Schools ‘misunderstanding’ Apprenticeships, say MPs


An MPs' inquiry warns that there are still too few students on Apprenticeships and calls for action to increase courses and improve careers advice. They also want to see more clarity about the Traineeships programme. Pete Henshaw reports.

Ministers should consider reviving the Young Apprenticeships programme and must also give “greater clarity” about the purpose of Traineeships, MPs have said.

A report from Parliament’s Education Select Committee also warns that too many schools still “misunderstand” Apprenticeships and have a “cultural preference” for academic routes.

After a nine-month inquiry, the committee has concluded that the proportion of young people, aged 16, 17 and 18, taking up any kind of Apprenticeship “remains too low”. Its report this week makes a number of recommendations to the government.

The figures show that Apprenticeship starts in 2013/14 reached 119,760 – this is broken down as 25,540 for 16-year-olds, 38,970 for 17-year-olds and 55,050 for 18-year-olds. However, the overall figure is lower than that in 2010/11, when there were 129,890 starts. 

Ministers told the inquiry that this is because the removal of short Apprenticeship courses led to 40,000 schemes being “weeded out”. In 2009/10, 46 per cent of Apprenticeships lasted at least 12 months – this figure is now 97 per cent (which equated to 116,167 Apprenticeships in 2013/14).

The MPs acknowledged this, but their report still says that the number of quality Apprenticeships must be increased further.

It states: “The central challenge for the government’s reform programme is to drive up the quality of provision while ensuring that more employers commit to providing Apprenticeships for young people.”

The committee also warns that there is still a “misunderstanding” by schools of the “content, progression opportunities and benefits of Apprenticeships”. The report adds: “(This) is compounded by a cultural preference for the academic over the vocational and by incentives to fill 6th form places rather than offer alternatives to young people.”

MPs quote 2014 research from the Sutton Trust which found that 65 per cent of teachers would “rarely or never” advise a student to take an Apprenticeship if they had the grades for university.

The report calls for the government to review the incentives for schools to provide good-quality careers advice, which it says “continues to be inadequate for most young people”, and to “encourage” schools to incorporate work experience into the 14 to 16 curriculum.

The report also calls for the revival of the Young Apprenticeship scheme to be considered. The scheme ran from 2004 to 2010 and provided 14 to 16-year-olds with a vocational option that combined academic study with regular work-based experience. MPs said this was “considered effective at delivering good-quality work experience”.

The report adds: “We recommend that the government look at reviving this programme or developing a model that replicates its core academic and work-based components for this age group.”

The MPs also heard evidence that the government’s Traineeships programme was not sufficiently targeted, with some confusion about who exactly they were aimed at.

Traineeships are for young people who need extra support before they could take on an Apprenticeship. They began in September 2013 and last up to six months, including six weeks of work experience.

The report reveals that there were 7,000 Traineeship starts by 16 to 19-year-olds in 2013/14 and 3,500 in the first quarter of 2014/15.

However, the report states: “The evidence we received on Traineeships highlighted the demand for programmes to assist young people who require further support to progress to a job, an Apprenticeship, or to further study. 

“Whether the current Traineeships programme meets this need is less clear. It is clear that good-quality Traineeships can have a positive impact, but given the lack of wider destination data, it is hard to judge the success of the scheme as a whole.”

The MPs have called on ministers to “provide greater clarity about the purpose of Traineeships and what the success criteria for the programme are”. The report adds: “There is a clear need for a pre-employment programme to help young people into employment or Apprenticeships.”

Graham Stuart MP, chair of the committee, said: “Apprenticeships are a viable, high-quality alternative to more academic routes and should not be seen or presented as a second-class option for young people. Strong efforts must be made to challenge prevailing attitudes that unduly favour academic routes and block access to information about Apprenticeships. Schools need to provide their pupils with far better information on Apprenticeships and the potential value of early experience in the workplace. The government must review and improve the incentives used to ensure schools provide good-quality, balanced careers advice and work experience for their pupils.”

He added: “Good-quality Traineeships can also lead to positive outcomes for young people, but the government must provide clarity about the aims of its programme and how it will measure the value providers deliver to trainees as it looks to expand the number of Traineeships.”

The report, Apprenticeships and Traineeships for 16 to 19-year-olds can be downloaded at

Photo: iStock


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