Short-term apprenticeships fall ‘dramatically’ after government action

The number of apprenticeships lasting less than a year has fallen “dramatically” after they were outlawed over fears about the quality of short-term programmes.

They fell from 43 per cent (224,000) of the total number of apprenticeship starts in 2011/12, to just 8 per cent (28,000) for the first nine months of the academic year.

The figures were obtained from the Skills Funding Agency by FE Week under the Freedom of Information Act.

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), said: “It is our priority to ensure that apprenticeships are of sufficient duration to deliver the high quality training apprentices and businesses need.

“Although this is provisional data, it is good news that the proportion of short apprenticeships has fallen dramatically.

“Under the current rules there will always be a small number of apprenticeships lasting less than a year, because we allow some flexibility for adult apprentices who have relevant prior learning.”

There were 17,600 intermediate level apprenticeships of less than a year’s duration last year, among which the 19 to 24 age group saw the most at 7,600.

There were 10,300 short-term advanced level apprenticeships, with the 25+ age group the largest at 5,300. And there were 200 among higher apprenticeships, shared equally between the 19 to 24 and 25+ age groups.

The minimum duration rule came in from August last year following concerns about short-term programmes, some delivered in as little as 12 weeks, by private training providers.

David Way, National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) chief operating officer, said at the time: “We need to ensure that all apprenticeships are high quality.

“By ensuring they last between one and four years, we are not only giving employers what they say they want but also giving confidence back to everyone who has questioned the growth in shorter apprenticeships.”

The BIS Select Committee “supported” the minimum duration rule, but said it should be monitored so that, for example, talented learners did not feel held back if they felt able to complete the programme sooner.

However, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers was opposed to the rule and has continued to argue for exceptions in light of this year’s fall in short-term apprenticeships.

An association spokesperson told FE Week: “Employers and providers have down the years regularly shown that they are very flexible in adapting to rule changes in skills programmes, so the figures are hardly a surprise.

“We maintain the long-standing position though, that exceptional candidates should be allowed to complete an apprenticeship in less than a year if it is in the interests of both the employer and the learner.

“The select committee heard some evidence from employers that this was a reasonable stance and we should remember that apprenticeship frameworks are employer-owned.

“Furthermore, longer programme durations do not automatically mean an improvement in quality as there are a host of other factors which come into consideration as well.

“The committee was therefore right to recommend that the impact of the rule changes should be closely monitored to ensure that talented and older apprentices with appropriate work experience are not dissuaded from joining the programme.”

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  1. Anonymous

    I feel quite proud that I helped in some small way to get rid of these 12 week apprenticeships. I am also a little saddened that NAS seem to be giving themselves credit for getting rid of poor quality short term apprenticeships when it was them who encouraged it in the first place by target chasing.

    • I agree that those who created the “micky mouse” short apprenticeships now claim credit for rectifying their own sins. I spoke at a conference two years ago alongside the then deputy director of the DBIS/DfE Apprenticeship Unit, Dr.Ros Lynch, and she was shocked at what was going on masquerading as apprenticeships under her own department’s nose. I also remember Lindsay McCurdy robustly challenging John Hayes at World Skills around the same time in exactly the same terms. I think the two of us can claim to have created the term “micky mouse”.

      However the response to the abuses in the system was equally blinkered, and I remember a chap from the Ministry of Defence very concerned about military apprenticeships. “We train them 24/7 because we have them 24/7”

  2. Mrs P. Soffed

    Here we go again Nick Linford “some delivered in as little as 12 weeks by Private Training Providers”.
    A very significant proportion of Short Apprenticeships were funded by the same old “Funding Laundering Colleges” that sub-contracted to poor quality ex Train To Gain, here today/gone tomorrow providers. There were also some self-funded private training providers that, at the time, were applauded by NAS and SFA for their excellent success rates by delivering short apprenticeships, but an awful lot of the funding for these courses came from colleges. In fact I believe sub-contracting is still the only way that most colleges manage to deliver apprenticeships at all, even today.

  3. The Panorama programme did a fair bit to raise the shady practice of short term training without real jobs and the financial greed of excess profit for doing very little. The Ofsted report ‘Ensuring Quality in Apprenticeships’ that was shared within a short time of that programme with the Government also contributed to action being taken urgently. As a knowledgeable person not afraid to give my name there is still a lot to be done. Security guard training that lasts a year replaced courses that once lasted less than a week. Putting a long time scale on such training does not mean it is high quality. I am worried at the moment that ideas around employer led qualifications will lead to a dearth of poor quality, reflective of some of the excesses of the ‘open college network’ qualifications that exploded a few years ago. We need some leadership and real expertise in developing quality, not repeating the same mistakes already made to give attractive sound bites about employer needs and driving up quality.

  4. I share some of Phil’s concerns; the increase to a minimum duration was the quickest (and bluntest) option available to Mr Hayes at the time to quash a growing trend – not only were there some examples of <12week duration Apprenticeships, this practice was putting significant pressure on the funding system where providers were utilising their allocations far early than the funding system had planned and seeking additional in year growth in sizeable volumes.
    We seem to have lost the sectoral and employer determination in the content, there are too many 'vanilla' elements now with the SASE and Funding Rules requirements. Good to have consistency and rigour, but if a sector (Service related) determines that a new recruit is competent after 3 months of significant induction and training this should be reflected somewhere in the Framework and funded proportionally to reflect.