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Work experience aids success

Schools should organise better placements, says Ofsted

Young people who have had exposure to work experience or vocational study are more likely to make good progress in their apprenticeship than those starting straight from school without it, according to a new report from the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).

Matthew Coffey, national director for learning and skills at Ofsted, says: “There has been much concern lately about the quality of apprenticeships.

“When looking at the national picture, we can see that around 70 per cent of apprenticeships are good or outstanding but more needs to be done to improve provision further.”

Coffey suggests that schools should provide “meaningful work experience” to post-16s when preparing them for apprenticeships: “While the majority of learners are completing their apprenticeships, around a quarter are dropping out. It is clear that more work experience, vocational study and course tasters are needed to ensure learners are on the right apprenticeship for them and that they understand the demands of work.”

Ofsted argues that apprenticeships have a key role in the government’s strategy to develop the skills of the workforce and to promote growth, as well as in rebalancing of the nation’s economy. The watchdog stresses the importance of employers and teachers working together so that learners can show evidence and be readily assessed on both the practical and theoretical skills they gain.

Despite the benefits of work experience, employers surveyed said that the number of students they could accommodate on placements was restricted.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.