Keegan: We'll keep 'quality' level 2 apprenticeships

The government wans to retain level 2 apprenticeships – but only quality ones, says skills minister Gillian Keegan

Kate Parker

Gillian Keegan: 'High-quality' level 2 apprenticeships have government support

The government is “definitely not” getting rid of level 2 apprenticeships, apprenticeship and skills minister Gillian Keegan has said. 

In front of the Commons Education Select Committee today, Ms Keegan was asked by committee chair Robert Halfon if the Department for Education had an "ideological aversion to level 2 apprenticeships, and are you in essence trying to de facto get rid of them completely?".

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Ms Keegan said this was "definitely not" the case. "We have, as I say, 131 standards [at level 2], and many of the construction jobs actually started at level 2, so there's many many that are very important, as you say, very important rungs on the ladder. 

Concerns over level 2 apprenticeships

“One of the areas that was a big abuser of the level 2 standard was an apprenticeship standard for business admin. This was partly one that I think was open to misuse, if I'm honest, and there were many, many young people who weren't getting a very good apprenticeship offer.

"So we worked with businesses, and we designed what they needed, what they would employ people on afterwards, and that was so business admin has moved from level 2 to level 3, to get the right standard. It was a big volume so that one, in particular, may have had an impact.” 

According to DfE data, level 2 apprenticeship starts have fallen from 65 per cent in 2013-14 to 31 per cent in 2019-20.

Mr Halfon said: “Surely, we should be encouraging and supporting level 2 apprenticeships, but also ensuring that there is proper signposting progression to level 3. I am all in favour of level 3. But level 2, in contrast to traineeships, stills gives people a qualification, they do work and education. Surely level 2 apprentices should be supported and a lot of effort  should be made to reverse that decline.”

Ms Keegan said the government was in support of level 2 apprenticeships – but only “quality” ones.

“We are very focused on level 2, but only quality," she said. "I look at it the other way, Rob, and certainly some of the feedback I've had from apprentices was back in 2013-14, that level 2, in some cases, wasn't worth the paper it was written on. 

“And that really let down a lot of young people who put their faith in the system, put their faith in employers, and it's just unbelievable to me that they will do that and how much that affects their confidence when they've had a bad experience. So, actually I didn't want to go back to those days. I want the quality.” 

Last month, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers warned that the decline in apprenticeship opportunities at lower levels was a major concern and meant that a rebalancing of the apprenticeship levy was needed to ensure that young people could gain access to the jobs market.

At the time, Jane Hickie, AELP's chief executive, said: "The decline in intermediate apprenticeship opportunities in comparison with the jump in higher apprenticeships is a major concern, especially when the pandemic is resulting in more young people struggling to find work.

"Apprenticeships should be about a ladder of opportunity but you can’t climb a ladder if the bottom rungs are missing. The chancellor’s Plan for Jobs incentives for apprenticeships have been welcome but in the medium to longer term, we need a rebalancing of the levy funding system to benefit young people and provide more opportunities at the intermediate level. 

"The incentives should also be retuned to support this rebalancing into the medium term after the pandemic is over. Funding for 16- to 18-year-old apprenticeships should be removed from the levy system and these opportunities should be funded by the DfE’s mainstream budget, as they were before 2017.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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