Education Secretary Damian Hinds has confirmed the government’s promise of three million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020 is going to be missed.
Pressed by Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, Mr Hinds accepted that the manifesto target is “not going to be reached”.
Mr Halfon warned of declining numbers in some levels of apprenticeships.
But Mr Hinds said the training in apprenticeships was now of “much higher quality”.
“There was a time in the not too distant past when there were plenty of kids who didn’t even know they were on an apprenticeship,” Mr Hinds told MPs on the cross-party committee.
The education secretary was asked about a decline in the number of lower level apprenticeships.
These were vital “bridges” to higher-level training, said Mr Halfon.
Mr Hinds said that in countries with a strong vocational training system, such as Germany, the focus was on high-quality skills valued by employers, rather than the volume of low-level training of questionable quality.
“But has the three million apprenticeships target been abandoned?” asked Labour MP Ian Mearns.
Mr Hinds argued that the argument had shifted and the current apprenticeship system reflected what employers wanted.
Asked again by Mr Halfon whether or not the target was going to be achieved, Mr Hinds said: “You’re a mathematically adept person, and if you project the line out at the moment, in terms of sheer volume… no.
“If you look only at the number of people starting… then that is not going to be reached.”
Home education register
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee had previously cast doubt on the robustness of how the target had been set.
In a report last year it said it had been told that the three million figure had been a political decision, based on a number that would sound impressive in a manifesto.
The education secretary, facing a range of questions about his department’s work, said that he backed the idea of a register for children who were not in school.
He said that many home educating families were doing “amazing” work, but he was concerned about those young people who were outside the school system but not really getting any access to education.
“There are a lot of children who are not in school and who in the data appear in the column that says ‘home education’, but there may be no education going on at all.
“Those are the children we should be worrying about,” Mr Hinds told MPs.
White working class
On social mobility, the education secretary was asked about white working-class boys being the least likely group to go to university.
“We have been squeamish about talking about ethnicity when it’s white children,” replied Mr Hinds.
“The fact is, that among all the major ethnic groups, among disadvantaged children, free-school meal eligible white children are the lowest performing.
“So if you’re serious about social mobility then that is a very large number of children to be concerned about,” said Mr Hinds.