Apprenticeships policy puts quality at risk, says IFS

Rapid expansion and new funding model could jeopardise quality and risk public money being used ineffectively, research concludes

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The policy forcing all large public-sector employers to employ a set number of apprentices should be removed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said.

The "potentially costly" policy, which states that 2.3 per cent of the workforce in public bodies in England should be apprentices, was largely designed to help the government hit its target for 3 million new apprentices – not as a way to increase the quality of public services, according to analysis of the reforms to apprenticeship funding by IFS researchers. Their report forms part of the forthcoming IFS Green Budget 2017.

It goes on to say: “This one-size-fits-all approach to all large public sector employers in England is clearly not a sensitive way to encourage more apprenticeships or to help deliver efficient public services.” Earlier this month, apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon had set a 200,000 additional apprenticeships target for the public sector, to be achieved by 2020.

Funding structure 'poses considerable risks'

In the analysis, the IFS also warns that the way apprenticeship funding will now be structured means employers will have to pay nothing, or a maximum of 10 per cent, of the training cost of apprentices, and this poses considerable risks to the efficient use of public money. The large expansion required to meet the government’s 3 million apprenticeships target also risks increasing quantity at the expense of quality, the researchers conclude.

The institute says that while there might be a strong case for expanding apprenticeships, the government has “failed to make it”. “There has not been the collapse in training by employers that the government claims and the returns to public investment in apprenticeships are not nearly as high as the government suggests,” it says. “There is a good case for expanding apprenticeships, but perhaps more gradually and where we can ensure high-quality provision.”

'We need to move away from arbitrary targets' 

The report concludes: “We need to move away from arbitrary targets and across-the-board 100 per cent funding to a more gradual expansion, a stronger focus on quality, and a policy designed to maximise impact rather than numbers.”

Labour’s shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said the the IFS was confirming what Labour had consistently warned the government about over the past 12 months. “Rushing to hit a 3 million target without sorting out the quality or increasing the proportion of apprenticeships under the age of 25 means they risk failing to deliver the long-term skills strategy we need,” he added.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Quality is at the heart of all of our apprenticeship reforms. We have introduced new apprenticeship standards which are developed by employers themselves and rigorously checked and taken steps to protect the term apprenticeship from misuse helping us to achieve our target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and providing excellent value for money.”


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