Harrogate College column with Debra Forsythe-Conroy

Apprenticeship working in class. (S)
Apprenticeship working in class. (S)

In education we readily accept that we have two new years in one. The first one of course is the end of the calendar year and start of the new but for those involved in education we also have the new academic year, typically September, when schools and colleges start the new academic year.

It seems that each year we have changes to contend with. However, this year sees a number of highly significant announcements which will cause changes in current practice and policy.

The first came a little over a month ago with the decision to leave the European Union. There remain a number of key issues for colleges and training providers, not least the money allocated for a range of training programmes and initiatives through the European Social Fund.

The then Skills Minister Nick Boles also placed a question mark over the likely date for the introduction of the Employer Levy. A flurry of ministerial resignations was received within days of the Brexit announcement, resulting in new appointments for education and skills, namely Justine Greening as Secretary of State for Education (the DfE taking over responsibility for Skills) and Robert Halfron MP appointed as Minister for Apprentices and Skills. It is now expected, some three weeks later that the levy will now continue as planned, which is positive news.

Frequent readers of this column will have noted an update on the levy published April 7, but as a reminder, the government announced the levy in the Summer Budget 2015 in an attempt to improve participation in apprenticeship training.

In the 2015 Autumn Statement the government provided details of who it would apply to and how much the rate would be. The intention is that the levy will be introduced in April 2017. The levy will apply to all UK employers in both the private and public sectors and is payable on annual pay bills of more than £3 million. Employers with an annual pay bill of less than £3 million will not pay the levy.

These employers will continue to have access to government funding to support apprenticeships. A significant change in the funding of apprenticeships and employer involvement.

This July also saw the long awaited Lord Sainsbury review of post 16 technical education published. This was the result of a detailed review of the quality of technical education in England and the need to simplify the current over-complex system. It was also designed to ensure the skills needed for the 21st century are available in a coherent and clear framework. So what is this likely to look like?

In essence all 16 year old students will be asked to choose an academic or technical option. The technical option (rolled out by 2022) will consist of 15 routes covering both college and apprenticeship education. Each route will have one awarding organisation. This new approach will replace the current situation where colleges, schools and training providers are offering over 20,000 courses and operate with 160 awarding organisations. Complex for providers but very confusing for students and employers.

The new model will see that each route will contain specialisation towards specific occupations, for example creative and design route will include occupational functions for those wishing to study journalism or furniture design. Each route will have essential core modules of study including English, maths and digital skills and the specialised skills required to meet a skilled occupation or set of occupations. It will also be compulsory for those aged 16-18 to be entitled to a high quality work placement as part of their studies. It is now clear that any qualifications not in the technical or academic options will not be fundable for funding support.

The focus on apprenticeships continues and recently Lord Sugar has accepted the government’s offer to become the ‘enterprise tsar’. A key part of his new role will be to ‘champion enterprise and apprenticeships among young people’, encouraging improved business involvement in apprenticeships. It is also worth noting that there has been another unexpected development in apprenticeships take-up, not least those of pensionable age. Five years ago less than 0.1 per cent of apprenticeship starts were aged 60 and over, this has now grown to 0.7 per cent. Moreover there is a renewed focus on supporting training for those aged 50 plus.

Finally we have been advised that the strategic area review of post-16 provision involving North Yorkshire and the Humber starts October 6.

So all change for the sector again, not just ministerially but locally too. Happy New Year!