From education to employment

The Recent Evolution of Apprenticeships – Apprenticeship pathways and participation since 2015

mandy crawford-lee

UVAC welcomes the report published by The Sutton Trust – The Recent Evolution of Apprenticeships – Apprenticeship pathways and participation since 2015

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, as UVAC has long argued and demonstrated, have a critical role to play in supporting social mobility and more needs to done to ensure that individuals from ALL backgrounds have the opportunity to benefit from such provision. The report has some important messages regarding young people from more deprived backgrounds and the need for more to be done to support them to access Degree Apprenticeships.

We do, however, believe that the analysis and conclusions outlined in the report could, if acted upon without a wider consideration of the evidence available, significantly undermine the contribution of Higher and Degree Apprenticeship to social mobility.  We are also concerned that the report does not sufficiently consider social mobility in the context of other key Apprenticeship policy objectives; enhancing workforce diversity and inclusion, increasing productivity, supporting the delivery of high quality public sector services and delivering the net zero/green jobs agenda. 

We would make the following observations:  

  1. The Report is overly focused on Young People and Fails to Recognise the Role of Apprenticeship in Social Mobility, Diversity and Inclusion for those aged 25 and Over – From a policy perspective, Government is clear that Apprenticeship is an ALL age programme. The impact of Apprenticeship on social mobility should, accordingly, be measured on how social mobility is supported for individuals of all ages.  The report, particularly the foreword, with its exclusive focus on young people and suggestion on targeting 17, 18 and 19 year olds leaving school, could be read as suggesting that the Sutton Trust either does not understand or disagrees with the concept that Apprenticeship is an all age, all stage, all level programme.

More fundamentally we would argue that Apprenticeship can make the biggest positive impact on social mobility when it is supported and used as a programme for all ages.  Apprenticeship and vocational programmes are very different from academic programmes.  With traditional academic programmes, progression is mostly linear.  Individuals complete GCSEs, progress to A levels (typically) and then progress to fulltime HE at the age of 18 or 19.   Vocational and Apprenticeship progression is very different.  Individuals may leave school or college with an Applied General, work for a number of years and start a family.  In their mid 20s, they may have the opportunity to study and train for a profession through for example, a Degree Apprenticeship.  

Government understands progression through Apprenticeship and vocational programmes and the importance of flexible learning throughout life, as demonstrated by the forthcoming introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE).  If we are to maximise the contribution of Degree Apprenticeships to social mobility, we must consider and support their use by individuals of all ages.  UVAC is certainly of the view that more needs to be done to support 18 and 19 year-olds to use Degree Apprenticeship. We must, however, also support and champion Degree Apprenticeships that support social mobility for older individuals.  The report regrettably gives the impression that if individual aged 19 from a deprived background starts and completes a Degree Apprenticeship this is a success.  If however, their brother or sister aged 25 starts and completes a Degree Apprenticeship this is an example of adults hogging apprenticeship opportunities.  Is this the view of The Sutton Trust?

  1. The Use of Questionable Measures to Assess the Social Mobility Impact of Higher and Degree Apprenticeship – The report uses, without questioning its appropriateness, the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) to measure participation in Apprenticeship by background.  This is both surprising and disappointing.  We would at least have expected consideration of other measures and recent concerns regarding the use of IMD in this context to be acknowledged.  The recent Move on Up? study by Middlesex University[1] on Degree Apprenticeship, questions the appropriateness of existing equality of opportunity measures.  In respect of Degree Apprenticeship:

The report makes it very clear that the IMD and POLAR methods are not reliable or valid measures of social mobility, and they are not designed for this purpose.”

“We instead used the Cabinet Office’s questions which are employer-facing and more relevant for apprentices and applied the government’s own method to a sample of Middlesex University students in order to obtain a much more informed view of the social mobility impact of the apprenticeship programme.”

“The results are hugely significant because they clearly show 66% per cent of students have come from lower Higher Education participation backgrounds – compared to 28% in the POLAR data which is a stark difference.”

In addition to POLAR and IMD, measures for social mobility need to include:

  • First in family to HE/a profession
    1. Progression from a lower level job role to a graduate occupation
    1. Progression from level 3-5 technical, vocational programmes/qualifications
    1. Measures of wage/salary increase for individuals moving from a level 3, 4 or 5 role to a level 6 role.

In the Sutton Trust report the authors note:

“Strikingly, Higher and Degree Apprenticeships are not more common among disadvantaged individuals than a university degree.  From this perspective, it is hard to see Higher and Degree Apprenticeships as a route to widen opportunities for individuals from poorer backgrounds.” P35

We would ask that the authors reflect on the Middlesex report (and others) and their own conclusions and adapt their methodology to reflect the measures proposed by Middlesex University, to determine if they could draw the same conclusion.

We would also raise issues with the following observation:

“Overall, while it is still early days for Degree Apprenticeships (and here we are focusing on those started by younger learners), they are emerging as an alternative pathway to a degree for those who followed an academic (or mixed) path at Level 3 rather than something apprentices at lower level can progress into.” P28

Qualifications and learning programmes are designed to open up rather than close down opportunities.  It is entirely appropriate that A levels and Applied Generals (and T Levels) support progression to Degree Apprenticeship, as they do to traditional higher education provision.  Indeed, Government wants to support T Levels to open up progression routes to Degree Apprenticeship.  Apprenticeships are based on occupations first, rather than levels. Many occupations exist at one or two levels. Social Work is a level 6 or 7 occupation.  A police constable is a level 6 occupation, and a police community support officer is a level 4 occupation. There are not separate policing standards at level 2 or level 3, because standards are based on occupations.  Many STEM apprenticeships at level 3 do not have sufficient maths content to seamlessly support progression to a degree. 

