The truth behind the rumours

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Following a local outcry based on inaccurate information, BV editor Laura spoke to Luke Rake, principal of Kingston Maurward college about the rumours

Luke Rake, principal of
Kingston Maurward College

News that Kingston Maurward College has removed apprenticeships from its course offerings, with immediate effect, recently reached local media. This caused a number of inaccuracies to be shared locally. The BV spoke to the college principal Luke Rake to discover the truth behind the potentially harmful rumours that were causing his phone to ring.
‘Apprenticeships at the college have been in decline for some time.’ Luke says. ‘The numbers are down partly because the numbers of young people in the county as a whole are going down, but also because more and more students are choosing full time education. Simultaneously, our full time agriculture student numbers are growing.
‘We have also seen a reduction in the number of employers offering to take on apprentices, mostly due to the way the government made changes to the systems. It has basically become more onerous for smaller employers and so the numbers went down.
The other major factor is the funding itself. We got to a point where the college was losing a huge amount of money running apprenticeships.
‘The funding has been reduced significantly over recent years. For example, in the farming sector, there were government-imposed changes a few years ago. Previously we received £10,000 a year for a farmworkers apprenticeship; this was moved to a stockpersons apprenticeship. It’s basically the same course, but now we get just £5,000 for it.
‘In addition to which, 20 per cent of that funding isn’t operational money during the course of the provision – we only get it if they pass, when they complete the course, which could be 18 months after they start.
‘Financially, it just doesn’t work. The land-based sector nationally was furious over the changes, and land based colleges across the country for a while refused to run the new farm-oriented apprenticeships because of the change in funding. In the end, they decided (quite rightly): “It is needed in our area, we can manage to run it, we’ll just have to do it at a loss”.

Kingston Maurward College, near Dorchester

Rural challenges
‘So now, unless you’re doing apprenticeships at real scale – hundreds of them, and we weren’t, we had 65 apprentices when we made this decision – it just doesn’t work.
‘We were effectively having to subsidise every apprenticeship we took on from other parts of the college. Had we continued, in the next 12 months we would have lost roughly £150,000. That’s money which could have been spent on, for example, staff pay – we haven’t made a cost of living award to our staff for two years, purely because we can’t afford to. The college, like almost all further education colleges in England, is in a difficult financial position, and our first duty is always to the survival of the whole. Therefore, as a loss-making entity, we had to let apprenticeships go.
‘This is also a specifically rural challenge. If you have an apprentice working for Rolls Royce, you probably have 40, 60 maybe 100 apprentices all in one place – which means you can teach them all in one place and assess them all in one place.
Here, we might have one apprentice working on a farm near Sturminster Newton, one the other side of Gillingham, one at Evershot, one near Dorchester … and they all need visiting regularly, they all need assessing individually. So the sheer mileage costs and practicality involved was a major challenge.
‘It’s not unique to us, it’s a challenge for any rural provider – every local family knows that rural people struggle because of the additional cost of living in a sparsely populated area.

Kingston Maurward students

No one left behind
What happens now to the young people currently mid-apprenticeship? Are they simply left to start again?
‘Not in the least. Those who are close to the end of their course will be finishing off with us. ‘Those who are at an earlier stage in their apprenticeships are still employed, that doesn’t change, but the provider responsible for their training will either be Bicton College if they are in the west of Dorset, or Sparsholt College if they are in the east and north of the county. Both are high-quality land-based colleges, and every single student has had meetings with staff and employers. We have worked very hard with both colleges to ensure those learners are looked after.
‘In a couple of cases students have decided they would actually prefer to stay at Kingston Maurward, and have moved on to a full time programme, which means they’re coming here three days a week instead of just one.’

Kingston Maurward students

Poor timing?
Could this not have been put in place before the school year started in September?
‘It’s something we have been discussing for a while, but apprenticeships do not have a school year – they can start at any time, and roll continuously. There is no natural break, so whenever we had made this decision, it would have been difficult. Ultimately, we didn’t want to close the apprenticeships, but our main responsibility is to the financial security of the whole institution. It was a regrettable, but entirely necessary, thing we had to do.’

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