The government will miss its target of getting three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, the education secretary has conceded.
Appearing before the Commons’ Education Committee yesterday (26 June), Damian Hinds said the target, set in 2015, “is not going to be reached” based on the number of people who have started an apprenticeship since then.
After the apprenticeship levy was introduced in April 2017, the number of people starting an apprenticeship plummeted. According to Department for Education statistics, there were only 285,000 apprenticeship starts between August 2018 and March 2019, compared with 362,400 in 2016/17 and 346,300 in 2015/16 – before the levy took effect.
Pressed by committee chair Robert Halfon on whether the three million target was going to be achieved, Hinds said: “You’re a mathematically adept person, and if you project the line out at the moment, in terms of sheer volume… no”.
Hinds said apprenticeships were becoming longer and involved more “off the job” training, which meant they were now of “much higher quality”.
The government’s apprenticeships programme has been widely criticised. In May the Public Accounts Committee said apprenticeship funds were being used to pay for professional training or management courses employers would otherwise have paid for themselves, while the National Audit Office claimed many firms were using the levy to fund “costly” level 6 and 7 apprenticeships.
Ben Rowland, government and public services director at online training provider AVADO, said many poor quality apprenticeships have ceased since the levy was introduced, which has had an effect on the number of apprenticeship places available.
“One of the main criticisms of apprenticeships prior to the levy was that many low value, low quality programmes were giving apprenticeships a bad name,” he said.
“Putting employers in the driving seat really has made a difference: the content and quality of programmes has gone up (as evidenced by the growth in advanced and higher level programmes) and the poor programmes have been culled. Unsurprisingly, this has had an impact on total numbers – but in a good way!”
He said it was likely that employers will increase their use of apprenticeships as they become more familiar with the programme.
“While the 3 million will be missed this Parliament, I do not doubt that that number will be met and surpassed in the next Parliament.”