Apprenticeship in UK – The focus is still on boosting numbers rather than on the hard and sustained work required to improve quality

Better Apprenticeships draws on research by teams from the UCL Institute of Education and the Centre for Vocational Education Research at LSE to analyse the current state of play for apprenticeships in England.

‘Apprenticeship quality and social mobility’, authored by Alison Fuller & Laura Unwin from the UCL Institute of Education, analyses whether sufficient quality indicators are in place to facilitate social mobility for young people (aged 16-24) through apprenticeships. It also provides an analytical framework to support quality improvement through a more ‘expansive’ approach.


Apprenticeship quality and social mobility

  • Good quality apprenticeships lead to improved employment and pay prospects, and enable apprentices to progress further in their careers and education. Their quality arises from a shared understanding about and sustained commitment to ensuring the needs of both the employer and the apprentice are met. However, as this report shows, the current apprenticeship model and system of quality assurance are not fit for purpose. Although England has some very good quality apprenticeships, too many are failing to provide sufficient training and access to skilled work to enable participants to progress. Instead, the focus is still on boosting numbers rather than on the hard and sustained work required to improve quality.
  • The segmentation of apprenticeship by level puts an artificial break on progression. There is no expectation that apprenticeship will enable progression to the next occupational or educational level. As the majority of apprenticeships are at level 2 and as the majority of apprentices under the age of 25 start their training below their existing level of educational attainment, many apprentices are treading water. This problem has been further entrenched by the IfA’s decision to remove qualifications from the new intermediate and advanced apprenticeship standards except in ‘special circumstances’.
  • Existing employees are frequently ‘converted’ into apprentices. They comprise two thirds of apprentices, making apprenticeship a largely ‘adult’ programme. The apprenticeship levy may encourage more ‘conversions’ as a way for large employers to reclaim their money. As it is based on pay-roll, it will also raise more money in London and the South East of England and so may contribute to further regional inequality.


  • There should be more advanced and higher apprenticeships, targeted at younger age groups, to give young people a platform for progression to higher level learning and careers including through university.
    Progression for those beginning on lower level apprenticeships should be seamless and automatic. Level 2 and 3 apprentices should not hit arbitrary glass ceilings and have similar chances as their A-level or graduate peers to access the next level, including higher and degree apprenticeships.
  • Apprenticeships should all be of good quality and give apprentices the expertise and capability to adapt to change in the labour market, rather than merely the accreditation of current skills.
  • The Institute for Apprenticeships and the levy should have a widening access function to ensure access to advanced and higher apprenticeships for those from less advantaged backgrounds.
  • There should be a stronger drive from the government to support and encourage employers to improve the quality and availability of apprenticeships for young people, and to young people to take them up. Careers advice should more strongly take into account the benefits of apprenticeships as a route to labour market recognition and educational progression.
  • Gender segregation should be tackled through better careers advice and not reinforcing gender stereotypes. Advice should be clearer about the potential careers, salaries and progression prospects that are likely to arise from undertaking an apprenticeship in different sectors. Employers should be aware of the need to diversify the employment pool in the interests of using all available talent and advancing social mobility for all groups.
  • Government should ensure adequate funding for apprenticeships in non-levy paying employers. Adequate funding, across sectors, is essential for safeguarding quality and ensuring a valuable experience for apprentices.

    Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Better Apprenticeships – Sutton Trust

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