The number of apprenticeship starts in England has fallen for the first time in seven years, according to new figures published by the government.

The final (rather than provisional) figures in latest statistical first release show that in the 2012/13 academic year, there were 10,400 fewer apprenticeship starts than in 2011/12 — a fall of 2 per cent.

The drop, to 510,200, was the first fall in all-age apprenticeships since 2005/06 when the figure of 175,000 was down 7.5 per cent from the previous year.

The fall in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds starting an apprenticeship last year was behind the all-age drop, with starts among the 19 to 24s and 25+ age groups both rising on the previous year.

And it was the second consecutive fall in the number of under-19 apprenticeship starts with 114,500 last year, 129,900 the year before and 131,700 in 2010/11, versus the figure of 116,800 for 2009/10.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: “For the first time, all apprenticeships now involve a job and as such some low quality provision was ended. This particularly affected the 16 to 18 apprenticeships, as programme-led apprenticeships were concentrated in that age range.”

According to the Office for National Statistics, 1.07 million young people in the UK were not in education, employment or training between July and September, down 28,000 (1.6 per cent) from the same time last year.

Nevertheless, the figures also showed that a record 868,700 people were in apprenticeships last year — up 77 per cent on 2009/10.

“All apprenticeships now routinely last a minimum of a year. That means that while more people than ever are in apprenticeships, the number of starts has not grown. However, removing very short six-month apprenticeships is a vital part of driving up quality,” said the BIS spokesperson.

Teresa Frith, senior skills Policy Manager for the Association of Colleges, said there could be many factors contributing to the decline and warned against “unsupported speculation” over the cause.

She added: “We are concerned about the decline in 16 to 19-year-olds doing apprenticeships and this is why our Careers Advice: Guaranteed campaign is so important because we need to make sure young people are aware of all their options post-16.”

Stewart Segal, Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive, agreed the minimum duration could have had an impact on 16 to 18 starts, but also pointed out that many young people lacked employability skills, and so were not securing places on apprenticeship programmes.

“The traineeship programme, which is taking longer to get established than we had hoped, should in time help support the apprenticeship programme for young people as well as provide an entry point for other jobs with training,” he said.

“The introduction of traineeships as a stepping stone should make a positive difference in halting the decline for the younger age group, while we hope possible changes to the loans scheme will help to sustain demand for adult apprenticeships.

“It is important to maintain the momentum of the all age all levels apprenticeship programme.”