Apprenticeships should be redefined as “intensive three-year training programmes” to help curb the 31 per cent A-levels drop-out rate, new research revealed.

The Policy Exchange thinktank released a report with several recommendations and said there needed to be “a clear alternative route offering high quality technical or vocational provision”. It named apprenticeships as a “key part” of this.

The report, written by Dr Owen Corrigan, said taxpayers lose around £300m a-year with a third of A-level students dropping out when “vocationally-oriented programmes of study may have been more suitable for them”.

And skills gaps affected one-in-five businesses with technical holes being found in more than 50 per cent of those workplaces. Fifty two per cent of employers anticipated difficulties filling roles in science technology engineering and mathematics in the next three years.

“This report advances the case for building a high quality technical and vocational route through the education system from 14 to 19 as an alternative to traditional academic education,” said the report.

“To guarantee its brand and desirability as a progression destination, and to stimulate more employers to offer this type of training, apprenticeships should be redefined in stronger and clearer terms as an intensive three-year training programme with significant educational and workplace learning requirements.”

The report makes 22 recommendations, including that an element of payment-by-results was reintroduced to “ensure all providers help learners make the right decisions and encourage them to achieve”.

FE Minister Matthew Hancock said: “We strongly agree that vocational education needs transforming for young people to succeed in today’s job market.

“That’s why we have such a vigorous reform programme. We are reforming apprenticeships, introducing traineeships and overhauling the system to recognise only high quality vocational courses that lead directly to a skilled trade or profession.”

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: “Britain risks losing the global race on skills. We need to be as strong as Germany and Switzerland on vocational education, and as competitive as Singapore and Japan on maths.”

Nevertheless, Dr Corrigan’s report also called for a stronger inspection of technical courses by Ofsted and the establishment of a dedicated vocational commissioning body to sit within the Department for Education (DfE) – planning better provision for these subjects.

He said university technical colleges (UTCs) and employment-focused studio schools were “reinvigorating the landscape with high levels of employer engagement”.

Technical education providers should document all employer contributions to their curriculum, have their facilities accredited, should be served notices to improve if
they fail to meet quality standards and Ofsted should inspect information, advice
and guidance (IAG) at schools while non-school providers should be incentivised to produce IAG.

Achievement rates for all 16 to 19 providers should be included in the annual DfE performance tables and the report backed plans for a TechBacc qualification to reward students taking high-quality vocational courses alongside core academic skills.