Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo




Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships

18 February 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr Willian Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mrs Claire McGill

Mr John Baird )
Mr Stanley Goudie )
Mr Greer Henderson ) Education and Training Inspectorate
Mr John Kennedy )
Mr Paul McAlister )

The Chairperson (Ms Ramsey):

This is the Committee’s third briefing as part of its inquiry into the way forward for apprenticeships, which will provide some background about the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and apprenticeships. We will then discuss the issues surrounding apprenticeships. Members will know that the ETI provides inspections for the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), the Department of Education (DE) and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). Stanley, if you would like to introduce your team and provide a presentation, which we will follow with a question-and-answer session.

Mr Stanley Goudie (Education and Training Inspectorate):

Thank you. I have been chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate since 1 September 2008 — that is the sympathy appeal. I thank the Chairperson for the invitation to address the Committee. I appreciate the pressure on the Committee’s time, so I will keep my opening comments brief in order to allow members to ask specific questions of my team. I will speak about the current system of apprenticeships, and how it has evolved to meet the skills and economic challenges on the horizon — indeed, those challenges are with us as we speak. I will do that from an evidence-based perspective.

My team are Paul McAlister, who is assistant chief inspector with lead responsibility for further education and training, and is the inspectorate’s direct contact with DEL; John Baird, managing inspector for further education; Greer Henderson, who is an inspector of construction and the built environment; and John Kennedy, who is an inspector of mechanical engineering and motor-vehicle studies. Unfortunately, Gerry Murray, managing inspector for training and work-based learning, is off work due to serious illness, which is why John Kennedy and Greer Henderson are joining us today, because of their specialist experience and expertise in relation to apprenticeships.

In September 2007, DEL launched its reconfigured training provision, ‘Training for Success’, which replaced Jobskills training programmes. In 2007, DEL stated its intention to place a particular emphasis on apprenticeships, and set a target for the creation of 10,000 apprenticeships before 2010. That target was achieved last month.

In December 2008, DEL re-branded the ‘Training for Success’ apprenticeships to ApprenticeshipsNI. The ‘Training for Success’ programme remains as a suite of programmes to prepare 16-18-year-olds not yet in employment to acquire the necessary occupational literacy, numeracy and ICT skills in order to gain employment under apprenticeships. ApprenticeshipsNI is the DEL training programme for learners aged 16 and above, and in full-time paid employment, to enable them to gain an industry sector-recognised apprenticeship qualification.

Apprenticeships qualifications are at level 2 and level 3. It is our view that the introduction of level 2 has been a useful development for increasing numbers overall, particularly for those leaving school as a progression route from level 2 to level 3. It comprises a technical certificate, an NVQ and essential skills qualifications. The composition and level of the various components of apprenticeship qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks are determined by relevant industrial bodies and the sector skills councils to meet best the needs of the industry sector that they represent.

There is a considerable variation in the take-up of apprenticeships, and statistical information can be provided on that. While the statistical information in relation to apprenticeship provision is interesting and important, the focus of the inspectorate is on quality and on promoting improvement in the quality of provision.

Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to say a little about what we have observed where the provision for apprenticeships is of good, or very good, quality. There are five strands. First, the apprentices will have had good quality guidance as they enter their apprenticeship programme, which ensures that they are placed on the right programme and at an appropriate level. Secondly, their training will be well matched to the needs, interests and abilities of the trainees. Thirdly, there will be an appropriate balance between directed and work-based training. Fourthly, there will be good quality mentoring in the workplace. Finally, the work that apprentices experience will be of industry standard.

That is by way of preamble. I will be happy — at least my colleagues will be happy — to take any questions that members may wish to direct to us, and we will do our best to answer them.

The Chairperson:

Thank you very much. I like the way that you set your sights to any questions. It is important for the Committee to look at the whole issue of apprenticeships. You will appreciate that we also have a concern about ensuring that apprentices are placed in the right field, and that we are closing down the possibility of some apprentices being exploited. Although it is important for the Committee to examine the whole issue of apprenticeships, it is also important to ensure that, when people finish their apprenticeships, they have had the training that they wanted. We will probably return to that issue throughout our inquiry into apprenticeships.

Once again, thank you for appearing before the Committee. I will open the meeting up for questions or comments from members, and during the discussion members may be seeking answers for just their own reassurance on the issue of apprenticeships.

