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Published: 6th March 2023

Removing qualifications from apprenticeships risks undermining their value to learners and employers

Removing qualifications from apprenticeships risks undermining their value and threatens the global transfer of talent, according to a group of influential bodies representing the UK science industry.

The bodies have today jointly written to Robert Halfon MP (Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education) and George Freeman MP (Minister of State in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) to underline the concerns.

The letter is signed by the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) – an employer-led membership alliance supporting the skills needs of the sector – the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Biology.

It highlights concerns that relying on a single set of centrally designed statements within an occupational standard doesn’t clearly outline what’s required for an individual to become competent, as well as about plans to narrow the overarching learning experience to only what is written in the occupational standard.

Other concerns raised in the letter include the proposal to move integrated assessments into End Point Assessment, which appear to contradict the key principles of the Richard Review – championed by the government – namely to keep training separate from assessment in order to ensure independent and maintain the rigour of occupational competence at the end of the programme.

The proposed changes are part of a consultation by the Institute of Apprenticeship and Technical Education (IfATE) Mandating Qualifications in Apprenticeship Consultation and similar concerns have been raised with the body by the SIP around its policy on Degree Apprenticeships.

“The value of qualifications should not be underestimated and while we agree public funding must be used sensibly – and that over-assessment is not effective – it is naïve to assume that the removal of qualifications will not have a detrimental impact on both employer confidence and progression opportunities of individuals.

“We’ve been disappointed with the constant change to policy around qualifications. Under the current rules it is increasingly difficult to mandate qualifications into new or revised standards – and this will only be made harder if the new policy goes ahead.

Chair of the SIP and Director of Academic Liaison at GSK, Dr Malcolm Skingle, said:

Overall, the proposed changes will move us further away from being the ‘science superpower’ envisaged by the Prime Minister and Chancellor. They could significantly reduce the number of science apprenticeships available in the UK and employers may no longer see them as a valuable route to bringing innovation and knowledge into the industry.

Director of Education and Professional Practice at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Sarah Robertson, said

We continue to have concerns around the policy of removing structured knowledge components – such as qualifications – from apprenticeships. We know from our own work that employers and apprentices themselves value this structure: not only does it greatly aid individuals’ progression through their careers, it also enables a greater understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of science and ensures apprentices are ready to meet the scientific challenges of the future. Moreover, it adds greater consistency to the attainment of those apprentices and ensures they are working to a comparable standard. “As a professional body with a Royal Charter, we have consistently voiced these concerns with IfATE and previous Ministers, so we reiterate our belief these significant benefits are at risk if the approach of removing key structured knowledge continues

Associate Director of the Royal Society of Biology, Paul Trimmer, said:

Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to work, study and earn at the same time. Removing qualifications or making it difficult for qualifications to be included as part of an apprenticeship, takes away a key benefit of this educational pathway and significantly disadvantages learners with respect to their future mobility and employability.

“Qualifications earned in the UK are internationally recognised and can open doors to multiple sectors and higher level qualifications which apprenticeships are unable to do on their own. The Royal Society of Biology strongly advocates for qualifications to be included as part of an apprenticeship to provide structure to the learning experience and to provide maximum benefits to both the apprentice and employer.

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