Press release

Response to apprenticeships inquiry

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission response to the Select Committee Inquiry into Apprenticeships


The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission today (21 March 2016) warned that the government’s drive on apprenticeships is failing to deliver for young people. In a report submitted to the Commons Select Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy’s inquiry into apprenticeships, the Commission pointed out that almost all the recent increase in apprenticeship starts related to people over the age of 24, with the number of young people starting apprenticeships showing little change since 2010.

It also noted that, unlike academic courses, youth apprenticeships typically do not represent a step up: most A-level-age apprentices do GCSE-level apprenticeships and almost all (97%) university-age apprentices do apprenticeships at A-level equivalent or lower. The Commission also highlighted the fact that most youth apprenticeships are in sectors such as health and social care, business administration, and hospitality and catering, which are characterized by low pay and poor progression.

The Commission welcomed the government’s efforts to improve the quality as well as the number of apprenticeships, but said there needed to be a real focus on improving the quality of apprenticeship for young people. It called on the government to increase the number of young people doing higher apprenticeships to 30,000 by 2020, compared to the present 4,200 (19- to 24-year-olds). It also called for a UCAS-style apprenticeship gateway that would give young people much better information on what apprenticeships are available and crucially on where those apprenticeships led.

The government is committed to delivering 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, but the Commission noted that the focus on starts risked double or even triple counting some apprentices. It called for improved data transparency so it was clear how many apprentices the starts data relates to. It also noted that declining completion rates were reducing the impact of any increase in start numbers and suggested public debate should focus on the number of completions as well as the number of starts.

Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn, the Chair of the Commission, said:

The government is committed to giving all young people a chance to make something of their lives, but the current drive to increase the number of apprenticeships isn’t delivering for people under the age of 24. The number of young apprentices has flat-lined since 2010 and many of these apprenticeships don’t offer young people a foundation they can build on. The government needs to increase the quality of apprenticeships on offer to young people and make sure that every apprenticeship offers a genuine route to success.

Notes for editors

  1. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (the Commission) is an advisory non-departmental public body established by the Child Poverty Act 2010 as amended by the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The Commission became fully operational in January 2013.

  2. The role of the Commission is to:
    • monitor the government’s progress in improving social mobility and reducing child poverty in the United Kingdom
    • monitor the implementation of the UK, Scottish and Welsh child poverty strategies
    • provide independent published advice to ministers at their request, including about the measurement of socio-economic disadvantage, social mobility and child poverty
    • challenge non-government institutions, such as higher education, business and others, to improve their performance on social mobility.
  3. The Commission’s board is made up of 6 commissioners:
    • Alan Milburn (chair)
    • Baroness Gillian Shephard (deputy chair)
    • Paul Gregg, Professor of Economic and Social Policy, University of Bath
    • Douglas Hamilton, Director of the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust
    • David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation
    • Catriona Williams, Chief Executive of Children in Wales.
  4. For more information call Jack Feintuck on 07823 363457

  5. Commissioners are not available for interview
Published 21 March 2016