Apprenticeships are receiving a great deal of attention at the moment – and rightfully so. The government have set a target of placing three million people into apprenticeships within the next five years, which is good news. However, much of the time, apprenticeships are painted as being an alternative to university, and I firmly believe that this is not the case. In some cases, young people see the choice between an apprenticeship and a straight university education as a very simple one, and one rather than the other leads them down an obvious path to their end career goal. However, it's not a case of 'one size fits all', and for the majority of young people, it can be difficult to decide on one set career path at such a young age.
For many, an apprenticeship isn't instead of university, it's very much giving people, who already have the choice, an alternative. This could be an alternative to a gap year or a work experience year before they actually join university, and gives them a year's worth of industry experience which might shape the course that they end up studying at university.For those who desperately want to go to university, but have not done so well in their A-levels and don't believe they can, an apprenticeship can be a second chance and they can achieve the equivalent of A-levels by doing a level 3 or 4 apprenticeship, which gives them qualifications and industry experience which will strengthen their university application. Not enough people realise that an apprenticeship can be great stepping stone for to university, thanks to the work experience gained.Some young people I come across just want to leave school prior to their A-level examinations and they've never even considered university, or don't want to go. In the case of a young person in this position, an apprenticeship can still be a fantastic stepping-stone because it can provide an alternative academic route which can get them to the point where they are educated to degree-level. At MiddletonMurray, we are forming an offer for 16 year olds where we ask them to move on from their experiences at school. We then take them on a journey where they start with us at the age of 16 doing a Level 2 Apprenticeship.We're in a position to offer to hold their hand all the way through the next 5 years, where they will either continue with the same employer or gather experience with a number of different employers whilst they go through the various stages of apprenticeship, level 2, (GCSE) then level 3 (A-level) then 4, 5, 6 which takes you up to a degree-level education. Then, by the age of 21 where they will meet their counterparts who are coming out of university with 5 years' worth of experience, which is invaluable.University is for those who are going to be able to cope with independent study, whereas with an apprenticeship, there's a more hands-on approach from those delivering the training. With an apprenticeship, one has to achieve progress in quite a short timeframe, especially at Level 2, which takes one year. This represents a year in which a young person has to balance further education with the demands of working.Ultimately, the 'right' path depends on the sort of person you are and whether you are desperate to get into the world of work. However, with the variety of apprenticeships now on offer, you can do that without having to forgo the opportunity to continue your education. In the past, we were dealing with a situation where if you wanted to enter the world of work, you might regret later on that you didn't get a degree, didn't go to university. Now, there are more options and therefore less of a need to miss these opportunities.Some young people just straight-forwardly want to go to university, and some just want to start working, and some want a combination of the two, so why do we have to say that an apprenticeship, a university education or a combination of the two is the 'best' way forward? Instead, we should embrace the fact that now, there are so many different alternatives. It's not a 'one size fits all approach', and the fact that this has now been recognized can only be an incredibly positive thing.Angela Middleton is the founder of MiddletonMurray, a recruitment and training provider
The Spending Review this week will set the framework for policy and debate for the next five years. We know it will include further cuts in public funding and that, with schools, health, defence and overseas aid protected, this means big cuts for learning, skills and employment. With that in mind, here are five things to look out for in the Chancellor's speech and its aftermath
1. Cutting the cost of GovernmentPart of the Government's narrative will likely be cutting the costs of Government so that efficiency savings can be invested in front line services. For learning, skills and employment this is likely to mean significant reductions in the number of civil servants employed in BIS and DWP. This may be coupled with a new 'bonfire of the quangos'.We've already had the merger of the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) announced in the HE White Paper. Could the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency (who already share a Chief Executive) be merged to reflect the reduced amount of funding for adult learning and its increasing focus on young people? Look out for other bodies either abolished, merged, or spun out into the sector too. In our Spending Review submission (http://www.niace.org.uk/our-thinking/news/niace-and-inclusion-call-spending-review-reforms), NIACE called for such a rationalisation.2. Expecting the