From education to employment

Apprenticeship, Social Mobility and the Levelling-Up Agenda – The Need for a More Ambitious Approach

Mandy Crawford-Lee, Director of Policy and Operations, University Vocational Awards Council

What role should Apprenticeships have in supporting social mobility and the levelling-up agenda? 

Following on from the publication in the summer of UVAC’s report Skills: A Post Covid 19 System, October saw publication of our latest report Realising the Potential of Higher and Degree Apprenticeship in Supporting Social Mobility and the Levelling Up Agenda.

Our overall conclusion from the study can be summarised as a call to adopt a more ambitious approach to using Apprenticeship to deliver the Government’s social mobility and levelling-up agenda.

As such we argue that Apprenticeship must be used to open up pathways to the professions for individuals of all ages and not just focus on providing a pathway for other people’s children into lower-level occupations.

No one would disagree that Apprenticeship should have a fundamental role in supporting social mobility and the levelling-up agenda. The issue is, however, what role?

One suggestion is that Apprenticeships should be prioritised for young people, particularly those leaving school without five good GCSEs and that levy funding for Apprenticeships for older employees and at higher levels should be restricted. There are, however, fundamental problems with this argument.

The Principal Purposes of Apprenticeship Policy 

The first is that Apprenticeship policy has at least three other objectives:

  1. Supporting employers increase productivity,
  2. Training individuals for key roles needed to deliver key public sector services e.g. nurses and police constables, and
  3. Enhancing workforce diversity.

None of these objectives contradict the social mobility agenda, but social mobility objectives should be determined in the context of what Apprenticeship is designed to do.

Apprenticeships (in England): Vision for 2020

  • All Apprenticeships will provide substantive training in a professional or technical route, transferable skills and competency in English and maths for all ages.
  • Apprenticeships will be an attractive offer that young people and adults aspire to go into, as a high quality and prestigious path to a successful career.
  • Apprenticeships will be available across all sectors of the economy and at all levels, including degree level.
  • Every apprenticeship will be a high-quality opportunity that delivers the skills, knowledge and behaviours that employers are looking for.

Creating new ladders to the professions for learners from all backgrounds 


Most would agree that a more diverse workforce is a more productive workforce. Opening up new progression routes through Degree Apprenticeship to nursing, social work and in the private sector engineering and digital roles have the potential to create new ladders to the professions for learners. Although UVAC would be the first to admit that substantially more needs to be done here and we outline in our report a series of challenging recommendations for the HE sector.

Apprenticeship and in particular the levy paid by employers must not be a sticking plaster for poor school performance. UVAC cannot see a Home Secretary or Health Secretary accepting arguments that levy funds paid by Police Forces or the NHS should be used to fund lower-level programmes for 16 – 18-year-olds who leave school without a full-level 2 rather than Degree Apprenticeships for new nurses or police constables.

Ofsted’s influence over the balance of Apprenticeship provision


With Ofsted now inspecting Apprenticeships at level 2 to 7 I would expect to see an agnostic and objective view as to the level of Apprenticeship and the balance of Apprenticeship between levels. The idea advocated by some that Ofsted should have a role in ensuring there is a balance of Apprenticeship provision between different levels is an obvious non-starter.

Could we really expect an objective quality body to tell a police chief constable their Force had to spend more on level 2 Apprenticeships for 16 – 18-year olds and less on training new police constables over the age of 25? Or that an NHS trust was spending too much of their levy payments on training nurses, advanced clinical practitioners or indeed managers and needs to spend more on entry-level opportunities for 16 – 18-year-olds?

Ofsted I am sure will quickly want to demonstrate its objectivity and put clear blue water between itself and an argument that it has any role in seeking to influence the balance of Apprenticeship provision.

So, what is UVAC calling for?

In short, as Apprenticeship increasingly focuses on technical, higher technical and professional occupations, for social mobility measures to be defined and measured in terms of how it opens up opportunities to such roles for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds regardless of age.

We’re calling on Government to support localities to use higher and degree apprenticeships to train and retain individuals for the high productivity jobs needed to deliver the levelling up agenda. 

Mandy Crawford-Lee, Director of Policy and Operations, University Vocational Awards Council

Our report, and the twelve challenging recommendations we make, is available here, with recommendations for Government, ESFA, IfATE, OfS employers, HEIs, Colleges, Training Providers and PSRBs. The following 12 recommendations, some of which relate to Apprenticeship as a whole and others to Higher and Degree Apprenticeship, should be considered.