Mr Newton:

I welcome the delegation to the meeting. Would I be right in thinking that, in the whole gambit of apprenticeships, different levels of quality are being delivered for individual apprenticeships? For example, some apprentices may be extremely fortunate in getting a high-quality placement that meets the guidance in respect of the training match, the balance, the monitoring and the industry standard, while other youngsters, starting more so with a local, medium-sized employer, may not get the same opportunity.

If I may also ask about the quantity of apprenticeships that further education colleges deliver. For example, in the automotive studies — motor vehicle studies — Omagh campus was having difficulty placing the young men, generally after two years, into a work environment. Therefore, they may not have been able to complete their apprenticeship studies because of the lack of work experience.

Mr Goudie:

With regard to your first question, in any set of circumstances there is always a spectrum of provision as regards quality. My colleague Greer Henderson will address the first part of your second question about the training that is provided in the further education sector, and John Kennedy, who has a particular interest in the automotive sector, will respond to the second part.

Mr Greer Henderson (Education and Training Inspectorate):

Will you repeat your question about the further education sector, please?

Mr Newton:

We visited Omagh College of Further Education, which has an excellent, modern and high-standard campus. However, I came away with a concern about the young men who had completed two years of a motor vehicle, automotive studies-type course, and the college indicated that it was having difficulty finding work placements for them, in order that they might finish their apprenticeships.

Mr Henderson:

As you know, DEL has invested a lot of money in further education colleges, and, in Omagh, you saw probably one of the nicest examples.

Although John Kennedy will talk about motor vehicle apprenticeships, there is also a concern in the construction sector that the training is going ahead and the jobs are being lost. What, therefore, does that young person do?

The pre-apprenticeship programme that DEL has developed runs parallel, in almost all circumstances, with the apprenticeship programme in colleges. Therefore, young people can transfer back to a pre-apprenticeship programme in order to complete their technical certificate and their essential skills and health-and-safety training. Although that is one route available to them, it does not satisfy their long-term goal of getting jobs. Nevertheless, at least they can be held in parallel provision. Obviously, moving into such a circumstance can be a bit demotivating, and it may lead to long-term retention difficulties.

Perhaps John Kennedy will talk about motor vehicle apprenticeships.

Mr Newton:

Presumably, such circumstances would be demotivating for further education lecturers as well?

Mr Henderson:

They would. However, there are some good examples — particularly, in fact, in Omagh — of holding students in innovative study programmes, whereby, although they may study technical aspects and essential skills in the classroom on day one and day two, practical days are arranged as well. We have encountered such arrangements in private and community-based training organisations, too, where the third- and fourth-day training in colleges and training organisations is matched well to industry standards. Nevertheless, you are quite right: if such arrangements continue for a long time, motivation will be difficult for all concerned.

Mr John Kennedy (Education and Training Inspectorate):

DEL has supplied us with figures on the number of apprenticeships in further education colleges and private organisations. Approximately 30% of apprenticeships are in the further education sector, and the remainder are in the private sector, whether in not-for-profit organisations or otherwise.

You asked whether the standards that are achieved vary according to the size of the employer. The sector skills councils rigorously set apprenticeship frameworks, and NVQ standards are set by industry bodies. In order to achieve a level-2 or level-3 apprenticeship, apprentices must meet framework standards, which include practical competencies. Therefore, the standards should not vary significantly across different providers and workplaces.

With regard to reports that Omagh College of Further Education is having difficulty placing motor-vehicle students in the system, the apprenticeship demands that every apprentice is in paid employment from day one. Therefore, at the end of training, apprentices are not looking for employment, because they already are in employment. However, the college may be referring to attempts to move students from a pre-apprenticeship programme into an apprenticeship. The current economic situation makes that difficult. Many garages across Northern Ireland are paying off apprentices, never mind recruiting new apprentices from the pre-apprenticeship programme.

The Chairperson:

On that point, as a statutory Committee, we must scrutinise the Department’s policies to ensure that they are right. In the present economic downturn, I am concerned that the Committee is being told that lots of things will happen in the current phase, such as foster apprenticeships. It would be useful if the Committee could get a handle on whether an inspection has been conducted since that announcement, because I would not like to return to this issue a year from now to discover that we have left people in apprenticeships to stew for a year.