beneficiary to payOver the last 20 years, there has been a big switch to expecting university students to contribute the bulk of the costs of their education, through a switch from grants to loans. The principle is that those who benefit directly should contribute to the costs. We have seen the start of a similar switch in Further Education too, with the introduction of Advanced Learning Loans for people aged 24 and over learning at Level 3 (A Level equivalent) and above. The Spending Review is likely to herald a major expansion of this system, to lower age groups and lower levels of learning.In this context, NIACE will make two arguments. The first is that the whole economy and society benefit from Further Education, so this is a clear case for ongoing public investment. The Chancellor is very focused on the productivity gap. Skills are a key way to close this. The second is that the loans system needs reform to work: we've argued that modular learning should be eligible for loans and information on the link between learning and earning needs to be much more widely available to encourage people to invest in their own learning. We will shortly be starting a project to boost take-up of loans in retail and social care in London.3. DevolutionExpect the Northern Powerhouse, and announcement of other devolution deals, to feature prominently. For learning and skills, this is likely to mean cities and local areas having commissioning responsibility for the adult skills budget outside Apprenticeships (a diminishing pot of course). And within this a greater focus on outcomes (what people achieve as a result of their learning) rather than qualifications. At the same time, local areas will be expected to boost demand for Apprenticeships and Advanced Learning Loans. For employment services, there is likely to be a greater role for co-commissioning, particularly for the hardest to help groups who need the most support from a range of services (see below).At NIACE, we have long argued for this shift. Our Citizens' Curriculum pilots (http://www.niace.org.uk/our-resources/life-and-society/citizens%E2%80%99-curriculum-case-studies), based on a co-designed programme of study approach for the core capabilities needed for life and work in 21st century Britain, showed not only increased participation in learning and progression to further learning, but also reductions in calls on other public services as a result. And before the General Election we called for a greater role for local areas (http://www.niace.org.uk/our-work/improving-system/localism/devolution-england-skills-and-employment-priorities) in commissioning and overseeing employment services.4. Integrating services to focus on outcomesOne of the Government's headline employment commitments is to halve the disability employment gap. Many of Britain's 2.5 million Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have not worked for many years, lack functional literacy and numeracy skills, and require support from a range of public services. Too often these services can work in their own silos rather than together based on what people need.So the Spending Review is likely to extend the Troubled Families approach, which provides caseworker support to integrate services for families with a number of disadvantages. This links to the argument for devolution: that people need a range of support services built around them, and that this is most likely (though not certain) to happen if these services are locally run.5. The Spending Review is just the start
There will be a temptation to see the Chancellor's statement on 25th November as the end of the process. In fact in many ways it will be just the start. It will set out the spending totals for each Government Department and some headline policies and directions of travel. Officials will then go into overdrive working out the detail and split of remaining funding between priorities (in many ways each Department will go through a mini Spending Review bidding process themselves once the total pot of funding available is decided).
So it is now broadly too late to lobby the Treasury for what goes in the Spending Review – most of the headlines will by now have been decided. But when the Chancellor sits down having completed his statement, the hard work of lobbying and working with ministers and officials to work out and influence what it means will have only just begun.Stephen Evans is deputy chief executive at NIACE
FE News catches up with J. Noah Brown from the Association of Community College Trusees, at the AoC conference.
He discusses the similarities and differences between the US and UK FE systems, and how policy changes are changing both.
Brown explains how his group recently signed an agreement to work more closely in an international context with UK colleges, and what this could potentially mean for both the UK and US FE sectors.
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FE News catches up with John Mountford, Association of College's international director, at the AoC Annual conference. He talks about student visas, the international fringe event at the AoC conference, and their work with China.
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FE News talks to UKCES chief executive Michael Davis at the Association of Colleges annual conference about productivity in FE.
Davis was a part of 'The Productivity Puzzle' debate at the event. He discusses opportunities, innovation, digitalisation and, most important of all, the productivity of the people in an organisation.
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