Since their launch in 2016, more than 11,000 pupils have taken up the opportunity of foundation apprenticeships.
Given the significant increase in foundation apprenticeships, and to ensure the continued best outcomes for young people, the Scottish Government commissioned in 2020 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to undertake a review of the delivery of FA programmes. We acknowledge the review’s findings and will use them as the basis for driving improvement. We have also established a stakeholder group to support that engagement and will set out further steps following that process.
I am on record as being an enthusiast for foundation apprenticeships, but the HMIE review must give us all cause for concern. The review noted real weaknesses in the ability to access foundation apprenticeships across Scotland’s schools and in the promotion of apprenticeships to young learners and noted confusion among schools and providers about how the frameworks operate. It also acknowledged that
“In many schools, withdrawal rates are very high, ranging between 50% and 100% of young people leaving their programme early.”
I recognise the issues caused by the pandemic, but the minister must acknowledge that serious alarm bells are being rung about the policy and that many of those alarms predate Covid. Foundation apprenticeships have the potential to make a real difference. What will the minister do to ensure that those opportunities are not squandered due to a lack of support from Government?
On that last point, there is no lack of Government support for foundation apprenticeships. I again make the point that more than 11,000 young people have now undertaken them. There were 346 young people who started foundation apprenticeships in cohort 1; by cohort 5, we had 4,240, as a result of Scottish Government support.
Let me be clear: I recognise that the report has identified inherent issues. We commissioned that report so that we could hear what the issues might be. We are committed to listening, to learning from those issues and to implementing a programme of improvement, in line with our continued commitment not only to the concept of foundation apprenticeships but to their delivery as life-changing opportunities for our young people.
We cannot just say that foundation apprenticeships are a good thing; we must be clear about why they are a good thing. They can give young people a head start in a career by providing the qualifications and experiences that employers are looking for.
Will the minister commit to ensuring that foundation apprenticeships remain a vital and central part of our skills and training system?
I absolutely guarantee that, and I again emphasise our support for them. We are committed to responding to the report in order to drive further improvement and to continuing the delivery of foundation apprenticeships in 2022-23. We will continue to deliver, to learn and to ensure that young people get a meaningful experience that does precisely what Bob Doris says by getting them ready for the world of work.