Kathleen Henehan, Research and Policy Analyst, the Resolution Foundation

Fewer Level 3 and Level 2 #Apprenticeship Starts

A well-known fact in the apprenticeship world is that the number of people starting an apprenticeship fell sharply after Spring 2017 with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and related reforms.

Overall, the number of starts in 2018/19 was 23 per cent lower than the number starting an apprenticeship in 2015/16 (the last full year before the reforms came into place).

At first glance, it looks as if the starkest changes occurred among older, rather than younger, ‘would be’ apprentices: between 2015/16 and 2018/19 the number of 25+ apprentices starting a Level 2 programme fell by about 58 per cent while the number starting a higher-education (Level 4+) programme grew by 158 per cent.

In other words, opportunities for older apprentices on lower-level programmes fell off just as opportunities for older apprentices on higher-level programmes shot up.

16-18 Year Olds Losing Out

Yet, dig deeper into the figures and you’ll find that while opportunities for older apprentices moved in different directions, 16-18 year-olds in search of an apprenticeship have lost out more broadly. The number of under 19s starting an apprenticeship has fallen by 25 per cent: from 131,000 in 2015/16 to just under 98,000 this past academic year.

Largest Falls in Apprenticeship Starts by 16-18 Year Olds at Level 2

And although the number of 16-18 year-old starts has fallen across Level 2 (GCSE-equivalent), Level 3 (A level-equivalent) and Level 4 (sub-degree higher education), the largest drop in numbers has occurred at Level 2. Overall, the number of 16-18 year-olds starting a Level 2 apprenticeship has eroded year-on-year: from 87,000 in 2015/16 to 79,000 in 2017/18 (the first full academic year following on from the levy and regulatory reforms) and even further, to 55,000, by the end of last year.

Similar Falls in Level 2 Apprenticeships at age 16, 17 and 18

Data limitations prevent us from knowing just how many starts were taken up by 16, 17 and 18 year-olds separately in the last academic year, though it looks like the fall has been greatest among 18 year-olds (a 34 per cent drop between 2015/16 and 2017/18) and smallest, although still substantial, among 16 year- olds (a 21 per cent reduction over the same period). The number of Level 2 starts across the three ages now appears relatively even.

Big Falls in Level 2 Apprenticeships for 16-18 Year olds in Key Sectors

Another key observation is the fall in Level 2 apprenticeship starts by 16-18 year olds. Between 2015/16 and 2018/19, Level 2 starts by 16-18 year-olds also fell across all major subject areas, with the largest shifts (in absolute numbers) occurring in business, administration and law (-11,500), retail (-6,200) and engineering (-6,500) apprenticeships.

Does the Fall in 16-18 Level 2 Apprenticeship Starts Really Matter?

But while the fall in numbers is indeed striking, the bigger question we need to be asking is whether these changes really matter for young people. On the surface, there looks to be some room for cynicism.

For instance, fewer than one-in- ten 16-18 year-olds have been enrolled on an apprenticeship over recent years – including before the levy came into being. Nearly one-third (32 per cent) of those 16-18 year-olds who were enrolled on a Level 2 apprenticeship during 2017/18 did not successfully complete their programme.

Moreover, in the past, fewer than one-in-four Level 2 apprentices (of all ages) that did complete their programme progressed onto the next level of study within a year.

To put it another way: only a small minority of young people take on an apprenticeship and the outcomes for those that do are often disappointing.

But let’s not focus only on the negative. At their best, apprenticeships can offer young people outside of the ‘A level to university at 18’ path a direct route to the skills required for good, rewarding career. Given the complexity of options that sit before students outside the university track, a direct route is something to be encouraged.

And these days, that transition from education to employment is, for some, increasingly fraught: even though employment is at a record high, recent Resolution Foundation research has shown that the proportion of 18-64 year-olds who have never held a job is, at 8.2 per cent, up 52 per cent since 1998 – a fact that cannot be explained simply by rising student numbers.

Apprenticeships can provide young people with the skills development and work experience needed to keep them engaged in the labour market.

Level 2 Apprenticeships for Young People support progression: So what should policymakers do?

1. Prioritise apprenticeships for young people

First, to state the obvious, they need to prioritise apprenticeships for young people.

There’s a number of ways they can achieve this:

  • By limiting the proportion of funds that levy-paying employers can spend on older apprentices
  • Adding incentives to hire younger apprentices
  • Directly funding 16-18 year-old apprentice training through the public purse – as they do other types of 16-18 education.

And yet, they won’t want to encourage young people into poor quality programmes with little training and little chance of progression.

2. Ensure quality off-the job training

Second, policy makers need to ensure that apprenticeships feature proper off-the job training, which also means that they need clear mechanisms for checking this happens.

3. Improve apprenticeship outcomes

And last but certainly not least, apprenticeship outcomes should be improved more generally. 

Policymakers should ensure that the apprenticeship system allows young people a route to progress upwards in, rather than a one-off training course.

Kathleen Henehan, Research and Policy Analyst, the Resolution Foundation


No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind

The Spring Budget in March and Spending Review in the summer will be pivotal moments to see if the government will prioritise funding for the education and training of 16-18 year olds compared to other phases of the English system.

These will be against a background of reported 5% cuts in departmental spending and the apprenticeship budget facing overspend. The recent falls in the number of 16-18 year olds starting apprenticeships will also cause concern of a rise in the young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

In this #No1618LeftBehind mini-series, leading authorities from across the education sector offer policies and measures to help the new Government level-up education and training opportunities for all 16-18 year olds in England: No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind - wherever they live.

 The authors are:


You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Peter has published a new article: EDHEC and EURECOM Sign Strategic Alliance yesterday
FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 days ago

Women Empowerment: How Far Have We Come in Recent Years?: Here in the UK, the past year has been difficult for ever… https://t.co/TTsstqnyOy
View Original Tweet

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 May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 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.

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