BREAKING: Apprenticeship starts continue to fall sharply six months after introduction of the levy

Total apprenticeship starts fell 41 percent for the six months since May when the levy was introduced, compared to the same period the previous year (see below).

Provisional figures published by the DfE this morning report provisional starts for the first quarter of 2017, covering the months of August, September and October. This shows a 26 percent fall compared to the same quarter the previous year.

When these latest provisional figures are added to final starts from May to July (see below), the performance of the first six months of the reform programme shows the sluggish start continues.

Exactly half way into the five year Manifesto commitment target to achieve 3 million starts, the figures show an 18 percent (266,000 starts) shortfall.

Responding to the latest figures, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills Anne Milton said: “The last year has been a period of significant change, it will take time for employers to adjust.

“But we must not lose sight of why we introduced our reforms in the first place – to put quality at the heart of this programme, and putting control in the hands of employers.

“It is right that they are taking their time to plan ahead, with two years to spend their levy funds, and maximise the opportunities an apprenticeship can bring for both the learner and employer. Feedback we’ve had shows employers are doing exactly that.”

The Department for Education report accompanying the data said: “There were 114,400 apprenticeship starts reported so far for the first quarter of the 2017/18 academic year, compared to 155,600 reported at this time in 2016/17, a decrease of 26.5 per cent. However, the decrease was not as large as the drop between quarter 4 2015/16 and quarter 4 2016/17 (59.3 per cent), which is likely to be associated with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017. There have been 67,200 levy-supported starts so far, of which, 46,100 were reported in the first quarter for 2017/18.”

The latest figures have caused concern in the sector. 

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) chief executive, Mark Dawe, warned ministers should be “really concerned” about the “social mobility agenda” after data revealed a continued drop in starts for both young people and at lower levels and called for cuts to the sector to be reversed. 

He added: “The government has got to look again at the incentives for recruiting young people and make sure that there are apprenticeship opportunities available across the country.  This means that employers shouldn’t be charged for taking on 16 to 24 year old apprentices and they should be given more flexibility in how they train them.”

EEF’s head of education and skills policy, Verity Davidge, said the figures should be a “wake-up call” to the government that the “apprenticeship levy and wider reforms aren’t working”, and called for a “radical rethink”.

She said: “The fact that the drop isn’t as huge as the previous quarter is by no means a cause for celebration, as the numbers are a snapshot of the time when most apprentices begin. The only ray of hope we can find is the increase in the number of higher apprenticeships. 

“Government must listen to  business concerns and ensure the levy delivers the demand-led system that was promised to employers.”

The Learning and Work Institute’s chief executive, Stephen Evans, described the fall in apprenticeship starts as “worrying” and said the government risks “both missing the target and missing the point” unless there is a change in government policies including measuring completions, quality and access to courses. 

He said: “A smaller fall is probably not the headline the Government were looking for, and their three million target looks some distance away.

“We need to look more broadly at the learning and skills system for young people as a whole. Our research shows a rise in the proportion of young people spending at least six months not in education, employment or training and an increasing disconnect with the official claimant count. The fall in traineeship numbers today shows a decline in routes to apprenticeships for many young people.”

Others took to Twitter to voice their worries.