Apprenticeships bill success for campaigners


Peers and campaigners have welcomed improvements to a government bill that should make it easier for disabled students to take an apprenticeship.

The government outlined how it would make entry requirements for would-be apprentices more flexible, during the Lords report stage of the apprenticeships, skills, children and learning bill.

Lord Young, the junior business, innovation and skills minister, said the government had adopted a proposal by Lord Rix, Mencap’s president, to allow students with learning difficulties to submit a “portfolio of evidence” to show they are ready for an apprenticeship.

The bill had previously stated that young people would be entitled to a basic “level two” apprenticeship place only if they had five GCSEs.

Campaigning groups such as The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) had said this would discriminate against many young disabled people, such as those with learning difficulties.

Another new amendment will extend the entitlement to an apprenticeship – for suitably-qualified students with learning difficulties – up to the age of 25, rather than the current limit of 18.

The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low said: “These amendments are something for which organisations representing disabled people have been asking and they are very much to be welcomed.”

Following a request by Lord Low, Lord Young agreed that the government would set out a timescale for introducing the changes, and work with disability organisations on regulations, guidance and practical steps to encourage participation of those aged 19 to 25.

He also agreed with Lord Low’s request for “a clear lead from the top” that recruiting disabled apprentices should be a priority.

Lord Young said the government was “absolutely committed” to working with disability organisations “to ensure that we get the regulations right in terms of the criteria and accessibility”.

Lord Low, who is president of the national charity Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, also welcomed government amendments that will ensure education authorities provide transport to allow disabled students between 19 and 25 to attend their further education course if they cannot use public transport or access private transport.

He said the amendments were “a cause for celebration”.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s campaigns and policy coordinator, welcomed the “positive” amendments but said the detail in the regulations would be key.

And she said she hoped the transport commitment would also cover access to transport for disabled learners for vital activities such as field trips and research.

4 November 2009