The number of apprenticeship starts in England dropped by 7 per cent in the first half of 2019/20, new government data has revealed.
Provisional figures in the latest individual learner records return show there were 209,900 starts recorded from August 2019 to January 2020 compared to 225,800 in the same period in 2018/19.
For the single month of January, provisional figures show there were 28,200 starts in 2020 compared to 29,100 in the same publication published in 2019, a 3 per cent drop.
The Department for Education pointed out that the individual monthly apprenticeship starts figures are produced for “transparency purposes but are generally less robust for making comparisons given different reporting patterns by providers during the year”.
When comparing the first half of 2019/20 with the same period in 2018/19, starts at level 2 fell by the most – from 84,200 to 68,000, a 19 per cent drop.
At the same time, starts at the higher levels jumped 16 per cent from 42,500 to 49,400.
Starts were also hit hardest for young people: 68,600 people aged 16 to 18 started an apprenticeship between August 2018 and January 2019, but this figure dropped by 12 per cent for the same period in 2019/20 to 60,600.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Apprenticeship starts have fallen but the reforms we introduced mean that apprenticeships are now longer, higher-quality and include more off-the-job training.
“We believe this is the right approach, and we will not sacrifice quality for quantity.”
They added: “We are working with employers of all sizes to make sure more people get the skills they need to get ahead.
“We want to see more people benefitting from apprenticeship opportunities in the future, and we will continue to work with employers and learning providers, particularly given the impact coronavirus will have on our economy.”
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, wasn’t as optimistic.
“Sadly we are now in unchartered territory with experts predicting that the country is heading for a deep recession. Fewer jobs will inevitably mean fewer apprenticeship opportunities,” he said.
“Our push in the comprehensive spending review will be for a reversing in the decline in starts for young people and ensuring that there is a strong rung at the foot of the ladder of opportunity for them in the form of more level 2 apprenticeships.
“An immediate priority is to remove apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year olds from levy funding and put them back within mainstream DfE budgets in common with other 16-18 provision.”