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EduSkills blog: Data collection in apprenticeships

EduSkills blog: Data collection in apprenticeships

5th March 2018

Apprenticeship start data is the hot topic of conversation in the apprenticeship sector at the moment. How many starts are there? What effect is the levy having? Will we reach the 3 million target? Is the target putting quantity ahead of quality?  In the obsession over the figures, it’s important not to forget the individuals behind the numbers.

That last question, of quantity over quality is something that people spoke to me about time and again while I was researching the Skills Commission’s latest Spotlight report on Apprenticeships and Social Mobility.  Usually, people wanted to talk about the quality of the training offered and whether apprenticeships met both employers’ and learners’ needs. The age of those starting apprenticeships, and potential shifting trends amongst starts by young people was another common area of concern, with data and information freely available on these patterns. But what was less clear from the evidence, was the social background of those starting apprenticeships.

Just last week, we were all talking again about the decline in apprenticeship starts. New data from Department for Education datasets  and FE Week analysis showed a 40% drop in apprenticeship starts from November 2016 to provisional November 2017 starts. We can also see from these datasets, for example, that 70 19-24 year olds in Cumbria started higher apprenticeships in 2015/16, yet we know nothing about the social background of those starting apprenticeships in a consistent way. Put simply, we don’t have the data we need to understand the issue in detail, and to make evidence based policy based decisions.

The  Skills Commission have heard evidence from individual providers that collect this data voluntarily, and The Sutton Trust have conducted some of their own analysis, in their report Better Apprenticeships which led to reports that ‘Middle-class teenagers hoovering up degree apprenticeships’.

[“About one in 14 of young men and one in 10 young women eligible for free school meals, took up an apprenticeship compared with one in seven of the cohort overall” The Times, November 2017.]

Perhaps more widely there are assumptions around class and the FE and skills system, which means historically this hasn’t been as great a concern as you see in the HE system, which has had to be more transparent about addressing accusations of elitism. But as the system undergoes changes, like the growth of higher and degree apprenticeships, it’s important we look at this issue more carefully. This starts with more detailed national data, which can help us to understand the background of those starting apprenticeships, at different levels and across sectors, or the pathway of progression that people take.

Without this, we do not have enough transparency to hold employers or providers to account or a solid evidence base to make policy decisions. This is why the Skills Commission made the following recommendation in it’s latest report A Spotlight on Apprenticeships and Social Mobility, which has cross-party support from Michelle Donelan MP and Lilian Greenwood MP:

"Recommendation 11. Data collection should mirror that in higher education, including data on social background and routes of progression, to allow monitoring, analysis and corrective action. The Department for Education and Institute for Apprenticeships will be well placed to do this". 

With the Institute for Apprenticeships now established, and implementing their Faster and Better campaign, now is an ideal opportunity to implement this change. With the data at hand, it is another question what policy decisions are made as a result, which perhaps depend on a more ideological view of your desires for the apprenticeship and skills system …