The Apprenticeship duty and how it affects schools

Written by: Lee Povah | Published:
Enterprise Bill: (here and below) Apprentices at work in UK schools. Large schools are soon to face requirements to take on Apprenticeships (Images: National Schools Training)

The government has set a target of three million Apprenticeships by 2020 and the public sector, including larger schools, is expected to play its part. Lee Povah explains

Despite a weighty government push over the last few years, Apprenticeships are often viewed as “second rate” to higher education. While this perception is shifting, it remains prevalent in schools and wider society.

Schools have been criticised by many, including education secretary Nicky Morgan, for overtly pushing students towards higher education instead of providing objective information about the variety of Apprenticeship options available to them. Yet increasingly Apprenticeships are being seen as an effective mechanism for facilitating social mobility.

Due to government targets and public funds, an unprecedented 871,800 young people held an Apprenticeship role in the 2014/15 academic year.

And it is now clear that many schools will be required to play a role in helping the government to meet its ambitious target of three million new Apprenticeships by 2020.

There is still some way to go in building awareness of what taking on an apprentice in a school means and articulating the mutual benefits they can bring.

Public sector duty

Apprenticeships have become the watchword of the day for public sector bodies since the Enterprise Bill was presented to Parliament in December 2015.

Most significantly to schools, it proposes to give the secretary of state for business innovation and skills (BIS) the legal right to set public sector Apprenticeship targets.

So what does this mean for the public sector? The bulk of the government target will be absorbed by the private sector (around 75 per cent), but the remainder is expected to be in public sector roles. The government has set a mandatory target of 2.3 per cent of all large public sector body workforces to be apprentices – the recording period will be the financial year and this practice will start on April 6, 2017.

The government aims to make the public sector a model employer in this respect, leading by example and offering a sizable number of Apprenticeships to develop a skilled workforce for the future.

While many details are yet to be confirmed, schools with a workforce of more than 250 will be required by law to help meet the Apprenticeships target. What may not be immediately obvious is that many large schools and academies, if they are hosted by their local authority or part of a multi-academy trust, will have a duty to meet the target.

The Apprenticeship Levy

The government plans to implement an “Apprenticeship Levy” from April 2017 to help fund its three million new Apprenticeships. This will be a tax on all UK employers at a rate of 0.5 per cent of the company pay bill.

Initially this levy will have a one-off allowance meaning that unless 0.5 per cent of an employer’s payroll amounts to more than £15,000, they won’t have to pay anything.

As a result, only schools and academies with a payroll bill of more than £3 million will have to pay the levy from the beginning.

To get an idea, the government in its consultation response gave two examples of how the levy would work in practice:

  • An employer of 250, each with a gross salary of £20,000 will have a pay bill of £5,000,000. The levy will be £25,000 (0.5 per cent of the pay bill). The allowance of £15,000 leaves £10,000 to pay.
  • An employer of 100, each with a gross salary of £20,000, will have a pay bill of £2,000,000. The levy will be £10,000 (0.5 per cent of the pay bill). The allowance of £15,000 means there is nothing to pay.

Employers will be able to reclaim their levy contributions as digital vouchers to use to pay for training apprentices.

The government will use the money raised via the levy to fund Apprenticeships for smaller employers. In the case of schools this will most likely be primary schools and small schools. School leaders, especially those whose schools sit within multi-academy trusts, should ensure they request the use of this funding.

What can schools offer?

Becoming an apprentice employer will likely become a reality for most schools. First, a school will need to set up an Apprenticeship framework.

The basic requirements for schools are to provide 280 hours (seven full working weeks) of guided learning over a 12-month period with employment for 30-hours-a-week.

Employers must also provide up to Level 2 training in maths and English and a signed Apprenticeship agreement with all of this information in it. Finally, employers must pay apprentices the standard £3.30 per-hour minimum wage. There are three levels of Apprenticeship available:

  • Intermediate level (Level 2) equivalent to five A* to C GCSEs.
  • Advanced level (Level 3) equivalent to two A levels.
  • Higher level (Level 4 and above).

It may be difficult to immediately see what role an apprentice would hold in a school but schools can provide a huge variety of roles and experiences in areas from teaching assistance, office administration, IT support to kitchen services.

How much will it cost?

The cost to schools as employers will be relatively small. The government will fund Apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds up to the cost of £15,000, and offer co-funding for 19-year-olds and over. Significantly, employers do not have to pay secondary class 1 National Insurance contributions for an apprentice. A minimum salary for an apprentice is £6,435, meaning apprentices represent a cost-effective way of boosting the workforce at a time of diminishing budgets.

The benefits?

Aside from the comparatively low costs to schools, apprentices offer other benefits too. Hiring apprentices can help tackle staff shortages by providing qualified staff who can fill openings when they arise. They also represent a cost-effective way of training new and enthusiastic talent.

Skills Funding Agency data indicates that seven in 10 apprentices stay on with their employer after completing their Apprenticeship. This helps schools with succession planning and tackling recruitment and issues.

  • Lee Povah is from National Schools Training, a provider of Apprenticeships to schools.

Further information


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