Providers underdelivered on 16 to 18 apprenticeships by more than £61m last year, newly-released Skills Funding Agency figures have revealed.

The agency’s final allocation for under 19 apprentices stood at £783m in June — but providers missed the target by almost 8 per cent.

The numbers come just a week after the latest Statistical First Release showed the number of 16 to 18 apprenticeships fell for the first time in three years — and figures indicated the slide could get worse.

There were 1,800 fewer 16 to 18-year-old apprenticeship starts last year than in 2010/11 — a 1.4 per cent fall to 129,900.

And provisional figures for the first quarter of the current year showed a 7.4 per cent decline on last year already.

FE Minister Matthew Hancock told FE Week he was looking at the fall “closely” and said a number of factors could be behind the issue, including the government’s attempt to tackle “poor provision”.

But, with the latest agency figures now showing the financial scale of underdelivery, Jaine Bolton (pictured), chief operating officer at the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), conceded that raising the number 16 to 18 apprenticeships was proving “a major challenge — particularly when employers are experiencing a difficult economic climate.”

We continue to work hard to raise demand for 16 to 18 apprenticeships.”

She said: “The necessary introduction of more rigorous quality standards — with a 12-month minimum duration for 16-18 apprentices from August 2012 — has also impacted on the number of young apprentices.”

She added: “We have rightly focused on raising standards and improving the quality of apprenticeships as this is crucial to securing success and growth in the longer term.

“We remain absolutely committed to getting more young people into Apprenticeship employment and on the path to a good career.”

The largest underdelivery figure, at more than £10.2m, was from Pearson, which had been allocated £36.2m.

Last month it announced the closure of Pearson in Practice UK — one of a number of its UK adult education interests.

A spokesperson for the firm said: “In light of funding policy changes for apprenticeships, Pearson made adjustments to its programme during the funding year that resulted in lower levels of recruitment, so while the training was of the highest quality, Pearson did not take up its maximum allocation.”

The college with the greatest underdelivery was Newcastle College. It was allocated nearly £5.5m, but delivered almost £1.3m less.

With all under 19 apprenticeship funding paid ‘on-delivery,’ this means the college received nearly £4.2m. It declined to comment.

However, Mrs Bolton said NAS was employing a host of measures to arrest the decline in under 19 apprenticeship uptake.

“We continue to work hard to raise demand for 16 to 18 apprenticeships and we have introduced measures to support employers to recruit younger apprentices, including the £1,500 Apprenticeship Grants for Smaller Employers,” she said.

She also referred to the Apprenticeship Application Support Fund, or ‘Bootcamps’ project, as providing “17,000 places to support 16 to 20-year-olds who want an apprenticeship to improve their application skills and develop the skills and attitudes expected by employers”.

She added: “We are enhancing the support provided by the Apprenticeship Vacancy service. There is a dedicated marketing campaign targeting employers who want to recruit 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, and we are also strengthening our information, advice and guidance to schools, parents and teachers.”

The agency declined to comment.

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