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Vocational education ‘a complicated patchwork’ – Sutton Trust

Apprenticeships in England are “low quality and too short”, a report commissioned by the Sutton Trust education charity has warned. 

More new starts, for younger people and to higher qualifications, are needed. Research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group showed that fewer than 200,000 of the 520,000 apprenticeships in England were rated at level 3 – equivalent to A-level. 

Additionally, only 20% of employers offer apprenticeships and only 61,000 are for people aged under 25. In Germany, 51% of employers offer apprenticeships and 570,000 go to young people. 

The Sutton Trust has called for an increase in new starts – up to 30,000 a year, with the majority at level 3 for at least three years. No more than 10% should be two-year courses at level 2. 

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “Instead of a clear system of respected vocational routes, we suffer from a complicated patchwork where too many young people are offered qualifications of little worth in a system that confuses employers and is not valued as it should be by society. 

“Real apprenticeships are as important to social mobility as good university degrees. Students facing huge loans for a university education find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Even if they would prefer to work with training, the lack of good apprenticeships means they feel they have little choice. 

“England's patchwork vocational system not only hinders our economic competitiveness, it prevents tens of thousands of young people from gaining good skilled jobs.” 

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are already radically reforming apprenticeships to drive up standards so that they are more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers. 

“Since 2010 over a million people have become apprentices, providing a great start to their careers. We have already insisted that apprenticeships last for a minimum of a year, include more English and maths and that every apprenticeship is a job. 

“We have consulted on wider reforms to drive up standards in apprenticeships further, and will publish plans later this month.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected] 

(Picture shows business secretary Vince Cable meeting apprentices at Vital Skills’ new training academy in Salford)


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