Government admits rules over apprentice GCSEs are 'complex and confusing'

Apprentices can now use GCSEs of any date to complete their course, while the rules have been ‘complex and confusing’, a Government body has admitted.

Rules disqualifying certain GCSEs from being used for apprenticeships are ‘overly complex and confusing for students, their parents and providers, and [have] resulted in numerate and literate apprentices having to study English and Maths because SASE deemed their GCSEs out of date or their iGCSEs invalid, ’ according to the body which certifies apprentices.

The move marks the end of a legal battle to abolish the ‘five-year rule’, under which apprentices could only complete their course using GCSEs that were five years old or less.

Last month, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) formally abolished this rule when it published a modified version of the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE).

However, it was unclear if the rules would have any practical effect, as the early years apprenticeship framework, which sits on top of SASE and sets sector-specific standards, has not been amended.

Now, The Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards says it has ‘obtained agreement that the current SASE frameworks do not need to be amended and re-issued’ but the five year rule can be removed.

It adds 'removing the five-year rule ... will streamline SASE guidance considerably'.

SASE now also includes both regulated and unregulated iGCSEs as equivalent to GCSEs.

The changes will only affect new apprenticeship starting from 6 April.

Ross Midgley of training provider PBD, who won a judicial review of the five-year rule, said, ‘Apparently the government lawyers have invented some magic fairy dust which can be sprinkled over existing frameworks, without the need to re-issue them, which makes the words printed in the framework take on a completely different meaning for learners who enrol after 5 April.

‘I’m not entirely clear why this cannot be retrospective fairy dust – after all, magic is magic – but in any event this does now seem to be an almost complete vindication of our judicial review. All apprentices – not just those in early years – are now free of the odious five-year rule and able to demonstrate their maths and English skills via a wide range of qualifications.’  

The document setting out these changes also says, ‘Legally we cannot bring in retrospective changes.’

BIS, which licences sector skills councils, has previously said that, ‘The legislation cannot apply retrospectively. Apprentices must meet the requirements that were in place when they started their apprenticeship.

'We are working with key partners to find the best way to implement the changes.

The abolition of the five-year rule, which has been in place since the interim apprenticeship framework came in in September, will last from April to August, when a new ‘trailblazer’ standard comes in.

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