The government’s single-year extension to the public sector apprenticeship target has received mixed reaction from in-scope bodies.

It was announced last Friday that the target of having apprentices make up 2.3 per cent of new public sector employees would be restated from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Most sectors of the public workforce have struggled to meet the target in its original timeframe, of April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2021, with an overall average of just 1.7 per cent by the end of March 2020.

The police have performed worst so far, with official Department for Education statistics from earlier this year showing England’s forces managed just 0.7 per cent.

Schools, which only came in-scope for the target in March 2019, performed second-worst with one per cent.

After facing high financial and time costs recruiting and training apprentice teachers, school leaders have reacted strongly to extending the target, set under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

Sara Ford, deputy director of policy for the Association of School and College Leaders, called it an “unwelcome and unnecessary distraction” when schools are “trying to resume in-school education for all pupils after a year of unprecedented disruption” caused by Covid-19.

She said the bureaucracy behind the target, which applies to schools but not FE colleges, “is enough to make one’s head spin”.

“Managing the off-the-job training and support elements mean taking on new apprentices is a tricky proposition for many schools, where time is precious.”

Instead of an “unrealistic and complicated” target, she suggested the government “get the nuts and bolts of a properly resourced and funded apprenticeship programme, which works for all schools and colleges, in place”.

Existing staff being developed through apprenticeship funding could also be counted towards the target, Ford proposed.

NHS welcomes new target 

Despite it achieving just 1.5 per cent over the past three years, extending the target has been welcomed by the NHS, according to Laura Roberts, director of skills development and participation for the service’s training overseers, Health Education England.

This is because their apprentices “make a huge contribution to the delivery of essential services across the NHS in frontline clinical and non-clinical roles”.

The College of Policing, which sets standards for professional development in law enforcement, said it was “very supportive of apprenticeships” and was working on entry routes for new officers to start on the police constable degree apprenticeship.

After local councils achieved just 1.3 per cent towards the target, their representative body the Local Government Association said it “remains committed to supporting councils to provide these opportunities to people in their communities”.

They are also “keen” to work with the government on “how more local flexibilities in using the levy could open up even more opportunities”.

The best-performing sector – the armed forces – was the only one to meet the 2.3 per cent target, managing 7.9 per cent.

Public bodies must still publish progress

The guidance from the DfE which revealed the target extension also confirmed relevant public bodies would be still expected to publish their progress towards the target to the department.

The bodies will also have to publish their progress publicly, to “enable the government, the public and wider stakeholders to understand each body’s headcount and the number of apprentices they employ”.

This information must be “easily accessible to the public, for example, on the internal and external facing website of a public sector body in scope,” the guidance reads, as previous guidance on the target has said.

FE Week uncovered last October how scores of multi-academy trusts, councils and hospital trusts had failed to publicise what percentage of their staff had started an apprenticeship in 2019/20 on their websites by the September deadline.

At the time, the DfE appeared to be letting off mandating bodies to publish their guidance, saying it was simply “good practice” to do so.

Under this new guidance, public bodies have six months after the end of the target period to send their data to the DfE and make it public.

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