Influential think tank calls for college-only route to replace the level 2 apprenticeship

Left-wing think tank IPPR wants the government to phase out level two apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds, and replace them with a programme only offered by colleges.

Entitled ‘Earning & Learning – Making the Apprenticeship System work for 16-18 year olds’, its new report warned youth unemployment is being fuelled by “too many” 16–18 year olds studying level two courses that do not help them progress through vocational education or into work.

Authors Joe Dromey, senior research fellow on work, skills and family at IPPR (pictured above), Jonathan Clifton, who left the IPPR to become Head of Strategic Policy at Department for Education after drafting the report and Charlynne Pullen, now head of workforce data at The Education and Training Foundation, instead proposed that level two apprenticeships should be replaced by “a distinct pre-apprenticeship programme”.

This, they added, should “only be offered by FE colleges, or training providers which are run on a not-for-profit basis”.

The report said that level two apprenticeships “are often very job specific, they do not include much off-the-job training, they only last one year, and – from next year – they will not be required to include a recognised qualification”.

The authors added: “Young people who leave full-time education with a level two qualification have an employment rate of 70 per cent – which is almost 20 percentage points lower than those who leave full-time education with a level three qualification or higher education.”

In addition, they said, wage returns for level two qualifications are low, and relatively few of these learners progress to level three – only 39 per cent of those on one year level two courses.

In contrast to the current system, IPPR said, pre-apprenticeships would be “explicitly designed to help young people move onto a full level three apprenticeship at age 18 or 19”.

The proposed scheme would differ from the current system in a number of ways, including “more ‘off the job’ training”, “more general education (including English and maths)”, and a final “transferable qualification” at its outcome.

The report also suggested “employers do not want to hire young apprentices” and therefore should be subsidised for taking on a young person on a pre-apprenticeship – for example by being “allowed to use their levy payment” to cover the wages.

In response to the report, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The AoC has been calling for the introduction of a pre-apprenticeship offer for some time, so it’s good to see other organisations pushing for the same idea.

“All FE colleges provide apprenticeships and are keen to do more, so it is interesting to see the suggestion that this offer should only be open to colleges and not-for-profit training providers. I’m sure that will be debated long and hard.”

AELP chief executive Mark Dawe, who has written an expert piece on this, commented: “We should be debating what is in the best interests of young people based on evidence rather than institutionally-biased proposals.

“Many industries need and want a level two starting point and therefore it would be a denial of social justice to disallow a 16 year old the opportunity to gain knowledge and proper experience of work.

“Moreover due to failings in the schools system, many 16 year olds need to start at level two and yet some opinion-formers seem bent on punishing them further.”

Last year there were 130,400 16-18 year olds apprenticeship starts, of which 86,700 (66%) were on level two frameworks.

When asked to respond to the report recommendations, skills and apprenticeships Minister Robert Halfon said: “We are determined to ensure that people of all backgrounds and all ages can get on the ladder of opportunity. That is why we introduced traineeships, which are backed by business, and provide young people with the vital work experience and skills they need to gain an apprenticeship or a job.

We want to transform this country into an apprenticeship nation and Level 2 apprenticeships are a key part of that. Level 2 apprentices can earn up to £74,000 more over their lifetime, thanks to the skills they gain. We are also supporting young people into full-time jobs with training through 16- 18 apprenticeships – providing sustainable careers, with proven returns on future earnings and employment.”


IPPR recommendations:

  • The government should abolish level two apprenticeships for 16–18-year olds and replace them with a pre-apprenticeship programme
  • Pre-apprenticeships should contain more off-the-job training and a final transferable qualification
  • Employers should be subsidised for hiring pre-apprentices – giving them a clear financial incentive to take part in the programme
  • There should be one pre-apprenticeship programme for each of the 15 technical pathways
  • Pre-apprenticeship programmes should only be offered by FE colleges or not-for-profit training providers
  • Pre-apprenticeships should be explicitly designed to help young people move onto a full level three apprenticeship at age 18 or 19


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  1. For some young learners college is not for them and Prefer working and completing work based apprenticeship,from my experience as a college lecture and a work based trainer the confidence this gives the learner working in a work environment is the way forward. For me it only benifits the college and not the learner again funding and money comes first before the learner!

  2. Much of these recommendations are sound. They are however fundamentally undermined by the institutional bias reflected in the recommendation that the majority of private training providers should be excluded from supporting these learners. These are the very organisations that have the expertise , energy, innovation and employer facing engagement to make them a success!

  3. What an astounding piece of research and conclusions, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. Having conducted a survey of the effective delivery of apprenticeships to 16-18 year olds a few years ago for Ofsted, these experts would propose that some of our world class training at this level is cut. For example, stop outstanding providers from training hairdressers and chefs so that they can go to college instead and not benefit from all that training and experience a real working environment can give you (and then progressing to higher levels)? I see fabulous training in colleges and in independent learning providers that gives our young people CHOICE. That choice is important as some young people will be better suited to one form of training than another. The focus to improve the skills of the nation should be on the vast numbers who schools encourage to stay on and do sometimes meaningless qualifications that keep them generating money for their schools, but not gaining qualifications that will lead to natural progression onto related training or employment. Similarly, many youngsters take A levels and then take degrees with little chance of a related job, where they would have done better taking advanced and higher apprenticeships giving them the skills without incurring huge debt. Cutting out some areas that are not the right level or content is an entirely different matter whether work-based or classroom based.

    With my experience of what does work well pre-apprenticeships should be for 14 to 16 year olds who will benefit more from doing their English, maths and ICT with a vocational main qualification rather than the likes of French, History, Art and RE. That should be delivered in colleges and ILPs, perhaps with some academic elements with the schools, with clear progression into apprenticeships. It did work once before with some Foundation apprenticeships linked to major employers, rather than waiting a few years to do an traineeship that should have been for that 14-16 age group.

  4. Terry Bentley

    In my local area the colleges didn’t take up Traineeships because they weren’t given new money to deliver new programme.

    In my local area the colleges have reported losses of £2-£4m per annum, despite generating substantial profits from subcontracting out their adult skills budget to ITPs and the VCS for 30-40% management fees.

    In my local area the colleges focus firmly on their A-Level offer and won’t dilute this by offering another failed programme-led Apprenticeship substitute.

    In my local area we know to take anything a ‘left-wing think tank’ has to say with a punch of salt.

  5. I agree with Phil.
    This is just a regurgitation of what Chukka was spewing pre-election. We shouldn’t deny the choice and restrict that first rung on the employment/skills ladder.
    The “Think Tank” should do more thinking, I reckon!

  6. FE Lecturer

    “pre-apprenticeships would be “explicitly designed to help young people move onto a full level three apprenticeship at age 18 or 19””
    We run these already…. they are BTEC & EAL engineering courses. Most vocational departments run something similar. The “experts” need to come down from their ivory towers and visit some FE colleges and training providers to see what goes on before dreaming up “new” schemes.