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English and maths have been a key part of the apprenticeship programme for many years and are still one of the key employability skills that are developed within an apprenticeship framework. Good literacy and numeracy skills have been identified by employers as a key part of their employability.
Studies have shown that improved skills in English and maths can really improve productivity and contribute to the raising of a country's GDP. Apprenticeships, along with other kinds of work based training programmes, must continue to have these basic skills at the core of the programme.
Although we agree that employers should drive the content of frameworks and standards, we believe that there should be a requirement to demand a minimum level of English and maths. This is currently pitched at a minimum of Level 1 for an Intermediate Apprenticeship and a Level 2 for all other apprenticeships, and we believe this is the right level as a minimum.
However employers, when they are developing new standards, should continue to have the option to set the level higher if required. Functional Skills are currently delivering this improved English and maths skills and they must be retained as a valid alternative to GCSE. Many employers prefer the functional skills route to GCSE. The Education and Training Foundation have started their review of Functional Skills and this will be an important part of developing the way forward to improve delivery.
All apprentices should be encouraged to continue their studies beyond level 1 and beyond level 2 if the employer and learner wish to do so. This learning should qualify as eligible for funding within a programme even if it is not a mandatory requirement. Employers should also be encouraged to allow their apprentices to continue studying and gain skills in English and maths. The government should make it clear to the employers that this can be funded.
Under the Trailblazer rules, learners are required to take the level 2 English and maths tests before they are able to take the apprenticeship end-test. This is an unnecessary rule which will result in many demotivated learners who will not have received the required support to get through level 2 in both subjects. Learners should be encouraged but not required to take the level 2 and the tests.
The key to high quality training in English and maths is a 'stepping stone' approach, where a learner progressively builds up their basic skills incrementally. Too big a jump between the level 1 and level 2 will damage the learner's confidence and demotivate them from improving their literacy and numeracy any further. If learners are required to take the tests, it should at least be before the end of the apprenticeship programme, not before the end-test starts. This would give them additional time for the learning required.
The early government proposals were that English and maths should be funded and contracted as separate elements of the programme. This is true for the current frameworks and the Trailblazer delivery model. This separate funding should continue once the levy funding system is in place. The alternative system, i.e. setting a total price for the whole programme, may result in the loss of focus on English and maths. Many employers believe that they should not pay for apprentices to get a minimum level of literacy and numeracy, so separate funding and independent, specialist contracting would maintain the focus and quality on these key skills.
Providers would be able to draw down funds for English and maths once they have been given the voucher by the employer against the agreed eligibility criteria. Employers could choose to deliver their English and maths through their main apprenticeship provider or agree to work with a registered specialist provider of English and maths.
The current funding rate of £471 per subject is significantly less than the stand-alone rate for the same programme. This should be reviewed if we wish to improve the standard of teaching in these subjects. All of this should apply to SMEs as well as those paying the levy.
Delivering English and maths as part of the new standards will require all providers to improve their delivery models. AELP advocates that a support programme should be developed for providers and employers to ensure effective delivery of English and maths within the new apprenticeship programmes after the introduction of the levy. It is critical that employers in particular are made fully aware of the importance of having a strong English and maths element to their apprenticeship training and recognise the enormous benefits of investing in basic skills training during and beyond an apprenticeship.
A full review of the delivery of English and maths in apprenticeships should be instituted post 2017 when the levy is in place. This review must take into account the link with the funding of English and maths outside of apprenticeships. English and maths remain a fundamental part of the apprenticeship programme and we need to maintain the focus on funding and delivery as the levy reforms are implemented.
Stewart Segal is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers
Over the past decade Edge has championed the importance and benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational education and training, seeking a closer alignment between education and the skill needs of the UK economy.
Edge encourages innovation in education by supporting the creation of new institutions that promote profound employer engagement and address areas of skills shortages for the UK economy. In addition Edge champions projects that will support the effective dissemination of best practice in vocational education and training and have the ability to support further development or replication. All the projects in the series have the potential to become beacons of excellence and exemplars of what can be achieved.