It is important that we inspect the environment that people are in, but it is also important — as the Deputy Chairperson, I believe, said — to follow through on the client. It may be useful, as you said, to keep apprentices for one or two years, but that is demotivating and undesirable, particularly for young people. That dredges up the issue of four or five years ago about people at whatever level being exploited, and we must not leave young people in further education colleges or in businesses for two or three years until we get it right. We must try to get it right now.

Mr Goudie:

The inspectorate focuses absolutely on the learner who, in this case, are the young people concerned. Whatever our inspections findings might be, we will report those publicly without fear or favour. That is the reason for the inspectorate’s existence. I will ask Paul McAlister to explain where the inspectorate is with its findings at the moment.

Mr Paul McAlister (Education and Training Inspectorate):

The Education and Training Inspectorate is currently conducting a survey of ApprenticeshipsNI, the report of which will probably be available in about a month’s time, but certainly before Easter. That will, as Stanley said, be a public report and in the public arena, and we would be keen to have an opportunity to talk to the Committee in due course about that report, or to reply to any correspondence on it that the Committee might wish to send us. The report will, obviously, be disseminated to the relevant parts of DEL and to those people whose work was surveyed. The inspectorate is, however, very happy to disseminate it to wherever we feel that it will be of benefit.

The Chairperson:

OK, that is important, and it would be useful for the Committee to receive a copy of that report.

Ms Lo:

You are all very welcome. I have two questions, one of which is general and the other more specific with regard to inspections.

First, based on recent briefings to the Committee by the construction sector in particular, it is difficult for employers also to provide apprenticeships to people from the pre-apprenticeship programme when colleges are supposed to keep apprentices for 35 hours a week, but instead of keeping them in college they are sending them to employers, who do not have to pay, so it is free. Then there is the strand of the apprenticeship whereby an employer has to employ and pay the apprentice, and there is that twin-track approach which is, I think, causing difficulties. How does the inspectorate feel about that?

My other question also relates to the construction sector. In Northern Ireland, contractors sub-contract quite a lot. Carpenters, for example, are paid based on how many doors they hang in a day, and they do not have time for the apprentice. Is that the quality of mentoring that exists, and how can that issue be addressed? If the sub-contractor is so busy counting how many doors or windows that he can install in a day, because that is how his pay is calculated, how would he have time to train a young apprentice on site?

Mr Henderson:

I will answer the second question first. In general, the size of the employer does not have a large bearing on the training that is offered. A small employer will sometimes offer a wider range of training because they are dealing with a broader range of work. With a large employer, however, the work may be repetitive. During an inspection, we visit a representative and judicious sample of young people in the workplace and interview them face to face about what they did last week, what they are doing today, and what they will be doing next week. We gather together that evidence, which forms a very significant part of our feedback to the organisation.

As you know, we grade training. I worked as an engineer on site and I am, therefore, familiar with how things work on site. Therefore, if I am not content with the workplace training, I will direct my feedback at the employer. The young person should receive a complete package of training, not just what they get at the college or the private organisation or community-based organisation. If we felt that the training was not suitable, we would grade it accordingly, and take the matter very seriously.

Ms Lo:

Do you think that the practice on the big sites is that the apprentices are, perhaps, not really getting the mentoring that they should be getting?

Mr Henderson:

Not necessarily. As I said, if two large companies are compared side by side, one may have in place a mentor who carefully makes sure that the young person gets a spread of work, and the other may not. However, in the inspectorate’s construction survey, which was published in September, I referred to the fact that in small number of organisations, young people are undertaking very repetitive work. Interestingly, one may come across a young person who is working to a very high standard on repetitive work, which could be sometime as detailed as the computer-controlled manufacture of staircases. The work may be very high-level, but it is not broad enough, and we would comment on that fact.

In answer to the first question: it has always been a concern of employers that pre-apprentices might smother the market for apprentices, and I understand that concern. There is not a lot of evidence on the ground to suggest that that occurs on a massive scale, but it is, obviously, of concern to employers if it is happening at all. DEL’s scheme is supposed to keep young people on pre-apprenticeships in college for a certain length of time. However, we are finding a wide variation in how that is designed, and it changes from organisation to organisation. The survey found that employers in the construction sector are, generally, sometimes confused about the difference between a pre-apprentice and an apprentice, and pre-apprentices may think that they are employed, but they are not employed. That confusion needs to be cleared up. However, DEL has put efforts into advertising the ApprenticeshipsNI programme this year. I hope that that answers your question.

