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Ofsted: low number of young apprentices 'little short of disaster'

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The fact that only 5 per cent of 16-year-olds go into an apprenticeship is “little short of a disaster”, the head of Ofsted will say today.

At the launch of the inspectorate's new report on apprenticeships, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured) will argue that too many employers are “wasting public funds” on poor quality provision and “abusing the trust" placed in them by the government and apprentices.

In a report published today, the inspection body says that recruitment into apprenticeships from the youngest age group has been static for “more than a decade”. 

Despite the fact that there are “considerably more” 16-18s applying for apprenticeships than those aged 25 and over, “far fewer” go on to become apprentices, the report claims. It cites research from the Institute for Public Policy Research, which points out that under-19s make up 56 per cent of apprenticeship applications, but only 27 per cent go on to start the programme.

“Most of these older apprentices were already employed in jobs that were converted to apprenticeships,” Ofsted's report states. “Inspectors identified that meeting recruitment targets was often the priority for providers.”

Apprentices not 'stretched'

The findings come after the government’s latest statistical release showed that of the apprenticeship starts in 2014-15, 124,400 were 16-18s, amounting to a quarter of the total. This is a slightly lower proportion than in 2013-14. 

The Ofsted report also concludes that in a third of the 45 providers visited, apprenticeships “did not provide sufficient, high-quality training that stretched the apprentices and improved their capabilities”.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the report reinforced concerns that “too many apprenticeships are not up to scratch and they are not appealing to young people”. She added: “We believe that better advice for young people may help, but we need high-quality programmes that actually cater for the needs of different types of students and employers.”

Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “While the government would like to see more apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds, they must recognise that for some young people a pre-apprenticeship offer comprised of a broad-based programme of education and training relating to industry may be required first. This would help to ensure they are adaptable and resilient as they develop their careers and face the challenges that job changes may bring.”

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