Name of project: Learning by DoingName of FE College: Bridgend College
Location: Bridgend, South Wales
What are you doing?The development of collaborative learning partnerships was formed with local professional services to facilitate the practical delivery of the BTEC Applied Science (Forensic Science) course, to develop learning through real life situations. The innovative practical delivery of this course actively engages with employers to provide unique training partnership opportunities for both college learners and industrial employees. The development of this innovative culture of learning better equips young people with the skills required for life and work, and broadens learners' horizons to the variety of opportunities in the world of science.Why is it different/innovative?
We offer our learners real life problems and challenge them to work alongside industry experts through initiatives such as the collaborative arrangement with the Hydra Suite at the local Police Headquarters. Our learners have unique access to the state of the art Scientific Support Unit (SSU) at the South Wales Police Headquarters, including fingerprint analysis and scene of crime officers. Students work as part of syndicate teams and have the opportunity to undertake role-play with a difference; they investigate real crimes and need to arrive at real solutions within given time constraints. Learners also participate in Police Press Conferences, acting as 'real' journalists eliciting information from a panel of experienced officers who are training to be senior investigative officers.
Another practical learning opportunity is via Police Officer training events; this involves the running of practical exercises set in high profile community locations, including scenarios dealing with simple issues such as lost property, to complex scenarios involving the possible abduction of a child. Learners provide critical feedback and suggest process improvements that support the police with their public interface.
They also work with South Wales Collision Investigation Unit. Through this unique opportunity, learners participate in simulated collision activities, utilising real life cases, which provides them with an excellent opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical real life situation.In addition, South Wales Police and the Crown Prosecution Service provide our learners with a unique and very special opportunity to study alongside police experts when they undertake their courtroom skills courses. The learners are involved in cross-examination of various experts, for example, ballistic and glass experts. They also sit as magistrates to decide the verdict.
What are the qualifications and skills learners acquire?
Learners have the opportunity to develop their personal skills via active participation in the witness/suspect interview programme run at the local Police Headquarters. They assist in the training of established CID officers who are undertaking interviewing training. Learners play the roles of both suspects and witnesses that are interviewed by officers. The learners contribute to feedback sessions; both the police and the learners have commented on the benefits to all involved.
Students attend Crime Scene days organised by South Wales Police and a local HEI in order to experience first-hand the work of Crime Scene investigators. Activities include simulated crime scene investigations and exposure to the processes used by analysts within an investigation. This experience has developed and enhanced main and wider key skills especially verbal and written communication skills. It has also improved self -confidence and confirmed student commitment to a career in science.
Who are your main partners and stakeholders?
Excellent links and formal partnership arrangements have been established with several police departments, in particular the Scientific Support Unit, Police training unit/Hydra Suite, the Crown Prosecution Service, local HEI, Forensic Fire Investigation Unit and RTA collision experts.
What are your ambitions for development?
The introduction of a Level Two BTEC programme to widen accessibility to this innovative culture of learning.
To continue to foster links with employers to further enhance the practical delivery of the course and increase the workplace and employment opportunities for our learners.
To exploit these close employer-working relationships ensuring they play an active role in curriculum planning, thus guaranteeing that course design is responsive to the dynamic world of employment.
Develop student led Forensic science themed bespoke workshop sessions within the primary sector, to demonstrate development of learners' transferable skills.
To increase the participation of STEM activities run by the college by extending practical learning experiences such as the Crime Week initiative in to the secondary education sector.
To participate in World Skills competitions.
Can you tell us about any plans you have for dissemination of the model and how you are sharing best practice?
The project has been used as an exemplar of good practice throughout the College; we have disseminated outstanding practice at staff development events. Dissemination to science staff within further and higher education establishments via Colegau Cymru events. The team are willing and eager to share good practice with other Colleges throughout England, Scotland and Wales; including the recent collaboration with Gower College, Swansea, to ensure best practice is shared and embraced.
Employer engagement - how does this tie in to local labour market?
The project engages with the major employers in the locality.
What are the further learning and career path opportunities?
The partnership development with employers and local Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) enables our College learners to progress seamlessly into the world of work or Higher Education. Examples of potential HE progression routes include Forensic Science, Biochemistry, Law, Psychology and Criminology degrees. Examples of industrial progression routes include police force, probation service, CSI and laboratory work.
What are the destinations of students following the course?
