The number of apprenticeships lasting less than a year has fallen “dramatically” after they were outlawed over fears about the quality of short-term programmes.

They fell from 43 per cent (224,000) of the total number of apprenticeship starts in 2011/12, to just 8 per cent (28,000) for the first nine months of the academic year.

The figures were obtained from the Skills Funding Agency by FE Week under the Freedom of Information Act.

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), said: “It is our priority to ensure that apprenticeships are of sufficient duration to deliver the high quality training apprentices and businesses need.

“Although this is provisional data, it is good news that the proportion of short apprenticeships has fallen dramatically.

“Under the current rules there will always be a small number of apprenticeships lasting less than a year, because we allow some flexibility for adult apprentices who have relevant prior learning.”

There were 17,600 intermediate level apprenticeships of less than a year’s duration last year, among which the 19 to 24 age group saw the most at 7,600.

There were 10,300 short-term advanced level apprenticeships, with the 25+ age group the largest at 5,300. And there were 200 among higher apprenticeships, shared equally between the 19 to 24 and 25+ age groups.

The minimum duration rule came in from August last year following concerns about short-term programmes, some delivered in as little as 12 weeks, by private training providers.

David Way, National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) chief operating officer, said at the time: “We need to ensure that all apprenticeships are high quality.

“By ensuring they last between one and four years, we are not only giving employers what they say they want but also giving confidence back to everyone who has questioned the growth in shorter apprenticeships.”

The BIS Select Committee “supported” the minimum duration rule, but said it should be monitored so that, for example, talented learners did not feel held back if they felt able to complete the programme sooner.

However, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers was opposed to the rule and has continued to argue for exceptions in light of this year’s fall in short-term apprenticeships.

An association spokesperson told FE Week: “Employers and providers have down the years regularly shown that they are very flexible in adapting to rule changes in skills programmes, so the figures are hardly a surprise.

“We maintain the long-standing position though, that exceptional candidates should be allowed to complete an apprenticeship in less than a year if it is in the interests of both the employer and the learner.

“The select committee heard some evidence from employers that this was a reasonable stance and we should remember that apprenticeship frameworks are employer-owned.

“Furthermore, longer programme durations do not automatically mean an improvement in quality as there are a host of other factors which come into consideration as well.

“The committee was therefore right to recommend that the impact of the rule changes should be closely monitored to ensure that talented and older apprentices with appropriate work experience are not dissuaded from joining the programme.”