Monday 25 September 2017

Three million new apprenticeships – but how many of these are completed and achieved?

Matt Bursnall and Stefan Speckesser from CVER and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research ask what do we currently know about apprenticeship achievement?

The government’s target to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 is a key element of their programme for improving technical education for young people in England and helping to reduce skills gaps. However, the number of apprenticeship starts is only one way to judge progress. Of equal importance is how many apprenticeships are actually achieved. Published statistics do not answer this question well because achievement rates are calculated for apprenticeships that ended in an academic year using a relatively opaque measure.

To better understand achievement and drop-out from apprenticeships, a new CVER briefing note [1] looks at the cohort of apprentices who started in the 2011/12 academic year and following them apprentices for at least 36 months (the period after which the vast majority of apprenticeships have usually been completed).

New evidence from longitudinal data: Short durations and high drop-out rates from apprenticeships

The findings suggest that the published numbers for apprenticeship starts and achievement rates may not give an accurate picture of the reality of apprenticeship provision. We found that:

  • One third of Apprenticeships that started in the academic year 2011/12 had withdrawn within three years of their start date – with 8% are still in-learning.
  • Average planned duration was 12 months for Intermediate and and 16 months for Advanced Apprenticeships. This is less than half the duration observed for apprentices in countries associated with high quality apprenticeship systems [2]
  • Stark differences in apprenticeship achievement rates remain after accounting for the different characteristics of people starting them. When improving apprenticeship standards for the different occupations, drop outs should be looked at.

So how many apprenticeships in recent years were successfully completed?

Combining intermediate and Advanced Apprenticeships we find that after 36 months:

  • 60% have been completed and achieved, 
  • 32% have been withdrawn and 
  • 8% are continuing. 

Based on this, we can estimate lower and upper bounds for the achievement rate of the cohort staring an apprenticeship in the academic year 2011/12. Figure 1 compares these lower and upper bounds with published achievement rates, which are generally much higher than the more accurate estimate we have produced.

  • Our upper bound is 68% and assumes the 8% who continue after 36 months subsequently achieve. 
  • Our lower bound is 60% and assumed the 8% who continue after 36 months do not achieve. 

Assuming the pattern of drop-out and achievement found for our cohort persisted across the 2010-2015 Parliament, the 2.4 million apprenticeships started have resulted in between 1.5 and 1.7 million successful achievements (depending how we treat continuers in our calculations).

Figure 1 – Full Cohort Apprenticeship achievement rates, comparison with Published data 

Source: CVER and DfE Vocational Education Statistical First Release [3]

[1] "An analysis of the duration and achievement of apprenticeships in England", CVER Briefing Paper 004 is available at 

[2] For example, in Norway an apprenticeship typically lasts around 48 months, whereas in Germany, the typical duration is between 24 and 42 months.

[3] Statistics about learner participation, outcomes and highest qualification held in further education and skills, reported for July 2017

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