On 15th October 2015 the House of Lords debated apprenticeships. The Bishop of Derby, Rt Revd Alastair Redfern spoke in the debate. His remarks and the minister’s response are below:
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, for introducing this debate so clearly and raising so many important issues. I also commend the Government’s aspiration for 3 million apprenticeships and for greater flexibility and a range of standards. I also endorse the point made by the noble Baroness about the reality of a skill shortage and the urgency of us tackling this agenda. I remind the House that apprenticeship comes from an understanding of learning and that it is not just about skills, but about skills learnt in the workplace—that is, in a real context. That, of course, shapes people to be citizens as well as workers. I hope that understanding of apprenticeship will remain at the centre of this initiative and not get pushed to one side by a more narrow focus on skills per se.
I want to make a number of points and ask the Minister two or three questions. The first point is on the link between learning and the workplace. I live in Derby, and our local Derby College trains more than 2,000 apprentices a year. It has recently introduced 10 employer academies. These employer academies allow people who are learning in the college to be linked with employers who have particular business and skill requirements, so that during their learning students can get bits of work experience, and they are guaranteed an interview for an apprenticeship at the end of the process. We have to drive this whole culture, as others have said, back into the learning in schools and colleges. I know that the Government have commissioned Prospect to do work with schools, but could the Minister say what he thinks of the importance of initiatives such as employer academies to further the link between learning and the workplace at an early stage pre-apprenticeship to prepare and encourage people?
My second point is about the levy. A number of employers—especially large employers—in the part of the world where I operate have expressed some concern about a possible tension between the centralising of funds through the levy and the desire for employers to design and deliver learning in their own place and according to their own requirements. That needs to be looked at very carefully, and I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on the tension between the centralising of funding and a desire for delivery, ownership and control to be local.
My next point, to which the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has alluded, is about scale. I have heard concerns from small and medium enterprises about the burden of managing the funding and assessment processes for small businesses. There has also been some concern about the current inspection system, which is much valued, being downgraded. It will be easy for big employers to do this, but, as the noble Lord said, most people in the world of work are in small and medium enterprises. Can the Minister comment on how funding and assessment can be done realistically at that level and on the future of the current inspection system?
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, mentioned gender. It is good that just over half of people in the apprenticeship system in 2013—51.9%—were women, but some of the evidence suggests that women are more likely to be paid less, to receive less training and to have fewer job prospects upon completing apprenticeships. Of course, that is part of a wider issue in society, but I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on how he sees the urgency of this gender imbalance in levels of pay, levels of training and job prospects for women in apprenticeships.
The Earl of Courtown (Con):…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby asked me to comment on the future of the current inspection system and the information that schools provide for pupils. Ofsted is now giving this higher priority in school inspections, as I mentioned earlier. We are working with it to monitor the impact of the statutory guidance….
…The right reverend Prelate also asked about the role of learning academies in preparing people for work. They are, as he said, really important. For example, national colleges help the United Kingdom to develop world-class technical skills to compete globally and address high-level skill gaps in key sectors of the economy.