Examples of the various destinations that our learners have undertaken include Cardiff University to study a Criminology degree, Swansea University for a Law degree, University of South Wales for a Forensic Science degree, Wolverhampton University for a Forensic Science degree and Nottingham University for a Forensic Science degree. Employment gained with South Wales Police Victim Support Unit, private laboratories and the Probation Service.
What have been the greatest challenges of the project?
Establishing and maintaining the professional and industrial links to develop this real life learning, and developing further links to keep the ideas and experiences fresh and therefore truly innovative.
What do you see as the biggest achievements around the project?
Making learning truly practical and vocationally real, working with industry experts, taking the classroom to industry!
The development of practical facilities to foster this philosophy of "real-life" learning, an example of this is the transformation of one of the classrooms in to a mock courtroom, providing learners with the opportunity to both study and re-enact the complexities of trials and criminal law. This facility has augmented the learning experience of our learners and has been extremely beneficial in fostering relationships with the local police headquarters, as they utilise this facility on numerous occasions to both train staff and support witnesses.
This culture of learning contextualises the more academic skills of maths and science to develop learners' deeper synoptic understanding of these subjects, enabling them to transfer these skills into everyday life.
In his recent address to the thinktank, CentreForum, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw raised a number of issues aimed across the full range of the education spectrum. The FE sector, as so often happens, came in for some quite heavy criticisms, particularly with regard to careers guidance:"Preparation for employment remains poor and careers guidance in both schools and colleges is uniformly weak."Uniformly weak? I think that's perhaps going a little too far – as I'll show in a moment – yet few would deny that there is a problem, especially when, as Sir Michael went on to say:"Six out of 10 firms say the skills gap is getting worse. Leading industrialists like Sir James Dyson complain that they cannot find the skilled workers their businesses need to grow."What is it that makes for weak careers guidance? I was recently speaking to a friend who has been heavily involved in the careers business for a good number of years, and he commented that the major problem with CEIAG is that it's all back to front. There's lots about "what interests you" and "what would you like to do" and "what are you good at", but very little hard facts on what careers and occupations are actually out there, and what kinds of similar alternatives exist if demand for these occupations falls. If this information is given at all, it tends to come in at the end of the process rather than from the beginning.What this means is that a lot of young people tend to have aspirations that bear almost no connection to the opportunities that are actually out there. Or they'll tend to pick the "usual suspects" – teacher, doctor, engineer etc. This was borne out by our recent work alongside City Guilds (http://www.economicmodelling.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/CG_Great-Expectations_Online-FINAL.pdf), which looked into the careers aspirations of people aged 14-19, and found that there were some big mismatches between aspirations and reality. Could this situation be changed with some solid information and facts about demand for careers given at the start of the process, rather than as an add-on at the end?I imagine that the British astronaut, Tim Peake, has sparked a resurgence in careers advisors being told, "I want to be an astronaut". How does a careers advisor deal with that? One possibility is to play up the chances without any dose of realism: "Jonny, that's great that you want to be an astronaut. Here's what qualifications you need. Go for it. See you in space." A second possibility is to play down the chances, again without any does of realism: "Jonny, that's just not going to happen. You like travelling though? Great, have you ever thought about becoming a courier?" Okay, these are both exaggerations, but hopefully you get the picture.How about a third possibility, one where Jonny's interests, hopes and skills are channeled into something more realistic, on the basis of what the job market is likely to look like in a few years? So when Jonny comes to see the careers officer and announces his hopes of working on the International Space Station, rather than playing up to this aspiration, or doing it down, the careers adviser takes the time to find out what Jonny's interests and skills are, and then matches it to actual labour market demand. In other words, careers guidance should be all about matching aspirations with reality, and where those aspirations do not tally, walking the young person through a number of similar careers which utilise their skillset, but where there are likely to be positions when they qualify. This gives the child something tangible to work towards and in turn fuels their aspirations. And of course if it were uniformly applied, it would start to fill in all those skills gaps that so obviously need filling.I mentioned at the start that Sir Michael's characterisation of careers guidance as being "uniformly weak" was not exactly fair. There are examples of colleges that are doing great things, using the model I have set out above – facts shaping aspirations – with Ofsted itself confirming this.For instance, the careers service at Chichester College, Positive About Futures, was singled out for praise by Ofsted in their Outstanding grading of the College back in 2014:"Managers and staff provide extremely useful and pertinent information, advice and guidance to ensure learners make informed study and career choices. The 'Positive about Futures' team is particularly effective in providing detailed information on employability and labour market trends for managers and teachers to use to inform