Government criticised for axing public sector apprenticeship target

Officials accused of 'throwing in the towel' after confirming the move today

Officials accused of 'throwing in the towel' after confirming the move today

28 Mar 2022, 14:41

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The government has been accused of “throwing in the towel” after officials confirmed the public sector apprenticeship target is to be scrapped.

Under the target, public sector bodies in England with 250 or more staff had to aim to employ an average of at least 2.3 per cent of their staff as new apprentice starts over the period April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2021.

Figures published in November revealed this target had been missed as an average of 1.7 per cent of public sector employees started an apprenticeship over that period. This equated to a combined total of over 220,000 starts.

The armed forces performed the best, achieving an average of 7.9 per cent between 2017 and 2021, while schools were the worst at 1 per cent. The civil service achieved 1.8 per cent.

Last year the government announced the target would be restated for another year – from the period April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Ahead of the results of this extra year, the Department for Education confirmed today that the target would not be extended.

Toby Perkins, Labour’s shadow skills minister, criticised the move.

He told FE Week: “After the embarrassment of missing public sector apprenticeship targets last year, the government’s approach is now simply to scrap the target.

“It is typical of this government that, rather than working with the sector to drive up apprenticeships, to ensure that there are more opportunities in the sector, they are happy to throw in the towel.”

In-scope public sector employers will still be asked, but not mandated, to report their apprenticeship numbers. The data will be published annually to “support transparency and external accountability”, the DfE said.

Simon Ashworth, director of policy at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said his organisation was “disappointed” by today’s decision.

“Encouraging, rather than mandating, publication of apprenticeship starts will reduce transparency at a time it is still needed,” he said.

“Given the public sector still needs to improve its record on the number of apprentices it takes on, we would question whether now is the right point at which this guidance should end.”

The target encompassed schools, local authorities, central government and their arms-length bodies, NHS organisations, the armed forces, and emergency services.

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