Mr Goudie:

I do not know whether the Committee has a copy of that 2008 report, but it is certainly welcome to have this hard copy. The report itself is available on the Education and Training Inspectorate website.

Mrs McGill:

I was going to start by welcoming the delegation, and following that up by saying that there is not a female in sight — but I will not.

The Chairperson:

You should.

Mr Goudie:

No females as far as you can see. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

What he meant to say is that the real workers are back at the office.

Mr Goudie:

Do take that off the record. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

The meeting is being recorded for the Hansard report.

Ms McGill:

Anyway, I would like to hear the delegation’s views about essential skills. I ask because at a number of briefings that the Committee received from different groups, we heard that the last thing that young people want to do is to go back into a classroom-type situation. At times, there seems to be a contradiction there. Essential skills is, obviously, a flagship programme for the Department, and there is a requirement for a degree of literacy.

The second question concerns the inspectorate’s forthcoming report on ApprenticeshipsNI. I do not know its terms of reference, but I have some concern as a result of constituents approaching me on the issue. Young people in rural areas have difficulties with getting to college and travel allowances. By the time those are resolved, any enthusiasm that the young people had for taking up apprenticeships and continuing with a form of education has long gone, and they would prefer to be out and in a job if someone will employ them. I raised that issue a number of times at this Committee. Will that be dealt with in the report, or is that something at which you will be looking?

Mr Goudie:

Essential skills is an issue for the inspectorate with regard to inspection right back to pre-school. If young people do not have literacy and numeracy skills, that closes down much of the curriculum to them. Therefore, we see those skills as exceedingly important. I will ask John Baird to speak about essential skills, and the important question that you asked about those young people in a rural setting.

Mr John Baird (Education and Training Inspectorate):

The frameworks for ApprenticeshipsNI contain the requirement to achieve a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. Our findings show variations in how those are delivered and how they are being received by young people. In our best practice — according to the survey that will come out fairly soon — we are, in some sectors, seeing innovative ways of how that can be delivered through an apprenticeship framework.

Through the pre-apprenticeship, level-2, full-time and further education work that we are seeing in some of the priority skills areas, more and more young people are coming on to the programmes with lower levels of literacy and numeracy. That is well documented, and it is a real challenge for the suppliers of further education and for employers to provide not only the dedicated professional, technical and vocational training, but also to ensure that young people coming in with those lower levels of ability in essential skills move on and have achieved at least a functional level of literacy and numeracy in a vocational context.

As Greer has said, when the inspectorate looks at a programme or a range of programmes, we look specifically at the quality of provision for essential skills. If, from our point of view, that provision is not good enough, we will report and grade that to the supplier, and work with them beyond inspection in order to ensure that, where deficiencies exist, we will try to ensure that we move the provision forward. It is an issue, and it is mentioned in the chief inspector’s report, that more and more young people are coming into further education in all guises — whether full-time, apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship provision — who need to be supported better through those programmes. I suppose that the question is how we all work together to address the issue.

Mr Goudie:

One of the issues in the chief inspector’s report was that around one fifth of primary-school leavers are not achieving the appropriate level of literacy and numeracy. That transfers into the post-primary sector, and those young people are, therefore, presenting to the further education and training sector with those deficiencies. It is not necessarily the total responsibility of the sector to address those deficiencies. Connecting back with post-primary schools is another dimension of helping to solve that problem.

Mr Baird:

Sorry, but could you repeat your question about the rural issue?

Mrs McGill:

I am from the north-west, and there is an issue for young people in those rural areas in getting to college without incurring costs. We should be doing everything that we can in order to encourage them. However, by the time they get to the bus and pay for their travel, the enthusiasm to continue with any kind of college-based provision has gone, and they then take up some form of employment.

I am raising that issue because constituents have raised it with me. They told me how their young people are having difficulty with travel allowances, and so on. The allowance often does not adequately cover their travel costs. On top of that, their benefits are checked. So, all sorts of issues arise. I do not know how we can get around that problem, so I am keen to hear your views. My view is that we should be doing everything that we can to encourage young people to take up apprenticeships. Instead, it seems that they face one barrier after another, with some people facing more barriers than others, particularly those living in rural areas.

The Chairperson:

Travel was a major issue that was raised with the Committee when it visited Omagh.

