SMC Says Target Apprenticeships At Disadvantaged

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC), an independent advisory non-departmental public body, claims that apprenticeships are failing to reach their social mobility potential, and need to be targeted at the most disadvantaged.

FE Week reports that the SMC stated in its state of the nation report for 2021 that the government should be using the apprenticeship levy to incentivise employers to provide more traineeships and level 2 to 4 apprenticeships, and to move higher level apprenticeships into social mobility ‘coldspots’.

It follows skills minister Gillian Keegan admitting that the Department for Education (DfE) has concerns over a ‘middle-class grab’ on apprenticeships, where typical university students are pushing out those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Social Mobility Commission report states that policymakers and employers consider apprenticeships as an ‘incontestable social mobility tool helping the disadvantaged’, but the SMC warns that this is not the case.

The report says: “Poorer apprentices were less likely to get onto schemes and were more likely to be clustered in lower returning and lower-level apprenticeships than their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

“Disadvantaged apprentices face gaps at literally every stage of the system – from access to levy funding, quality to attainment and progression to pay.”

The report warns that the pandemic has significantly hit young apprentices from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who were likely to be in apprenticeships in sectors that have seen declines, such as hospitality.

“The levy should no longer be used as an alternative route for degree qualifications for more privileged staff,” the report concludes.

Jane Hickie, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, responded to the report, saying: “The case is growing to extend the employer incentives for recruiting young apprentices as part of a more targeted approach.

“The government confirmed yesterday that Kickstart won’t accept any more new starts after December but this still leaves a 6-month window in the first half of 2022 when we should be progressing the final cohorts of Kickstarters on to apprenticeships or traineeships and here a continuation of the incentives could make a really positive difference.”

The report recommends that further education adopt a ‘Student Premium’ for those aged 16 to 19, mirroring the pupil premium currently used in schools.

The report also hit out at the government for allowing the technical education sector to become ‘under-resourced, over-balanced with disadvantaged students and tasked with catching students up on basic academic qualifications (primarily English and maths) while also administering high-quality trade-based courses’.

It says the government’s package of £400 million in 2019 for 16 to 18 education fell ‘far short of what the sector needs’ and criticised the white paper for exhibiting ‘siloed ways of working’ which cuts out other government departments.

A DfE spokesperson said: “To help businesses offer apprenticeships, we have increased our incentive payments to £3,000 for newly recruited apprentices and extended this until the end of September 2021, as part of the Plan for Jobs.

“We continue to pay additional funding to employers and training providers to support them to take on young apprentices, apprentices with learning difficulties and disabilities, and care leavers.”

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