Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

A thriving Apprenticeship programme at all levels: How do we fulfil the Vision of an all age, all level programme (in England)?

Dear Editor,

In response to your thought provoking article ‘We need a holistic, joined up approach to Apprenticeships’…

The Government has an unusually clear and inclusive vision for Apprenticeships in England:

  • 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

We are now 9 months away from the start of the 2020 academic year and seemingly close to the achievement of that vision.

The programme is certainly now all-age and all-level as the most recent statistics confirm:

Apprenticeships distributed by ‘Level’

Richard Marsh Table Oct19

Apprenticeships by age at the end of 2018/19

Totals by age (31 Aug 2019)


Under 19



All ages

Total commitments





So in terms of distribution at least we have achieved the 2020 ‘vision’

But this has given rise to three fundamental questions:

  1. Why is there a reduction in level 2 Apprenticeships?
  2. Is the number of adult Apprenticeships right?
  3. Is the growth in Degree level Apprenticeship sustainable?

1. Why is there a reduction in level 2 Apprenticeships?

I believe that the answer to this is relatively straightforward. It is to do with the 3 P’s of Price, Product and Policy

  • Price: Level 2 Apprenticeships are funded at much lower rates than other level apprenticeships. The rationale for this is unarticulated but the evidence is clear. Level 2 ‘Frameworks’ carry an average funding rate of £3k per person and Level 2 standards an average ‘max cap’ of £7.5k (compared to £12.5k for Level 3 and nearly £15k for level 5). Funding facilitates delivery and many level 2 Apprenticeships are now impossible to deliver, at quality, at their current rate.
  • Product: Due to the inherent bias in the approval ‘rules’, the development of level 2 Standards is really difficult and so the amount of ‘product’ that is at available at level 2 has reduced from 50% of Apprenticeships in 2010 to 25% of standards in 2019
  • Policy: The Introduction of T-levels at ‘level 3’ shows how the Government views level 2 learning. That it is a level of learning to be undertaken before you specialise and before you are ready for the workplace.

At Kaplan our experience has been that it is now very difficult to deliver level 2 Frameworks or Standards. And so, in many cases, we have instead, been offering the key level 2 ‘elements’ as free pre-level 3 introductory courses. But this is a stop-gap solution at best.

If for reasons of Social Mobility (not least), we wanted to increase access to level 2 Apprenticeships what could we do?

  1. Pay a fair rate: If we had a basic funding formula of say £300 pppm for Apprenticeships at any level, then providers could afford to offer high-quality courses at level 2
  2. Get Colleges more involved: Colleges are the biggest providers of training for young people and their declining involvement in Apprenticeships precludes the provision of a joined-up system
  3. Remove Policy blockers: Such as the sub-contracting rules that scare employers away from joint delivery or the restrictions on creating level 2 / 3 combined programmes etc

2. Is the number of adult apprenticeships right?

The great policy advantage of Apprenticeships, compared to other programmes, is that it is not based on civil servants predicting what training will be required where and when. Instead it is employers who decide who they want to employ and train and in what capacity.

It would be very damaging to move away from that principle.

Of course the Government might decide they do not want to pay for Adult Apprenticeship training but that would be:

  1. Against their inclusive vision, and
  2. A bit harsh on employers who are paying for their Apprenticeships via the levy

So how could we get more young people to start an Apprenticeship?

  1. Treat Apprenticeships like other FE courses and make them fully funded for 16-18s (i.e. not levy funded or with a 5% contribution etc)
  2. Create an annual cycle for advertising and applying – many young people ‘fall’ into University or College applications as they are so much more visible and organised. If your Apprenticeship is not available in September what choice do you have?
  3. Create more entry level programmes (see above!)

3. Is the growth in Degree level apprenticeship sustainable?

Should we even have Degree level Apprenticeships?

I remember in 2011 when Dr Chudley (then a Director in the National Apprenticeship Service) gave a presentation to senior officials suggesting that we expand the ladder of Apprenticeship opportunity all the way to Level 7.

At the time it was met with a mixture of incredulity and excitement however Dr Chudley’s rationale was that in a truly demand-led system that is where the demand will lead us. And how right he was.

If Apprenticeships in this country are a ‘form of learning’ i.e. a powerful combination of theory and practise rather than a ‘stage’ of learning (School to work) then this is where the policy inevitably leads us.

Can we afford Degree level Apprenticeships?

It feels ‘unfair’ that some Degrees incur large debts and some don’t and that Degree Apprenticeships are increasing at a time whilst others are declining.

However we must put this into the context of a Levy funded system. One where employers have now in paid almost £3bn and taken less than £1bn out.

SMEs will never want thousands of Degree apprenticeships and if large employers such as the Police and NHS etc do want lots and are prepared to pay for them then why should they not be allowed to do so?

The provision of adequate funding for non-levy payers is surely the Government’s responsibility – not employers.

Why Student Loans won’t work for Degree Apprenticeships

Loans for Apprenticeships has been tried and failed.

And in the new post Levy world it would be even harder

Practical obstacles abound…

  • Who would choose the training provider (the employer who contracts them or the apprentice who is paying them) Who would negotiate the price with the provider?
  • Would we need a Student Loans Company approved provider Register?
  • Why would an individual do the EPA if it saves them 20% not to and you can still get the Degree anyway? (as with the Chartered Management degree, non-integrated EPA model)

Degree and Degree level apprenticeships do not need to be at the expense of other Apprenticeships ‘types’ and it is a senseless task to make Apprenticeships ‘types’ or levels compete against each other.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

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