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What’s wrong with training for work? ALI report


Close on the heels of the Small Business Council's complaints about skills policy, and reports from the Institute of Directors criticising the LSC and non-vocational education, the Adult Learning Inspectorate has published its first report on the standards of education and training received by adults and young people in England.

Chief Inspector, David Sherlock, said that while his inspectors found some examples of world-class provision, too few young people are receiving the quality of training which will prepare them for employment or address the country’s skills shortages. Sixty per cent of work-based learning provision was found to be inadequate.

David Sherlock, said: "For many providers, this was a desperately tough year. There are grounds for optimism, however, not least because the weaknesses I’ve identified are now being confronted."

While he welcomed Sir John Cassels' proposals for reforming modern apprenticeships, the Chief Inspector warned that they may not go far enough: "An apprenticeship lasting two or more years with no intermediate awards – all or nothing – means those who drop out of learning to take up employment are classed as having failed. Yet how can the acquisition of relevant skills and a job be a failure? Regular and frequent success, confirmed by unit by unit accreditation for NVQs at work, would do much to help young people in training."

Problem areas
Key skills (the testing of communication, number and IT skills) is the biggest single cause of young people’s failure to succeed with a modern apprenticeship. Unpopular with both learners and their employers, they were a weakness in nearly half of providers inspected, often either left to the end of the programme or omitted entirely. The central idea of key skills - that knowledge is best acquired in a practical context, particularly among those who have already rejected academic study - is a sound one. But according to this report, in their present form they are often a barrier rather than a pathway to success.

Poor initial assessment was a common problem. Many learners enter work-based learning with poor basic skills, but many providers fail to identify basic skills needs early enough, and do not have trained basic skills teachers.

The leadership and management of over half the providers was unsatisfactory – only one provider out of nearly 300 inspected was outstanding. Of the worst providers, nearly half were located in the north east and north west regions of the country.

Excellence was found in both very small and very large providers and across all areas of learning. However, they tended to have certain characteristics in common:
- The majority were employers training their own staff
- They invested substantial resources in addition to government funding
- A large proportion of them are in engineering or manufacturing, or in front line service industries such as health or defence

Grades for New Deal 18-24 continued to improve, despite the fact it deals with some of the most challenging and disaffected young people. The greatest success of New Deal is the initial Gateway period where 90 per cent of training was satisfactory or better. In addition, more than 70 per cent of providers with unsatisfactory areas of work were at least satisfactory within a year.

Lifelong Learning and Higher Education Minister Margaret Hodge said: "The lessons in this report are clear. They reinforce the need for reforms in work-based learning, as well as further education... We are now looking to the providers in the sector to deliver change. They need to be clear about their strengths and focus on these. We will work with those who want to improve but will take action against those who refuse to move in the right direction."


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