DfE urgently seeking answers to why level two apprenticeships fell by 38%

The Department for Education is urgently seeking to “improve understanding” of what’s behind the drop in level two apprenticeships, as the latest statistics show numbers have fallen by more than a third in the space of a year.

There were just 161,400 starts at level two in 2017/18, according to the final apprenticeship figures for the year, published today – down from 260,700 in 2016/17.

The proportion of overall starts at level two has also fallen to its lowest level yet – from a high of 65 per cent in 2013/15 down to 43 per cent in 2017/18. 

It follows the DfE’s publication yesterday of a call for expressions of interest to carry out research to “improve understanding of the causes and effects of changes to the number of apprenticeship starts at level two”, with a deadline of December 18 – suggesting the department is concerned about the fall.

“Level two starts are now the biggest issue we face,” said Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers.

“We want apprenticeships to grow at all levels, but major mistakes in the implementation of the levy have resulted in a serious undermining of the government’s social mobility agenda,” he said.

“The crash in number of opportunities for levels two and for young people are simply disastrous when the onus is now on us to train up our own home grown talent.” 

Earlier this week Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman hit out at the rise in “existing graduate schemes” being “rebadged as apprenticeships”, at the expense of the “third of students who leave school without a full level two”.

And skills minister Anne Milton admitted she will look at whether the government should continue to fund all apprenticeships, after FE Week exclusively reported that the apprenticeships budget is set to be overspent by £0.5 billion this year – thanks in large part to the growing number of expensive management apprenticeship starts.

According to the call for expressions of interest, the fall in apprenticeship starts in 2017/18 compared with previous years “has been greatest at level two”.

Analysis of data shows the decrease is “most pronounced in four sector subject areas: business, administration and law; health, public services and care; retail and commercial enterprise; and engineering and manufacturing technologies”.

“New research is required to inform the department’s understanding of the factors affecting changes to apprenticeship starts at level two and the interplay with starts at level three, and to inform the policy response to this change,” it said.

Among the aims of the project are to “explore whether lessons can be learned from exceptions to the overall trend” such as where employers within the four subject areas “are in fact increasing level two starts”, and to “identify possible policy responses to the overall change in numbers of Level 2 starts”.

The DfE has been approached for a comment.