Higher-quality apprenticeships to be graded

A new type of high-quality apprenticeship is to be introduced in England, with apprentices being awarded different grades according to ability.

These tougher apprenticeships were unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron on a visit to BMW's Mini car plant in Oxford.  They will be offered by 60 firms from next year and will run in parallel with existing apprenticeships.  
Mr Cameron promised the "best apprenticeships in the world".
The new apprenticeships are designed to raise the quality of the schemes and make them more straightforward for employers. They are being brought in as a response to the Richard Review last year which called for the status and quality of apprenticeships to be much more clearly defined.  
Apprentices completing their training will be graded as either pass, merit or distinction, giving a clearer impression of their level of achievement, rather than a simple pass or fail. The new apprenticeships will be based on "rigorous independent assessment", with at least two thirds of the assessment taking place at the end of the training. Training will have to last at least one year and must include at least 20% time away from where the apprentice is working.  We hope the reforms announced today will strengthen and protect the image of apprenticeships which, over the years, has been damaged by constant change”
There are also plans for apprentices to have English and maths at a level equivalent to a good GCSE.
The new system, beginning from the end of 2014, will be shaped around the needs of employers in specific sectors. These will be aerospace, automotive, digital industries, electro-technical, energy, financial services, food and drink, and life and industrial sciences. Among the firms supporting the plans are Airbus, Rolls Royce, BMW, Ford, Toyota, Microsoft, British Gas, Barclays, Unilever and GSK. 
By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent.
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