Apprenticeship numbers fell by almost a quarter last year compared to the year before, according to final figures published by the Department for Education this morning. 

There were 375,800 apprenticeship starts in 2017/18, a drop of 118,600 – or 24 per cent – on 2016/17’s total of 494,400, and a decrease of 26 per cent on the 2015/16 figure of 509,400.

Overall participation also fell to 814,800, compared with 908,700 in 2016/17 and 899,400 in 2015/15 – decreases of 10.3 and 9.4 per cent respectively. 

Starts at level two showed the biggest year-on-year drop, from 260,700 in 2016/17 to 161,400 in 2017/18, which represents a fall of 38 per cent.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said starts at this level were “now the biggest issue we face”.

“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,” he said.

Level three starts also fell by 19 per cent, while advanced level apprenticeships – those at level four or above – rose by almost a third, from 36,600 to 48,200.

Starts among those aged 25 and above showed the biggest drop, from 229,900 in 2016/17 to 2017/18 – a drop of 32 per cent. For those aged under 19 the drop was 13 per cent, and for 19 to 24-years-olds it was 20 per cent.

Today’s statistics come just days after Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman raised concerns about existing graduate schemes being “repackaged” as apprenticeships, at the expense of younger people on lower level courses.

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.

This is the first full year of statistics since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, in May 2017, which led to an immediate falling-off of starts. 

The final three months of 2017/18 showed an increase of 62 per cent compared with the same three months in 2016/17 – although those figures were 59 per cent down on the previous year.

Speaking about today’s figures, Ms Milton said it was “fantastic to see the number of people starting on our high quality apprenticeships has shot up by 139,100 compared to last year”.

“This is good news and really highlights how employers up and down the country are embracing the huge benefits apprentices are bringing to their business.”

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