Last week was National Apprenticeships Week 2016. The theme for this year was 'An apprenticeship can take you anywhere', with a particular focus on higher skills to show how young people, entrepreneurs and businesses can 'rise to the top' through traineeships and apprenticeships.

Last week also marked a deadline for submissions to the House of Commons Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy inquiry into apprenticeships. The inquiry is set to look at issues such as the Government’s target of three million apprentices by 2020, how the Government proposes to achieve this, and how this may affect the 'skills gap' in the UK.

United Response submitted a detailed document to the Sub-Committee last Friday about apprenticeships and learning disabilities. We are concerned that the excellent opportunities offered by apprenticeships are blocked for young people with a learning disability.

Apprenticeships are not accessible

The theme of our submission was: 'Apprenticeships can’t take people with learning disabilities anywhere because they are not accessible, despite a detailed report which called for this more than four years ago'.

Following a visit to a young person we support from Shadow Children’s Minister Sharon Hodgson MP, and local MP Catherine McKinnell, it came to light that many young people with a learning disabilities are prevented from applying for apprenticeships.

Basic entry-level requirements for apprenticeships (Intermediate Level 2) require 5 GCSE passes at grades A* to C. Many people with a learning disability can never achieve this level of academic attainment.

(From left to right) Amie Dobinson - development co-ordinator for United Response; Catherine McKinnell MP; Sharon Hodgson MP; Joe - an 18 year old supported by United Response; Stacy Milner - service manager for United Response.

Barriers should be knocked down"

At a meeting of the Education Select Committee on 2nd March 2016, Catherine McKinnell MP raised this issue after meeting her constituent.

She mentioned: “There are many individuals who can be highly skilled at the technical side of an apprenticeship, being a welder for example, but they struggle to get their grade C GCSE Maths and English.”

She asked Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills, Ofsted, for his view on “what seems to be barriers for people who can do the practical side of it, but can’t achieve that level of literacy?”

Sir Michael replied that “the barriers should be knocked down”.

Watch the full discussion below:

Back in January 2012, Peter Little OBE published a review into the inclusiveness of apprenticeships for people with learning difficulties or disabilities. His review offered recommendations that would make apprenticeships more inclusive, including the amendment of academic criteria.

In an answer to a written parliamentary question at the end of last year, Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson stated that the Government is still working to meet the recommendations made by this report.

Reduced employment opportunities

Feedback from our Supported Employment team gathered for this submission details how the majority of people we support could complete many roles that are advertised as apprenticeships, with our initial support fading out over time, but these people do not get the opportunity to apply because of their lack of academic qualifications.

Our team feel that over the last few years, entry-level jobs that we once would have assisted people we support in applying to, and completing work trials for, have now been transferred over to apprenticeships. This has exacerbated barriers to employment for people with learning disabilities.

It would seem that increasing the number of apprenticeships, whilst keeping in place academic barriers for people with a learning disability, has simultaneously reduced employment opportunity for this group.

United Response urges the Sub-Committee to recommend changes to apprenticeships to allow access for young people with learning disabilities. Allowing opportunity for those who might never reach current levels of academic requirements would give a chance of real employment for a group of people whose potential remains untapped, and who remain significantly underrepresented in the workplace.

John JC Cooper, campaigns and public affairs manager.