Realising the Potential of Higher and Degree Apprenticeship in Supporting Social Mobility and the Levelling Up Agenda – 12 point recommendations

Policy Focus and Measuring Success

I. Government Should Reconfirm that the Focus of Apprenticeship is a Productivity Programme

Government should reiterate the purpose of Apprenticeship as an employer-led programme, focused on enabling new and existing employees of all ages to gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to become occupationally competent in the high productivity jobs needed by employers to raise performance in the public and private sectors.

The role of Apprenticeship in supporting social mobility and the Levelling Up Agenda should be determined in the context of the purpose of Apprenticeship to raise productivity, tackle skills gaps and shortages, support the delivery of high-quality public-sector services and widen access to occupations by under-represented groups.

Apprenticeship provision will increasingly focus on higher-level skills and occupations. This change is a good thing. In line with this change in focus approaches to social mobility should be focused on how Apprenticeship supports individuals from all backgrounds to benefit from the programme. Government should make it clear that the principle purpose of Apprenticeship is NOT to reduce NEET numbers, or to support individuals failed by the schools’ system to gain a full level 2 qualification.

As Apprenticeship has such a pivotal role in raising productivity and is of significant interest to a range of Government departments, e.g. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy BEIS (industrial strategy and the green economy), Department of Health and Social Care (nursing and allied healthcare occupations) and the Home Office (police constable), primary policy responsibility for the Apprenticeship Levy and Apprenticeship policy should rest with the Treasury.

II. Government Should Define Clearly How It Intends to Measure the Success of Apprenticeship

Government should develop mutually supportive policies and measures that ensure Apprenticeship delivers in the following areas – productivity, delivery of public sector services, diversity, social mobility and levelling up.

Participation in Apprenticeship should be measured by how it reflects the composition of British society – gender, ethnicity, disability, age, residence, regions, urban/rural and measures of advantage / disadvantage. Apprenticeship should be seen and developed as a programme for individuals from all backgrounds. Apprenticeship must be an all age programme if it is to deliver the Government’s productivity objectives. It should support young people to train for their first job and support adults to reskill and upskill.

Measures for social mobility should go beyond Polar and IMD data and include measures such as first in family to HE, to a profession or higher technical occupation. They should also reflect the characteristics of Apprenticeship as an all age upskilling and reskilling programme.

Measures on levelling up should focus on the use of Apprenticeships in different regions and localities that make most impact on productivity.

III. Government should ask the OfS to Conduct an Objective Analysis on how Higher and Degree Apprenticeship can Best be Used to Support Social Mobility, Diversity and the Levelling Up Agenda
Too often the analysis of Apprenticeship, Degree Apprenticeship and social mobility is conducted in a vacuum with insufficient reference not just to productivity, but to the diversity and Levelling Up Agendas. To set the agenda for the higher education sector Government should ask the HE regulator, the Office for Students to undertake an objective analysis on how HEIs and the employers/PSRBs with whom they work should use Higher and Degree Apprenticeship to support social mobility, diversity and the Levelling Up Agendas. OfS should outline how it expects HE providers to ensure that Degree Apprenticeships are available to use and are used by individuals (including young people) from all backgrounds.

Apprenticeship Programme Design

IV. Where an Apprenticeship leads to a regulated profession and/or licence to practice, IfATE should require the Trailblazer proposing the Apprenticeship to agree a strategy with the relevant PSRB as to how the Apprenticeship will support social mobility and the Levelling Up Agenda

Too little attention has been paid to how Apprenticeship can support the development of new progression routes to the professions. IfATE should encourage the use of Apprenticeships that lead to professional membership and licence to practise.

As part of the approval process, the Trailblazer developing the Apprenticeship standard with relevant PSRBs, should submit a strategy outlining how the Apprenticeship proposed will support social mobility and the Levelling Up Agenda.

V. For Apprenticeships at levels 2 to 6, all Trailblazers should outline how the Apprenticeship can support progression to the next occupational and/or educational level

Apprenticeship Standards rightly focus on defining the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to be competent for a particular occupation. For the individual, the Apprenticeship is also a learning programme and should not only lead to occupational competence for a defined occupation but should also open up opportunities for further learning and career progression.

As such, the IfATE should require Trailblazers to outline how an Apprenticeship allows and supports occupational progression. Trailblazers should, in particular, be asked to work with HEIs and FECs to outline how Apprenticeships at level 3 can lead to appropriate vocational and technical qualifications at higher educational levels.

The IfATE needs to ensure that a skills ladder exists and that at each level an apprentice unambiguously gains the knowledge and skills required for progression to appropriate higher-level Apprenticeship standards.

VI. Trailblazers should not only be allowed to, but should be encouraged to, specify a mandatory qualification (such as a degree) in a level 6 or 7 Apprenticeship Standard, if such an approach supports social mobility and diversity
Qualifications, such as degrees, tend to have a status in the employment market. A degree is understood internationally. Trailblazers should be asked to consider including a mandatory degree in a level 6 or 7 Apprenticeship Standard if they can demonstrate it would benefit individuals undertaking the Apprenticeship, is of value to employers and if it would widen diversity of recruitment to the occupational area.

