Roundup: The biggest talking points in apprenticeship provision in 2023

Header image for article: Roundup: The biggest talking points in apprenticeship provision in 2023

It’s colder and darker, which means the end of 2023 is in sight. But before we move into the new year, it’s time to reflect on some of the biggest trends and talking points from training provision this year.

In many ways, the last 12 months have felt like a reset for the industry. The pandemic forced training providers to be reactive and roll out new delivery methods, then help learners catch up in the aftermath. By comparison, this year has offered some breathing space.

Many Bud customers we’ve spoken to have been taking the time to reflect on their processes and make changes to drive efficiencies and a better standard of learning.

Mike Clarkson, Compliance and Quality Assurance Lead at Solace, summed the general mood up well, describing his team as “hyped up and re-energised” to improve after receiving an Ofsted Good grade. He added:

“We’ve approached the inspection like we’ve had paid consultants come in and review the business. Now we’ve got this great feedback on areas of development, and how to make the products we deliver really slick in order to set learners up for success.”

Here are four other key trends we’ve seen this year.

Generative AI has divided opinion

This was undoubtedly the year of artificial intelligence. When ChatGPT launched in November 2022, it was one of the first tools to make generative AI (the type of AI technology that can generate brand new content) publicly accessible on a large scale.

Since then, even more powerful and sophisticated AI models have been released. Chat GPT-4 can pass law exams, act as a fictional character and solve difficult problems with greater accuracy.

In September this year, OpenAI announced that the latest version of ChatGPT can see, hear and speak. New voice capabilities will allow users to engage in a back-and-forth conversation with the AI; image tools will let the AI analyse photos and provide feedback.

Rolling out AI tools within education

While some sectors have raced to deploy new AI tools, education has been understandably cautious. In May, a group of school leaders launched a body to protect students from the risks of artificial intelligence, describing schools as “bewildered” at the fast rate of change.

The group also cited a lack of confidence that large digital companies could act in the best interests of learners, staff and schools – something that’s been echoed within the apprenticeships sector.

In the last few months, however, there’s a sense that the tide is turning. Successful pilot programmes at organisations like Khan Academy have provided tangible use cases of how AI can be used responsibly to elevate learners’ experiences.

The government also recently announced it was investing £2 million in AI-powered resources to help teachers plan lessons, build classroom quizzes and reduce their workload.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said:

“Whether it’s drafting lesson plans or producing high-quality teaching resources, I am confident that by tapping into the benefits of AI we will be able to reduce teachers’ workloads so that they can focus on what they do best – teaching and supporting their pupils.”

Questions raised over Ofsted grading

Another big topic of conversation was Ofsted. An incident at a school in Reading in January raised questions about how inspections were being conducted and the effectiveness of Ofsted’s one-word grading system.

While we haven’t seen any changes in 2023, Ofsted’s new chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver will take over the role in January 2024. He’s promised to engage with “all parts of the sector that Ofsted regulates and inspects through a Big Listen”, so we could see some changes in the new year.

Read the article: What’s next for Ofsted inspections?

Greater focus on learning outcomes

Skills Bootcamps proved popular this year, giving providers the opportunity to diversify their offering without overhauling internal processes.

The focus on filling skills gaps in local areas has been a major selling point, but it’s Bootcamps’ outcome-based approach that has caught people’s attention. In a conversation earlier this year, Bud’s Matt Wood speculated that Bootcamps could provide a model for future training.

“What we’re hearing is that the Bootcamps’ funding methodology, milestones and the focus on outcomes is possibly where the rest of the industry is going to go at some point. This is almost a trial run for that,” he said.

“I think it will be really positive – it’s crazy that you can claim 80% of funding without seeing the learners progress onto real outcomes. Training should always have a clear outcome in mind, such as helping learners to get a new job, and not just embarking on training for the sake of it.”

The financial viability of apprenticeships

Finally, the existential question being asked all year: can training providers actually afford to deliver apprenticeships?

The cost of living crisis raged on in 2023, as training providers continued to absorb high delivery costs and operate on increasingly thin margins. Rising costs have also created additional challenges around recruitment, with providers struggling to attract qualified trainers and match the high salaries for in-demand technology expertise.

This combination of rising costs and stagnating funding has put the financial viability of apprenticeships up for debate. In September, Ofsted Outstanding provider Avado announced it was pulling out of apprenticeships, describing it as a “strategic decision based on market attractiveness”.

It’s clear that change is needed – but will we see it in 2024?

Read about what to expect from the next government, and stay up to date with the latest news and industry insights by signing up to our newsletter.