Jon Graham, chief executive, JTL:
As chief executive of JTL, one of the largest work-based training providers in England and Wales which also receives the largest funding for 16-19-year-olds from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), I was horrified to learn that apprentices will not have access to Covid testing in their place of learning until at least April. This is despite the government ensuring those students aged 16-18 returning to schools and colleges from Monday [8 March] will be given lateral flow tests twice a week if required.
Government speaks loudly about the benefits of apprenticeships, even introducing the Baker Clause to ensure equal attention and focus is given to this post-school option, so why are those who choose this route not being given the same rights and treatment as their peers who remained in school or now attend college? Equally, why are the rights afforded to teachers and staff working in schools and colleges not equivalent to those who work at training providers like JTL?
The overwhelming and blatant disparity is what really hits a nerve. What message does this send to those currently undertaking an apprenticeship, their families and employers, or those considering one once they have completed school? That their welfare is not as important? That they are not valued or appreciated? That choosing an apprenticeship is a somewhat less worthwhile option? All myths and preconceptions government says it apparently wants to tackle and eradicate.
We currently have over 8000 learners in learning and around 40% of those attend one of JTL’s ten training centres across England and Wales. The only guidance we have from government is for the majority of learners’ hours to take place on site and attend community testing centres for the next three weeks, further highlighting the lack of understanding and consideration given to our apprentices and their needs.
Our focus throughout the pandemic has always been on the safety and wellbeing of our learners and their continued progress. We have robust measures in place to keep all our learners and staff safe and follow guidance to ensure that this continues and remains our priority, despite these recent announcements. All I ask for is that our government stands by its words and provides the same opportunities and support as those who followed a different educational path.
Frankly, playing fast and loose with the health and safety of our learners, their employers and communities they serve is very worrying indeed.