curriculum planning. Learners make very good use of an on-line resource that provides clear information about jobs and employment opportunities across the region."The careers service at Chesterfield College has likewise been praised, both by Ofsted, who noted, "particularly good information, advice and guidance ensure learners are on the appropriate programmes", and in a Matrix Assessment:"Of particular note is the creation of personalised web pages (P-URL) for all prospective students, into which individually tailored information including localised LMI has been incorporated ... This is an excellent way of presenting tailored information to prospective students, and one which was seen during the assessment to impress service users and to encourage them to explore the information further."Other examples could be cited, but what connects both the Chichester and Chesterfield approaches is that of getting solid facts and information to students and prospective students early on. By doing so, they are giving young people a far better chance of training for a career that actually exists, a far better chance of motivating young people, and a far better chance of fixing the skills gap. It can be done. It just needs a change in thinking, and a readiness to get the facts on the ground in front of young people early on in the careers process. Applied throughout the sector, we could one day hear a major public figure describing careers guidance in colleges as uniformly strong.Andy Durman is the Managing Director of Economic Modelling Specialists International UK (EMSI UK), the labour market information firm
Now that 2016 is well and truly underway what's this year's agenda? The CSR was not as bad a story as some had feared and the FE sector has a degree of certainty over the next five years vis-à-vis funding. It's not unalloyed joy but nor is it the woe and misery that had been feared. As a minimum, certainty over likely revenue per student should enable better planning and prioritising. The additional potential funding available via loans for 19 plus learning at level 3 and above, and via the apprenticeship levy on larger companies, could mean real revenue growth. But how to manage such growth and who will benefit from it most remain largely unanswered questions.Skills Minister Nick Boles has laid down the gauntlet to colleges over apprenticeship funding. 'Why are you letting private training providers eat your lunch?' he demanded to know at November's AoC conference. The question is well put. With real levels of apprenticeship funding that colleges actually deliver being perhaps as low as 15% of the total current spend, it would appear there is a major gap in colleges' rhetoric on apprenticeship and how well they are geared to grow apprenticeship delivery themselves.Of course there is time to adjust. The new levy won't come into force until 2017 but 2017 is only next year and adopting a genuinely entrepreneurial focus for the organisation may well prove difficult for many colleges. Then there is the skills challenge itself. The country desperately needs more technical and associate technical skills in digital, creative and cultural, engineering, bio science and related industries and many other sectors. The government wants to make sure that through the local area review process this challenge is met. It has so far agreed to five new national colleges and it wants to see new Institutes of Technology spring up in most Local Enterprise Partnership areas. Sensibly it is not being prescriptive about what these new Institutes should look like, preferring to let them emerge from the area review and other processes and see what works.However the government can offer some practical help in two areas. First it can send out a clear steer around the role of governance. Most FE Colleges are a form of coalition that, post incorporation over 20 years ago, created representation around the Board table of individuals from the community, staff, students, education professionals and business. Often this has led to stasis in decision making and overt protection of a wide range of sacred cows. As a former colleague of mine (who shall remain nameless) remarked, 'As soon as everyone declared they personally had no sacred cows at our strategy day, within minutes of discussion beginning, a herd of them could be seen charging across the table.'If the government wants FE Colleges to become more adaptive and flexible social enterprises, able to work more closely with business, then they need governance processes and Board members who understand complexity and change and understand the minds of business as a first order priority. That would suggest that boards need to shrink in terms of numbers, stop trying to 'represent' sectional interests and become focused on driving business decisions that can ensure skills needs are met and businesses fully engaged. Too many boards are not structured in this way. They can typically have any number of members, endless sub committees and processes, that drive away talented busy people who would otherwise serve but do not have the time to commit to endless meetings – particularly if they are senior practitioners in the private sector used to making decisions. Would paying Board members make sense in this regard? Could the government offer guidance on the ideal board size and representation? Will the local area review process enable LEP chairs to insist on governance changes in merged bodies?The other area where government can help is removing the incentive for schools to keep anyone with a pulse they believe could do A levels, especially when many young people post 16 would be better following a more vocational pathway. Too many 16 and 17 year olds start an A level course and then drop out, meaning colleges, who usually will pick them up, get financially penalised in the second year of the new two year level 3 vocational course these young people begin. How can this financial incentive for schools to keep students for A level study come-what-may be turned into a financial penalty if they persuade young people to start courses they are disinclined to finish? We need more able students following vocational pathways, including apprenticeship, not less.