Apprenticeship Delivery

VII. Employers using Apprenticeship should be asked to sign up to an Equality Pledge which outlines action they can take to maximise the availability of Apprenticeship to individuals of all backgrounds
Working with and on the advice of social mobility and equality bodies, the IfATE should develop an Equality Pledge. The Equality Pledge should outline action employers and training providers should take to maximise the availability of an Apprenticeship to individuals of all backgrounds.
VIII. Provider representative bodies for colleges, independent training providers and universities should be asked to publish guidance on how their members can best support the social mobility and levelling up objectives of Apprenticeship
Those who deliver Apprenticeships are well placed to identify how social mobility and levelling up could best be supported through Apprenticeship and should be asked to outline how such opportunities can be maximised.
IX. Working with LEPs and metro mayors, training providers should develop action plans outlining how in partnership with others Higher and Degree Apprenticeship can maximise their contribution to the Levelling Up agenda
Higher and Degree Apprenticeships should have a key role in supporting localities and regions upskill and reskill the workforce. LEPs and metro mayors should work with HEIs and other Apprenticeship providers to ensure appropriate provision is developed and delivered in a way that best meets local and regional needs.
X. HEIs and other providers delivering Higher and Degree Apprenticeship programmes should design and deliver such provision to support progression by learners following relevant Applied Generals, new T levels and Advanced Apprenticeship programmes
This will require extensive work with schools, colleges and careers advisors. This does need to be a two-way process and HEIs need to do all they can to ‘meet in the middle’, through, for example the use of maths bridging programmes. HEIs, however, still have to adhere to Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) requirements that limit the amount of level 3 provision that can be included within the degree curriculum. PSRB requirements and defined outcomes can also limit the amount of additional learning that can be included within a credit-limited curriculum.

Apprenticeship Funding

XI. As UVAC advocated in our report on a Blueprint for a Financially Sustainable Apprenticeship System funding should be managed by the Treasury / DfE so £ for £ the Apprenticeship Reforms and Levy make the most impact on increasing UK productivity

Measures to support social mobility and the Levelling Up Agenda should be developed, funded and measured in this context. As we outlined in our report we would, in the medium to long-term recommend the following: Ring Fence Levy Payments Made by Public Sector Employers – In current (August 2020) circumstances public sector employers MUST be supported to fully utilise their levy payments to train the employees (e.g. nurses, allied healthcare staff, police officers, social workers and managers) they need to deliver vital public sector services. 16 – 18 Apprenticeship Provision Should be Fully Funded by the DfE through the Education Budget – Apprenticeships for 16 – 18-year-olds are, in effect, part of the compulsory education and training offer. Employers are not expected to pay for A levels or T levels so should not be expected to pay through the Apprenticeship Levy for the Government’s third 16 – 18 offer, Apprenticeships. A New Government Budget to Support Non-levy Paying Employer Apprenticeship Provision – An all economy levy to fund Apprenticeship provision makes little economic or fiscal sense. Why should the levy payments made by the NHS or a blue-chip engineering company be used to support and train hairdressers or chefs in small private businesses? Apprenticeships for non-levy payers should be supported by a separate Government fund. In return non-levy paying employers must be asked to pay more than a token 5% contribution to the cost of the training and assessment of an Apprenticeship.

In the medium to long-term, a mature and measured debate is needed on the relative contribution of the state, employers and individuals to the cost of an Apprenticeship. Proposals have been floated that would require employers and/or individuals to pay a contribution, if an employee is earning more than a salary threshold, has an existing qualification at the same level, is over 24 or for higher levels of Apprenticeship. These proposals fail the commonsense test. Why, for example, should an individual or police force wanting to use a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship be required to pay an additional contribution for an Apprenticeship when an individual or employer wanting to use a hairdressing Apprenticeship would be required to make no such contribution? Government needs to develop a system where the state, employer and individual financial contributions are based on the value of the Apprenticeship defined in terms of productivity, delivery of public sector services, diversity and social mobility/Levelling Up agenda. A debate is needed.

XII. A challenge fund should be introduced to support regions and localities to use Apprenticeships to ‘level up’ local and regional economies
Government has rightly confined the use of the Apprenticeship Levy to fund the delivery of the training and assessment required for a particular Apprenticeship Standard. This has, however, meant that limited development funding has been available to identify and facilitate good practice, support outreach activities and develop new innovative forms of delivery. A new national challenge fund could help stimulate innovation and the development of new practice.


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