Training for young people

The DfES has endorsed the LSC's plan to implement the Cassels Committee recommendations that should lead to over a quarter of all young people entering Apprenticeships before they are 22. From September 2004, the Government will guarantee an Apprenticeship place for any young person aged 16 or 17 with five GCSEs, at grades A* to G, including maths and English. And although this Summer's Government spending review may not release sufficient cash, DfES Ministers would privately like to meet the Cassels Committee's longer term goal that over a third of young people will gain skills through an Apprenticeship.

To achieve this ambitious goal requires three major changes:

One key aspect of the Government's strategy involves making good David Blunkett's pledge to replace the residue of the old Youth Training regime (still generically known as "Other Training") by September 2002. Because the DfES Ministers have a pragmatic leaning, this pledge has been subtly revised. Nearly 50,000 young people currently participate in "OT" and its replacement by a higher quality and more carefully focussed framework needs careful planning. What is banded together as "OT" actually consists of 3 separate types of learning. In many cases, two of these strands - Life Skills and preparatory training to VQ level 1 - support provision that is of good quality and is crafted for the specific requirements of young people who need specialist attention.

The rest of "OT" - which is essentially VQ training at levels 2 or above but delivered outside of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks - seems destined to wither away. By August 2003, the Government hopes that this provision will be replaced by new MA frameworks. But, the National Training Organisations that design the frameworks are to be wound up in just a few weeks time and replacement of their functions by Sector Skills Councils will be slow. This could seriously impede the development of new MA frameworks. So the DfES has accepted that this type of non-framework provision may exist "for a limited period" but, as the LSC Implementation Plan acknowledges, this must be managed in a way that "avoids mass migration to NVQ training offered in other learning routes (notably FE)."

So "E2E" has a lot of expectations riding on it. It needs to be sufficiently flexible to help the most disadvantaged and to cater for many young people who are not ready to start an apprenticeship. But it may also have to mop-up three other groups:

And the numbers are high. During the current year, the LSC had planned to fund nearly 50,000 starts on training below VQ level 1, of which about 40,000 would have received Life Skills or preparatory training. There are no reliable estimates of FMA or college participants who might be brought within E2E but if the programme were to effectively bring in the "NEET" population, this would add in at least another 67,000 young people - because a third of this group have no qualifications at all.

So there is a clear tension inherent in the design expectations of E2E. Should it only concentrate on the relatively smaller group of the hardest-to-help? Or should it be sufficiently flexible to include all the categories identified above? If it only does the former, it could lead to fewer young people being brought into learning. But if it expands to cover all the potential users, much of the mainstream FMA and AMA provision is let off the hook as employers and providers cream-off the easiest to train.

But no matter which of these options is eventually picked, E2E should be designed more as a funding framework than a specific programme. It needs to enable many different learning strands and a contracting and funding architecture that provides the maximum flexibility.

The real test is whether E2E can put the learner at its centre and make the "first two rungs of the vocational ladder" accessible and achievable. It must fundamentally change the experience of those young people described - in a candid LSC background note - as ‘serial trainees’ or who drop out of mainstream vocational learning or further education after encountering "rigid provision" and barriers to progression.