More certainly needs to be done to support progression from level 3 Apprenticeship to Higher and Degree Apprenticeships and UVAC has done much to support such progression.  Higher and Degree Apprenticeships should however, be an appropriate option for learners with A levels, Applied Generals, Level 3 Apprenticeships and individuals with the skills and commitments that will enable them to complete the programme in work.

  1. A Focus on Historic Data and Not Enough Emphasis on Emerging Trends – We regret that the report does not focus on examples of where and how Apprenticeships, particularly Degree Apprenticeships are being and could be used, to open up new progression routes for disadvantaged individuals and to support workforce diversity.  The police constable degree apprenticeship is a particularly good example. 

A degree is now a requirement to become a police officer.  Police forces are increasingly utilising the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship to professionalise recruitment and help police recruitment to reflect the community they serve.  Some initial results are very encouraging.  Sussex Police Forces, Chief Constable Giles York, reported that the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship resulted in a 114% increase in applications from females and 118% increase from those identifying as BAME. 

It would be wrong for police forces to be required to focus the Degree Apprenticeship on young people.  Police recruitment must support forces to reflect the communities they serve.  Police recruitment has also supported many individuals with a military background to use and develop their skills when entering civilian life.  To adopt the approach advocated by the Sutton Trust and focus on young people from deprived neighbourhoods would presumably underplay the potential of using Degree Apprenticeship to support former service men and women and the Military Covenant. 

Health and adult social care represents another sector where Apprenticeships are being used to develop new opportunities for existing employees, as demonstrated by the growth of Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeships and the potential of the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeships.  UVAC would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Sutton Trust how new Apprenticeship progression routes are supporting social mobility in the NHS.

  1. A Failure to Fully Understand what Degree Apprenticeship is and How it Can Support Social Mobility for Individuals of All Ages – The Sutton Trust’s statement in the foreword to the report that “If we are to harness Degree Apprenticeships as a driver of social mobility, and as a high quality alternative to university, we need many more of these opportunities open to, and targeted at 17, 18 and 19 year olds leaving school” (P3) is misguided. Firstly, Degree Apprenticeship is not an alternative to university, it is a university programme typically delivered by a university and involving the award of a degree.  Even amongst the ages highlighted, to focus exclusively on school leavers will disadvantage young people of the same ages studying at college or on work-based learning programmes.  We need an inclusive approach.  School must never be used as shorthand for schools, colleges and independent training providers.

More fundamentally, if we are serious about Apprenticeship and social mobility we should recognise that work-based progression routes where an individual starts a Degree Apprenticeship at 21, 25 or older, are arguably the key way to support social mobility and widen access to the professions.  An over focus on 17, 18 and 19 year olds, at the expense of older learners, could undermine the social mobility agenda the Sutton Trust seeks to champion.

  1. A Failure to Consider the Social Mobility Impact of Apprenticeship in the Context of the Overall Objectives of the Apprenticeship Programme – No one would dispute the fundamental importance of supporting social mobility through Apprenticeship.  Apprenticeship does, however, have other objectives; enhancing workforce diversity, increasing productivity, supporting the delivery of high quality public sector services and delivering the net zero/green jobs agenda.

In many commentaries, although not in the Sutton Trust report, much has been made of the alleged misuse of Apprenticeship to train senior leaders.  Look at the evidence and the nonsense of such a claim is apparent.  Apprenticeship is a skills programme and poor management skills are regarded by most economists as the key skills factor explaining the UK’s low productivity.  As the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE)[2] has explained, use of management apprenticeships is entirely appropriate.  By their nature, management apprenticeships will frequently be taken by older and existing employees.  Those questioning whether this is appropriate need to consider the following example. 

The sector making the greatest use of management apprenticeships is the NHS, which is also by far the largest employer contributor to the apprenticeship levy.  Those advocating for the focus of Apprenticeship to be on ‘school leavers’ must decide whether social good is best delivered by enabling the NHS to use its levy payments to improve management skills and thereby deliver enhanced patient care. Or if the NHS levy payments should be used to fund Apprenticeships for young people in other sectors.

  1. An Aspirational Programme – The report rightly acknowledges that the Apprenticeship Reforms and Apprenticeship Levy have led to quality substituting quantity (P35).  Degree Apprenticeship is an aspirational programme that should be celebrated.  For generations Apprenticeship and vocational education was regarded as second best.  We must never return to the position where Apprenticeship is seen as ‘a good choice for other people’s children’.  It is critical that Apprenticeship is NOT just seen as a social mobility programme.  Instead, as Government intends, Apprenticeship should be positioned as a high quality aspirational programme for individuals from all backgrounds.  If we are serious about social mobility we should support people from ALL backgrounds and of ALL ages to consider and utilise the Apprenticeships that the economy and society need.

In conclusion, the Sutton Trust rightly highlights the need to create more opportunities for young people. Such an objective must however, not be delivered in isolation and at the expense of supporting Apprenticeships to deliver their other policy objectives. 

In particular, enhancing productivity, supporting inclusion and diversity in the workforce, improving public sector service delivery, supporting the net zero agenda and of course enhancing social mobility for individuals of ALL ages.  UVAC trusts that Ministers, officials and others will read, review and act on the Sutton Trust’s Report in the above context.

By Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive at University Vocational Awards Council

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