 in the pipeline.

What steps are being taken to incentivise schools to encourage young people into apprenticeships? The league tables currently encourage GCSE and A-level results. Could schools not be given formal recognition for their young people who go into apprenticeships?

I refer the noble Baroness partly to my earlier answer where I spoke about the surveys that we are carrying out with schools. For example, the Compass data encourage seven meaningful encounters with employers. The apprenticeship programme is very much part of that.

My Lords, we should focus on the quality as well as the quantity of apprenticeships. With this in mind, will my noble friend join me in congratulating the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council is building a new training centre at Culham that will provide up to 150 high-quality apprenticeships in engineering, science and technology?

I agree. It is interesting to note that, for example, a level 2 apprenticeship can boost earnings by 11% and a level 3 apprenticeship by 16%, so these are career-changing opportunities.