Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partner Director, Kaplan UK

What does the decline in Apprenticeship success rates actually mean?

Preparing to speak at the Ofqual conference this week and reviewing with the recent release of Apprenticeship success rate data has prompted me to think about the way we measure Apprenticeship success. The recent publication of the 2015/16 data has caused a few headlines. With a change to the success rate calculation, (inc a tightening of the rules around ‘non completed’ apprenticeships), meaning that 1 in 3 Apprenticeships are now not being successfully completed.

How does this compare to other forms of education and what is it telling us?

Comparing apprenticeships to other forms of education

* GCSEs success rates also fell to 67% (A-C) in 2016 and further falls are expected as coursework is removed and greater emphasis put on end point exams.

* A level pass rates are c80% [A-C] as are other level 3 vocational qualifications

* Degree success rates are hard to find…but there is a figure of 81% published by HESA for young, full time students
   (NB 2014/15 results projected see chart 24).

So apprenticeships are the least successful of the major qualification programmes?

Superficially yes. Although the SFA methodology for Apprenticeship success rate measurement is particularly harsh as it includes all those who start. Whereas GCSE and A level results are based on the % who complete and take the exam – not those who start the course. And HEI / degree rates are based on ‘projections’ by HESA and don’t include mature students who may be more likely to be distracted.

GSCSE and A-level groups are pretty homogenised cohorts with learners on full time programmes; with their studies being their main occupation and focus. Whilst Apprentices are of every age, studying at every level and spend at least 80% of their time doing real jobs - as well as more often than not also having some form of caring responsibility.

Despite this the reality is that apprentices very rarely fail – they just don’t finish. Most either: give up, get distracted or change job. Of course this is also a criticism of the current system and in future many more may fail due to not passing their EPA.

Drivers of success

Beyond the differences in methodology there are some other fundamental differences; if you fail your GCSEs you parents will probably give you a hard time, if you fail your degree you have ‘wasted’ a lot of money….If you fail your apprenticeship your family and employer may care but if you are 30/40/50 and well established at your employer this impact may well be minor.

Indeed under the new funding methodologies (Levy & 90/10) employers will pay less for non-achievers than achievers and so are systemically incentivised to see non-completion as a cost saving.

And at an individual level, under the new standards, it is possible that those who achieve a Degree or other valuable qualification as part of their apprenticeship may well feel uninclined to then complete their apprenticeship and their End Point Assessment, particularly if it is onerous…

How can we safeguard apprenticeship success rates?

Of course most employers will want their apprentices to complete and who knows one day success rate data might be published at ‘employer level’ and thus affect the way that employers are viewed by prospective employees. And providers definitely want Apprentices to complete! as the ever increasing minimum level of performance draws closer to average success rates the danger of losing contracts with the SFA looms large for many. And of course the 20% completion payment is important and the difference between a programme being financially successful or unsuccessful.

So what can we do to encourage completion?

Pedagogy. Providing meaningful learning that is challenging, helps people to do their jobs better and which employees find beneficial and interesting means that we have eager apprentices and motivated learners.

Monitoring. Providers and employers need to closely monitor learner progress, and act quickly when slippage occurs. We also need to provide mentoring and pastoral support for learners to help them balance work and life and to stay the course - even when life gets complicated.

Money talks. Employers can (and do) use financial ‘carrots’ such as success payments for completing learners, and ‘sticks’ such as fines or ‘golden handcuffs’ for those who drop out without good reason. These incentives can work – but only with a high quality programme.

Whether we think the SFA success rate methodology is a fair or meaningful measure of the quality of teaching and learning, it is not likely to go away.

And all of us who are concerned with the reputation and progress of the apprenticeship programme overall, need to do all that we can to ensure that it is viewed as a successful one.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partner Director, Kaplan UK

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page