In Conversation with Sue Husband and Warwick Sharp: System Reform - The Post-16 Skills Plan and Apprenticeships
The event was opened by Warwick Sharp with a discussion on the origin of Lord Sainsbury's 'Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education'. Largely spurred by low participation rates and other structural problems within technical and professional education, Warwick explained that the driving force behind the reforms were to make it clearer for people working across the system, and to encourage greater stakeholder engagement from employers. This is why, he went on, the Department had looked at occupations and then grouped them by a process of analysis. This meant pathways more closely resembled the labour market, rather than the current system whereby almost 13,000 qualifications exist, with little available to help young people decide between them. Warwick emphasised that although choice in education is important, the sheer number of qualifications available often meant young people were unable to make a choice through lack of information. Furthermore, many qualifications were of little financial benefit in the long-term and did not allow individuals to move easily between jobs or even identify other jobs they may be suitable for. Warwick also highlighted the significant recommendation of a ‘transition year’ in Lord Sainsbury’s report, and questioned whether this could help prevent young people ‘churning through the system’ with little progression.
Agreeing with the statement, Sue Husband said it was necessary to help young people transition to a point where they have more choices, and recognised that the age of 16 may not be the best time to make such life-changing decisions. Moving on to the Skills Plan, Sue said this was at the heart of government’s plan to address the skills gap, with the aim of helping employers hire apprentices and make apprenticeships more appealing. The Skills Plan will not only change how apprenticeships are delivered, but also how they are funded. While the Apprenticeship Levy will put apprenticeship funding on a sustainable footing and open the door to quality vocational education, the Institute of Apprenticeships will be the ‘guarantor’ of quality.
Sue added that currently, there had been 250-300 employers engaged in setting standards, with no end number or limit to this. There have been 202 trailblazer groups, and 146 standards have been already approved – with over 70 of these at the higher-level. Sue also confirmed that QAA and Ofqual will continue to play a role in quality assurance. Commenting on the incorporation of BIS into DfE, Sue said that being under the same department will be beneficial.
However, a key challenge faced by the Department is not only attracting people – it is also about reversing negative perceptions of apprenticeships among parents. While not dismissing the importance of careers IAG, Sue claimed that more and more young people are finding out for themselves.
Questions were then taken from the audience on a wide range of issues, spanning: whether having 15 providers will stifle innovation; the exclusion of occupations like retail and sport from occupational pathways; identifying core skills within routes; the timing of a transition year; early interventions at 11 and 14; careers IAG; and the problem with setting standards in fast-moving industries such as technology.