In the lead up to the new year, six authors connected with the CPS will outline a policy resolution they would like to see adopted by the government in 2013. Today, Dominic Raab MP talks about reviving the Young Apprenticeship programme polited under Labour. Yesterday, Lord Flight wrote about funding for infrastructure investment.
When it comes to education, like school uniforms, one size doesn’t fit all. Some children are neither inspired nor motivated by school and the academic curriculum. These youngsters need options.
In 2004, Labour piloted Young Apprenticeships (YA) for 14 to 16 year olds, to offer greater flexibility and choice. The YA typically offered a two year programme, combining study for GCSE English and Maths, other optional subjects at the equivalent level and 50 days workplace experience, the equivalent of two days per week. This vocational route became increasingly popular, with the numbers rising from 1,000 at the beginning to 9,000 seven years later.
Ofsted praised the scheme, noting strong personal development of the students, high levels of motivation and attendance, and positive feedback from employers. The Young People’s Learning Agency found 78% of YA students achieved five good GCSES (at grades A* to C), well above the national average. Equally, previous poor performers appeared to benefit more than most. Of the cohort evaluated, virtually all went into further education, training, full apprenticeships or a job. Just 1% became unemployed. In 2011, the Commons Education Select Committee took further evidence on the YAs scheme and recommended its expansion.
In opposition, the Conservatives advocated expanding YAs. Yet, Labour wound the programme down. There appears to be a belief on the left that formal education leading to a university degree – whatever its value to the student or credibility with employers – is the only route to success. It is a pernicious form of snobbery holding Britain back.
The Coalition has rightly demanded greater rigour in the classroom and announced plans to reform the GCSE system. But, this renewed emphasis on academic attainment only strengthens the case for vocational alternatives for less bookish youngsters. These alternatives now exist in abundance for young people aged over 16. The apprenticeship budget is 40% higher than under Labour, and the number of apprenticeships is at a record high. However, the apprenticeship route for 14-16 year olds has been closed off.
Truancy statistics show the importance of targeting this age group. In 2010/11, there was a 20% rise in truancy amongst all state-educated children between 14 and 16, and a 33% spike amongst those already classified as persistent truants in the same age group. There is evidently an age at which increasing numbers of children become disengaged from the school system.
As Sir Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools, argues:
‘If a child at 14 has mastered basic literacy and numeracy, I would be very happy for that child to leave school and go into a combination of apprenticeship and further education training ... Does anybody seriously think these kids who are truanting at 13, 14 are going to stay in school in a purposeful, meaningful way through to 18? It just seems to me the triumph of ideological hope over reality.’
The YA programme should be revived. We need to promote a wider range of routes into the workplace for ambitious and hard-working – but less academically-minded – youngsters.
Tomorrow, Head of Economic Research Ryan Bourne writes on deregulation.