Apprenticeships programme needs stronger focus on quality, says Policy Exchange

Jonathan Simons

Director of Policy and Advocacy, Varkey Foundation

Tom Richmond

Senior Research Fellow

New report urges the government to put in place a high level quality target alongside its existing commitment to create 3 million new Apprenticeship starts by 2020

The Apprenticeships programme will not deliver its full potential unless a greater focus is placed on improving the quality of all Apprenticeships, according to a new report, which concludes the government has focused too much on numbers and too little on the quality of programmes to date.

The paper by leading think tank Policy Exchange urges policymakers to put in place a new top level target focused on driving up standards of Apprenticeships to match the best in the world, alongside the government’s existing manifesto pledge to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.

It says that of the £2.5bn that the Levy is expected to bring in annually by 2020, £500m will be spent on Apprenticeships which are not in line with a traditional definition of an apprenticeship.

The report calls for:

  • The introduction of a new high level quality target for the Apprenticeships programme alongside the existing focus on quantity, creating a ‘Numbers Plus’ approach to future Apprenticeships
  • A beefed up Institute for Apprenticeships to become the guarantor of quality and the voice of employers
  • The qualifications regulator, Ofqual, would be required to set the standards for how future Apprenticeships should be assessed

Jonathan Simons, co-author of the report, said:

“A pure focus on numbers risks undermining the credibility of the Apprenticeships programme in the eyes of employers and young people. A skills system in a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few, has the potential to do so much better.”

Tom Richmond, co-author of the report, added:

“Some of the apprenticeships designed by Trailblazers are excellent and promote the kind of training that embodies apprenticeships in this country and abroad. 

But there are a number of weaknesses in the Apprenticeship reforms and the wider strategy that threaten to undermine the principles at the heart of it. In particular, the desire for speed has reduced the time available to put sufficient quality filters and a rigorous definition of what an Apprenticeship is.”

Melanie Richards, Vice Chairman at KPMG, said:

“This critical piece of research shines a light on the current state of apprenticeships in the UK. It’s clear the absence of a strong technical education route, combining on and off-the-job training, has contributed to poor social mobility across the country and hindered much of the adult population’s opportunity to learn and develop new skills.

Apprenticeships have an important role to play to help us upskill and kick start UK productivity. Our own high quality apprenticeship programme, KPMG360°, has helped us attract talented people who otherwise wouldn’t have joined our firm, deterred by the traditional graduate entry route.

It is now vital government and business work in tandem to establish and support a flourishing apprenticeship system, and offer people a real choice when it comes to learning.”


Notes to Editors

  1. The benchmarking exercise on quality compared all published Apprenticeship frameworks and standards as of July 2016 (n=237) to the ILO definition of an Apprenticeship and assessed whether, in the authors’ opinion, the published standards met this definition. As an additional check, for some standards, the authors compared them to other Apprenticeships in the same occupational grouping (i.e. a Level 2 and Level 3 Apprenticeship in the same area) and also for some areas, benchmarked them in broad content terms against high-performing Apprenticeship standards in other countries. Each Apprenticeship was then deemed to be either compliant or not compliant with the definition. Given that each Apprenticeship will be taken up in different volumes, and the way the funding system operates – with different qualifications wrapped into each Apprenticeship standard or framework, all of which have different prices – and the new funding model which sets out a series of bands for funding each Apprentice, but which encourages employers to negotiate with providers to secure a price – it is not possible to calculate the precise amount of money which will could be spent on Apprenticeships which do not currently meet the definition. However, in the authors’ estimation, around 30-40% of new approved Apprenticeships standards do not yet meet ILO definitions. An estimate of £500m a year – representing a fifth of all Apprenticeship spending by 2020 – is therefore a robust assumption.
  1. Tom Richmond is a teacher at a Sixth Form College. From 2013 to 2015, he was a senior advisor to Skills Ministers Nick Boles and Matthew Hancock on vocational education and skills policy, including advising on the development of Apprenticeship policy during this time.  Jonathan Simons is the Head of Education at Policy Exchange. He is the author or editor of fifteen reports, book chapters and policy publications for Policy Exchange since 2013.
  1. KPMG, who have financially supported Policy Exchange to produce this work, are already running their own apprenticeship scheme.  KPMG360° was introduced to recruit and develop future talent from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds, using the Government’s Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards. KPMG360° offers school and college leavers a full time role with practical experience, a competitive salary and the opportunity to work towards professional qualifications. The scheme is rotational across KPMG’s Audit, Tax and Advisory functions, supporting the apprentices to develop a broad and balanced understanding of the business areas and lasts between 3-6 years dependent on the individual’s personal aspirations.KPMG has also partnered with The Open University to launch an apprenticeship service that enables employers to identify and fulfil their future training needs.  The full-service scheme will help organisations to understand their future workforce needs, identify skills gaps and provide and manage training programmes through apprenticeships.  A central feature of the service is the extensive use of online learning, which will encourage greater access and opportunity to expand the scheme across businesses.
  2. Jonathan Simons is available for interview or comment from Policy Exchange. Melanie Richards is available for comment from KPMG, as is Berkay Soyer an apprentice on the KPMG360° programme. Please contact Nick Faith on 07960 996 233

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