Apprenticeships and Skills Policy — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:13 pm on 8th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 3:13 pm, 8th January 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I think he will agree with me as I move on in my speech.

On the parity of outcomes, at the moment, as I said, the degree apprenticeship can be achieved only by having A levels, so we have to look at how we build a clear apprenticeship pathway such as we see in Germany, where someone can leave school at 16 and do a level 2 apprenticeship, which then takes them to a level 3 apprenticeship, which takes them to level 4, and if they wish they can then do a degree level apprenticeship. We do not have that system at the moment. I am sorry to say that I disagree with the Minister, who I normally agree with: I regard T-levels as an unnecessary distraction.

At the moment we do not say GCSEs are nothing, because we see them for what they are: a tool for going through and getting A-levels, which are a tool for going through and getting a degree. Yet we dismiss level 2 apprenticeships, seeing them as a nothing qualification, or a qualification that is not viewed very highly. In part, we dismiss the qualification because we do not see level 2 apprenticeships as the tool that gets someone to a level 3 apprenticeship, which is the tool to get to level 4. We know—I include myself in this—people are ready for education at different points in their lives, and perhaps the apprenticeship pathway model that I advocate takes a lot longer than the traditional path of going through GCSEs and A-levels. Perhaps it takes a lifetime, because someone might take a level 2 apprenticeship and then work for a couple of years. Then they do a level 3 apprenticeship and work another few years. Then they do a level 4 and so on and they find it takes 10 years, and then they end up with their degree apprenticeship at the end of it. We need that pathway to be clearly defined.

I have raised this before, so the Minister will be aware that Hull College and Hull University have worked together to create a pathway for nursing so that nurses can do apprenticeships. Hull College has told 16-year-olds, “You can start on a level 2 apprenticeship at Hull College. If you pass, within five or six years you will be a fully trained nurse with a degree in nursing from Hull University.” It has been clearly set out and the college has been inundated with people wanting to apply. Why can we not look at creating such clarity for many other professions? Why can we not say to someone, “You do not need to get GCSEs at 16 and then get A-levels to go and do a nursing degree. You can go down the apprenticeship route instead. If you want to get off the conveyor belt and just get a level 4 and be a healthcare assistant instead of an apprentice nurse, that’s fine, too, because you can pop back on that conveyor belt later and get your nursing degree apprenticeship.” That is exactly what happens in Germany, where they talk about having no dead ends, because there is always an option to move forward if people want.

I am a member of the Education Committee and we did a report called, “The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity”. That is what we need to have clarified by Government. I have significant concerns that we have so many young people doing a level 2 apprenticeship and they get stuck there; they do not move forward and do not progress. The Sutton Trust also found a lack of progression between the different levels of apprenticeship. A level 2 apprenticeship is not a full apprenticeship. It is a stepping stone, but not a full apprenticeship in its own right.

On the clarity of pathways, I will quote the Sutton Trust’s chief executive, who said,

“on the academic route...everything is signposted, you know the options, you get supported at transition points.”

In apprenticeships,

“there are lots of dead ends...there are pitfalls. Sometimes it is a very confusing route. I think we just need to almost map out steps.”

London South Bank University has also suggested that standards

“should include reference to the anticipated career trajectory of learners”.

We need that map, and it needs to come from Government. There are practical steps that they could take to achieve it.

The Government should mandate the Institute for Apprenticeships to include clear paths to progression within apprenticeship standards; those paths should be linked to a system of progression maps created and promoted by the institute and Government, with complete clarity on how to go from a level 2 apprenticeship to a degree, if someone wishes to. They should also create a UCAS-style website to advertise higher level apprenticeships, so that apprentices working in small and medium-sized enterprises will not be disadvantaged if their employer is unable to provide a higher-level apprenticeship. The Government should encourage and promote universities that have already established that clear apprenticeship pathway. Perhaps they should say something about doing a degree apprenticeship not being enough if everyone starting the course has A-levels.

I want people to get on to degree apprenticeships through the apprenticeship route. No one will ask, when someone has their degree, whether they did an apprenticeship degree or an academic degree. They will just be pleased that they have a degree. If we want parity of esteem, the Government need to do more to create that parity and improve clarity in pathways.