Apprenticeships: How can access be improved?

Ucas says it has an ambition to be a 'digital Baker Clause', providing comprehensive information, advice and content tools

Kate Parker

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More than half of students looking to apply to higher education in 2022 are interested in apprenticeships but find it difficult to access the relevant information, a new report from Ucas warns. 

The report, Where next? Improving the journey to becoming an apprentice, concludes that a third of students at schools and half in colleges feel they were not told about apprenticeships, despite a legal requirement placed on schools to do so.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said: “Ucas is about much more than applying to an undergraduate degree – we provide information and support across the full range of post-18 opportunities. But more needs to be done to shake off the outdated stigma or misplaced snobbery associated with apprenticeships, given they are a great start to any career.

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“We recognise students have more choice than ever before but navigating the information available can be challenging for both students and advisers. Ucas aims to be the go-to place for all post-secondary options and enable students to navigate apprenticeship opportunities side by side with undergraduate courses. We will also play a core role in delivering the ambition set out in the Skills Bill announced this month by the government.”

Ucas: Apprenticeships 'are a great start to any career'

The report highlights three areas for improvement:  

  • The Baker Clause, under which schools must allow colleges and apprenticeship providers to talk to students, is still not being implemented consistently. 
  • Students are increasingly interested in apprenticeships, but find it hard to get information.
  • More needs to be done to articulate the benefits of apprenticeships

The Baker Clause 

The Baker Clause was first introduced in 2018 and legally requires all secondary schools and colleges to allow education and training providers access to students to promote technical and vocational qualifications and apprenticeships.

However, the report says the clause is not being implemented consistently across all schools and colleges, with only around a third of students reportedly receiving their legal entitlement to information from apprenticeship providers or FE colleges, and only around half of those going on to study in FE colleges. 

Ucas says it has an ambition to be a “digital Baker Clause”, providing comprehensive information, advice and content tools to help students make informed and aspirational choices about the full range of post- secondary options in a single location.

The benefits of an apprenticeship

Ucas says that to improve how people navigate the world of apprenticeships, the perception of them needs to change, and while most people appreciate that apprenticeships are there as an option, they are not sure either how to get information on them or, indeed, where they can lead. 

The report says that all apprenticeships need to be better explained, and degree apprenticeships must be promoted as a hybrid model between apprenticeships and undergraduate study.

A lack of information

The report says that despite an increased interest in apprenticeships, students struggle to find information about them, and one-third of students do not receive any information about apprenticeships from their school or college. Three-quarters of students say it is easy to find information about higher education. 

Ucas highlights research showing that 89 per cent of students believe it would be useful to have a centralised platform that offers a help or advice service when it comes to finding and applying for apprenticeships. 

When speaking exclusively to Tes in December 2020, John Cope, the director of strategy at Ucas, talked of a shared admissions application service that oversees the entire apprenticeship system. 

He said: “There is no one who's overseeing how you get an apprenticeship. And so much of it is individual employers advertising, and it means that, as a young person, you have to deal with myriad processes. You have to personally get an interest, and find an employer, or a college.

“You end up with this kind of really fragmented system, so much of it comes down to luck. My strong view is that Ucas needs to do all of the behind-the-scenes work to address the unfairness that is already building. If we don’t, in five years' time, we will be sitting around asking, 'What do we do about widening participation?'"

'A clause without teeth'

Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “The findings that a third of students at schools and half in colleges have not been told about apprenticeships, despite the Baker Clause, simply confirms AELP’s long-held view that it a clause without teeth. 

"The government appeared to recognise this when it published a three-point plan in its FE White Paper to address the matter but the absence of specific measures in the recently published Skills Bill would suggest we have a plan that’s a bark but no bite. 

"AELP will be urging parliamentarians to use the bill to fix this once and for all. We also believe that inspection of careers guidance in schools and colleges should be a more prominent part of Ofsted’s remit and if the guidance is inadequate, it should limit the overall grade outcome.” 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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