Mr P McAlister:

I support you on that point, and I speak as a founder of the Rural Community Network for Northern Ireland. It is well documented that the rural transport infrastructure throws up all sorts of challenges for people in all walks of life. We are focusing on a particular sector today and the difficulties faced by people who want to return to learning or take up apprenticeships, and so on.

In a way, the problem affects that sector more so than others. People undertaking apprenticeships might not have had the opportunity to save up to buy a car, whereas someone who is in long-term employment may already have a car. Living in a rural area is, therefore, a real challenge. John Kennedy has worked on the matter, and he has told me that that issue has been raised with him in the past. He might like to make some comments.

Mr J Kennedy:

Travel issues will affect the options open to a 16-year-old leaving school. If they are on a pre-apprenticeship scheme under the Training for Success programme, their travel costs will be subsidised to a certain extent. However, apprentices are in employment and do not receive any travel subsidy. In many instances, their pay is not much more than the training allowance under the Training for Success programme. Therefore, some people find it difficult to afford to travel.

That problem was raised by a few trainees in the focus groups that we organise as part of our work. We interviewed apprentices, particularly those whose work is based in Belfast but who have to travel from the country. Many of them have had to take up residence locally, so travel is certainly an issue. In some cases, their parents support them in their first period of training.

However, the situation is varied, and there are a number of contracts across Northern Ireland. Accessibility to level 2 training is reasonable. However, if a person wants to work in Bombardier Shorts but lives in the north-west, he or she will have to travel to Belfast, and that is a challenge for a young 16-year-old. Some of the bigger employers have recognised that problem and have revised their pay structures for entry-level staff to reflect that. However, that practice is not widespread.

Mrs McGill:

With respect, in the area that I represent, the problem is more serious than you have outlined. The Deputy Chairperson already mentioned Omagh, and I will describe the experience of a young person in my constituency who contacted me. That person travelled from outside Strabane to attend the South West College campus in Omagh, and had worked out what the travel costs would be. In the end, however, they threw their hands in the air and said “no”, someone else would take them on locally. They were involved in the automotive sector, as well. Travel costs are, therefore, a major issue.

Mr P McAlister:

One difficulty is that even when a person is given a travel allowance, there is often no public transport for them to use.

Mrs McGill:


Mr P McAlister:

Bus timetables do not always coincide with the needs of a young person who has to travel to a training course or a further education college. That is a challenge for all Departments to some extent, and for Northern Ireland plc. If we want to get people to work, we must ensure that there is a means to get them there. As the member rightly says: the more attractive the proposition, the better. There is a requirement on Departments to rural-proof policies and initiatives, but it is not within our brief to examine rural proofing.

The Chairperson:

The good thing is that the Committee will produce a report, which will take a holistic approach to all of those issues. We are not shy about making recommendations to other Ministers or other Departments, or to the Executive. I am sure that that issue will arise.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter:

I thank the witnesses for coming before the Committee today. As someone who has spent half a lifetime working with young people in further and higher education, my question is based on an experience that I had many years ago. The principal of the college asked me if I would try to raise communication skills among lads who entered the college at the very lower level. In fact, they were called metal bashers, or metal formers. Some of those lads could not even write their own name, and I was struggling to make any progress with them on communication.

Then there was an inspection, carried out by a lady who had spent all of her working life in a very elite girls’ school. She did not seem to know anything at all about the ethos of apprenticeships at the level at which I was working. She criticised me heavily on two points; the first was that I was not teaching those lads Shakespeare. One can imagine what it is like to try to teach Shakespeare to a lot of metal bashers. The second criticism was that I had to write everything on the board, otherwise those lads would not have been able to understand anything.

What is the inspectorate doing to ensure that, when an inspector visits the like of a further-education college, they are fully aware of the ethos of the classes that they are going to inspect?

Mr Goudie:

You make a good point, because from my perspective the important thing is that the inspector in any sector should have the credibility to speak with the teacher or the lecturer in that situation. I cannot comment on the specific example that you gave, but, from my perspective, we endeavour to ensure that inspectors are deployed in areas in which they have the skill to do precisely the job that they are required to do. In addition, the inspectorate invests heavily in staff development and training. However, I do take your point seriously, and Paul McAlister may wish to comment on that.

