I am a great supporter of robust investigative journalism, which has been a cornerstone of our democratic system from Thalidomide to MPs expenses. However, in uncovering the darker and sometimes seamier sides of our institutions, the downside is that you rarely get to see or hear both sides of a story. It was therefore with a certain degree of trepidation that I noted the title of the Panorama programme “The Great Apprenticeship Scandal”. It was fairly obvious that this was not going to be a celebration of the many benefits and successes of the Apprenticeship programme and this proved to be the case when the programme was aired on 2 April.
With the exception of a few obvious mistakes, it was generally a good piece of journalism and no doubt made for equally good television. There is also every justification in highlighting issues and concerns within the Apprenticeship programme. However, in attempting to do a hatchet job on a few Private Training Providers (PTP’s), the public has no doubt been left with the impression that all such organisations are money-grabbing cowboys operating at (and sometimes outside) the borders of legality and attempting to profiteer at the taxpayer’s expense without any regard for the needs of the learner.
Nothing of course could be farther from the truth and in uncovering a few potentially bad apples, Panorama has done a great disservice to the vast majority of PTPs who provide an outstanding service both to their clients and to their learners. By coincidence, one of our own trainers received a text shortly before the programme, from an Apprentice who had just passed their Skills For Life exam. It read “Oh my god that’s awesome. You have really helped me chase my dream. Thank you so much’. That comment is typical of many we receive on a daily basis from learners whose lives have been changed through the opportunity to complete an Apprenticeship programme.
Every year, over half a million people complete such programmes, giving them the skills they will need to compete effectively for jobs in the global economy in which we operate. As such, Apprenticeships offer outstanding value to UK Plc. A recent report by the independent National Audit Office demonstrated that Apprenticeships generate £18 for the British economy for every £1 invested by the government. That represents fantastic value for money by any standard but sadly that statistic (and many other positive ones) was missing from the Panorama programme.
Last week, I was privileged to be asked to speak at a major convention on Functional Skills organised jointly by the Learning & Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) and the Association of Employement and Learning Providers (AELP). Unlike the tiny minority of poor providers highlighted by Panorama, the delegates at that convention were professional and dedicated individuals concerned only with providing the best possible service to their learners. Rather than tarring all PTPs with the same brush, we should be acknowledging and celebrating their work and the major contribution they have made to the undoubted success of the Apprenticeship programme.