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Equal representation for FE learners

Friday 27-01-2017 - 15:55

The Government are supposedly committed to ensuring that Further Education is seen as valuable as Higher Education. So why aren’t FE learners afforded the same rights as HE students?


On Friday, the Government announced the members of the board for the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA). The board will be responsible for improving the quality of apprenticeships, regulating the quality of apprenticeship assessments and providing advice on how to make the changes laid out in the Skills Plan

It is made up of eight people. Only two of these are college principals. The other six are employers. There isn’t a space for a training provider, who provide 75% of all apprenticeships. There also isn’t a space for an apprentice, who undertake 100% of all apprenticeships.

This is a big problem. By not having an apprentice on the board, the IfA will not be able to truly improve the quality of apprenticeships. There is no one on the board who has experienced what it is actually like to be an apprentice and there is no one on the board who can define what a quality apprenticeship looks like for apprentices. 

Perhaps more importantly, there is no one on the board that can say the interests of apprentices are just as important as the interests of employers. 

But not having an apprentice on the board is a problem for another reason. In every document or speech the Government have given about the changes proposed to the FE sector, they have always stressed this important aim: 

In order to succeed Further Education must be seen as valuable as Higher Education. 

They have said that it cannot be seen as the easy option, it must be seen as an attractive, worthwhile and equal alternative.

This is an important aim. But it is one the Government are already undermining by not giving apprentices representation on the board. 

Currently there are reforms happening in Higher Education too. One of the reforms will see the establishment of the Office for Students (OfS). The role of the OfS will be similar to the Institute for Apprenticeships. Except it will have one major difference: HE students will have direct representation on the board. 

When questioned on this the Government said there wouldn’t be an apprentice on the board because of things like governance responsibility and press scrutiny. He also said that the board would need to represent the interests of all apprentices and a single apprentice “would be unlikely to speak for all.”

The Government, rightly, believe that an HE student is able to adequately represent the interests of other students. Why can’t an FE learner do the same?

Are the Government implying that FE learners aren’t as intelligent as HE students? That their education doesn’t equip them with the skills that are necessary to sit on a board? That they are not educated enough?

What kind of message does this send? It certainly doesn’t seem to say that the opinions of apprentices and FE learners are as valued as much as those of HE students. 

If the Government truly care about creating equality between academic and vocational learning they will create a position for an apprentice on the board.  Only when they value the contributions from FE as much as they value HE will the rest of the country follow suit.  

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