Mr McAlister:

It is not unreasonable to expect that the person who inspects an institution should be very familiar with the area that they are inspecting. There is absolutely no argument there. I agree with Stanley that credibility is very important. With regard to people who have particular challenges, that issue has been examined very closely, particularly since the special educational needs (SEN) legislation was enacted, which contains a presumption to inclusion.

We have, for example, included people with experience as principals of special schools as part of a team going to inspect that area in, for example, further education, so that if there are young people presenting with autism, or with particular difficulties of behaviour or dyslexia, someone with a background as a principal of a special school is au fait with what are reasonable expectations for the learner and, equally, for the teacher, tutor or lecturer in those circumstances.

Equally, for example, when inspecting childcare courses in the further-education sector, on occasion we have asked some of our colleagues from the pre-school sector to join the inspection team, so that people who are used to working with the pre-school age group see how the students in the further education college are being prepared to work with that age group in order that there is a cross-fertilisation and an understanding. The feedback that we have received is that, in those circumstances, very helpful advice has been given to the college by someone from that sector.

Therefore, we are very aware of the need to ensure that, where there are particular challenges, we equip ourselves in staffing a team when going into a college or training organisation to look at those challenges from an experienced perspective.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter:

It is soul-destroying for a lecturer to get a report like that from the inspectorate, when that lecturer knows full well that it is totally impossible to do what the inspector was asking. From that point of view, I am encouraged by what you have said: that, in future, when inspectors go into an area, they are fully aware of the challenges to the lecturers in that area.

Mr McAlister:

I will not go on too long about this issue. However, under an initiative that the inspectorate has been operating for several years, we have experienced associate assessors — usually heads of departments from other colleges — join our inspection teams. They bring recent important and relevant experience in areas such as software engineering. That also helps to ensure that we have, in the inspection team, a voice from the perspective of the college.

The Chairperson:

It is important to achieve a balance. We must ensure that proper levels of provision are in place. I know a lot of people who are involved in education who feel that you put the fear of God into them. I do not think that that is a bad thing. [Laughter.] If we are saying that people can be sold short, then it is important that people such as you have a role.

A paper that you submitted to the Committee gives a breakdown of the Education and Training Inspectorate and its various managing inspectors, one of whom oversees special education. Work-based learning and adult and community education are also highlighted. I have a personal interest in adults with a disability, and those are two different teams in the inspectorate. Is there a means for those teams to join so that an inspection can deal with both areas?

Mr Goudie:

Absolutely. The assistant chief inspector, who is mentioned in our submission, is Dr Maureen Bennett, who sees special educational needs crossing the piece. Therefore, there is good cross-fertilisation in the organisation. We take the issue of special education, including disability, very seriously.

On the back of what Paul McAlister said, in the past few years we have ensured that the inspection process is independently monitored — by PricewaterhouseCoopers in this particular instance. That information is put into the public domain and is another means whereby I can have an assurance that what we are doing is fair and equitable. I take your point, however; I would not use your phrase “put the fear of God into them”, but I know where you are coming from.

The Chairperson:

There are a couple of points that I wish to raise before we finish. The Committee wants to consider best practice, too, and there are many organisations that are doing great work. Perhaps the inspectorate could recommend one such organisation for the Committee to visit, because it is important that we are not in an ivory tower, and that we can see what is happening. So, any recommendations for such a visit would be useful. However, the key issue is that does the inspectorate have any enforcement powers with regard to its reports, or can they be just ignored?

Mr Goudie:

They certainly cannot be ignored. In my view, the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education are more robust in following through on our reports. Since I took over as chief inspector, it has been my practice to send a copy of the report directly to the relevant permanent secretary, with a covering letter setting out the key findings and the areas for development, and indicating that we will return for a discourse with the departmental officials within 12 to 18 months in order to determine what has or has not happened, and to report publicly on our findings in that follow-up situation.

The Chairperson:

That is useful. On behalf of the Committee, Stanley, I again thank you and your team for coming along. It has been a useful exercise, and it will be important to see the report to which you referred when it is published in, I believe, June.

Mr McAlister:

Are you referring to the report on apprenticeships? I hope that it will be ready before Easter. With Stanley’s permission, I will send a copy to the Committee Clerk.

The Chairperson:

That would be quite useful.

Mr Goudie:

We will certainly follow through on areas of best practice that might be helpful. From our perspective, the publication of examples of good practice helps to raise standards in the system.

The Chairperson:
On behalf of the Committee, thank you very much for your time.