Apprenticeships Bill ‘may exclude disabled people’

Disabled young people may be excluded from apprenticeships because of entry requirements specified in current legislation, peers warned yesterday.

In a House of Lords debate on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, peers questioned whether provisions on access to apprenticeships were compatible with disability discrimination legislation.

Suitably qualified

The bill would introduce a statutory framework for apprenticeships, including national quality standards, and a right to an apprenticeship for all 16- to 18-year-olds and care leavers who are “suitably qualified”, funded by local authorities.

The legislation specifies that applicants must have “level 1″ qualifications, including in English and Maths. These represent basic skills and are equivalent to GCSEs at grades D or below.

Lord Rix, president of Mencap (right), said he was “particularly concerned” that the requirement would create “unnecessary barriers for learners with a learning disability”.

‘Further exclusion’

He added: “If entry requirements are not made more flexible for people with a learning disability, we may well see further exclusion of those who should really be one of the main beneficiaries of the bill.”

Labour peer Baroness Wilkins raised similar concerns about deaf young people, adding: “A blanket requirement for a GCSE in English may disadvantage a deaf candidate whose first language is British Sign Language.”

Both Rix and Wilkins questioned whether the measure was compatible with the duty on public bodies, under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, to promote disability equality.

Debate

In response, junior children’s minister Baroness Morgan said the government was “very committed to ensuring apprenticeships are accessible to all young people and adults”, but promised to look again at the requirements, saying it was “an important area for us to debate further”.

Young people would be able to pursue an apprenticeship without meeting the qualificaiton criteria but would not have an entitlement to one, she said.

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