On the whole then 2016 should be a year of fewer policy surprises. The local area reviews will trundle on and we should begin to see an FE sector with fewer independent institutions, gearing up for apprenticeship growth and seriously addressing the UK's productivity challenge and skills needs. I stress should. Whether we will only time will tell.
Nick Isles (https://twitter.com/dpmkcollege) is chief executive of advice consultancy Corporate Agenda
Nigel Rayner explores some of the key issues that a recent survey has indicated will be dominating the thoughts of college principals this year.As the dust settled on the government's Autumn spending review, a clearer picture began to emerge of what 2016 and beyond might look like for the further education sector.For some institutions the Chancellor's announcements brought clarity, but for others, the ongoing area reviews continue to give rise to uncertainty around the future shape of their FE and skills provision.With the post-16 reforms as a backdrop, what is it that college principals are thinking about as the new year gets underway?Challenge or opportunity?Research (http://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Overseeing-financial-sustainability-in-the-further-education-sector.pdf) published over the summer by the National Audit Office put the health of the FE sector in the spotlight and suggested that a growing number of institutions were experiencing financial strain.In the wake of this, it was interesting to see the results of a survey of college principals undertaken more recently for Capita. In it, 80% of respondents said that funding cuts and financial stability were the biggest challenges their institutions currently faced.Perhaps not surprisingly, 63% indicated that it was the area reviews that concerned them the most – principals who responded to the survey spoke of their concern around the future shape of the sector and that of their own colleges.However, while uncertainty may remain around the FE landscape, the survey also suggests that some college leaders are seeing positive developments. When questioned, 56% of principals said that the area reviews offered the greatest opportunity for their colleges.Our survey results indicate that in many institutions, thoughts are already turning to how opportunities relating to the changing FE sector might be harnessed and what adjustments need to be made to their offering in order to help them meet local requirements and respond effectively to the shifting FE tide.Looking at apprenticeshipsWith changes to apprenticeship funding being introduced from March 2017, many principals are keen for their colleges to become much more effective at winning a share of the apprenticeships market.The survey garnered the different views of principals relating to apprenticeships and 44% of those who responded already saw them as a key opportunity for the growth of their institutions.Some of the college leaders questioned spoke of the successful apprenticeship programmes they already had in place. These included institutions that had acquired private apprenticeship providers. Others were collaborating on commercial opportunities or working well with Local Enterprise Partnerships too. Principals spoke of how crucial it was to get all the components right on apprenticeships – such as branding, the use of social media in marketing their offering and quality of delivery for students.A small group of senior leaders said they recognised the need for an even closer relationship with companies taking on aspects of their training and recruitment by providing them with a flow of well trained staff.
The growth of HE in FEDelivering effective higher education provision was another theme explored by the survey and 30% of respondents saw this as a key growth area for the sector.Building good partner links with local Higher Education Institutions as well as industry was viewed as a priority. Those institutions with experience in offering higher qualifications and skills to their students had forged strong partnerships with HE providers and industry and recognised the value of delivering local provision in niche areas. Some principals also highlighted the advantages of forging similar links internationally.Firm foundations for the futureThe requirement for knowledge and insight was another common theme for the principals questioned in the survey.When asked what help was needed to ensure they could realise the opportunities available in a post-reform FE sector, high on the wish list for principals was quality data on local labour markets – 56% of respondents said this would be of value.Half of the senior leaders also highlighted mutualised systems as key to future success and 30% said highly skilled and professional support would be needed to help implement the outcomes of area reviews.In these changing times, the results of the survey uncover some of the issues that are currently concerning many college leaders. While it seems a mixed view exists among principals on whether the reforms offer their institutions more of a challenge or an opportunity, few would dispute that the desired result is that students benefit from the highest standards of provision, delivered by a sector that has built firm foundations for future success.Nigel Rayner is director of Capita further and higher education. Follow Nigel on Twitter at @Nigel_Rayner (https://twitter.com/nigel_rayner)