Flexibility is central to apprenticeship success, UCU tells select committee

10 December 2014 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Flexibility should be the key driver of apprenticeship reform, UCU told the Education Select Committee today.

Giving evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into apprenticeships and traineeships for 16-19 year olds, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt emphasised the importance of funding flexibility for keeping employers engaged with apprenticeships. She stressed that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach was not working for 16-19 year olds and reinforced the need for proper quality checks. She also said apprenticeships needed to offer broad skills and not focus on narrow vocational skills which aren't transferable.

The general secretary told the committee of concerns raised by UCU members around generic English and maths requirements, which they fear are preventing many technically competent apprentices achieving their qualification within the current timescale. She added that English and maths should be made more relevant to the vocational aims of different courses.

Commenting on the session, Sally Hunt said: 'We need to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach to apprenticeships. What works for a 30-year-old does not always work for a 16-year-old. We have heard big commitments from the political parties about increasing apprenticeship numbers, but little about how quality will be assured. If apprenticeships are to remain attractive to young people and employers, they must be rigorous, transferable and students must be fairly paid.

'If the committee takes one thing from the session, it should be that flexibility is crucial to the success of apprenticeships. That means flexible approaches to funding and flexibility within apprenticeship delivery to ensure that students learn broad and relevant skills which will equip them for the workplace.'

The UCU manifesto includes major proposals for apprenticeship reform, including refocussing apprenticeships on younger people and increasing the minimum duration to three years, as well as paying apprentices the national minimum wage.

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