The year 2011/12 witnessed a rise of more than 45 000 apprenticeship starts in England, taking the total number of new apprentices to 502 540 for the academic year. This represents a 222 850 increase in numbers from 2009/10 and follows what has been a positive trend for several years. The service sector (including business administration and retail) followed by health, public services and care as well as engineering and manufacturing technologies offered the most apprenticeship starts. Further, 53% of apprenticeship starters were female; 2011/12 was the first time the majority of apprenticeship starters were female.

Surveys have shown that overall learner satisfaction is high and apprentices are in the main very positive about the quality of training. Apprenticeships are generally viewed to have a strong positive impact on learners' skills and abilities. Numbers also show that the majority of former apprentices are still in employment, often with the same employer that offered the apprenticeship. Advanced apprenticeships are estimated to yield a higher return for money than intermediate apprenticeships, and apprenticeships for adults offer a good return for the public funds spent on them overall, according to the National Audit Office. Research also shows that completed apprenticeships increase workers’ earnings over other vocational qualifications of the same level.

A large proportion of the increase in apprentice numbers is due to adult learners over 25 years of age starting apprenticeships. Some 219 870 apprentices aged 25 and over commenced training in 2011/12. In contrast, the number of apprenticeship starts for under-19s decreased slightly since last academic year. Intermediate level apprenticeships, which comprise QCF level 2 awards, saw the largest amount of starts although there was a higher rise in numbers in advanced (QCF level 3) and higher level (QCF levels 4 and 5) apprenticeships. There are, however, still only a small number of apprentices enrolled in higher level apprenticeships.

Following some concern about the quality offered by some apprenticeship providers, the minimum duration of apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds was extended to 12 months in December 2011. This now also applies to apprentices over 19 years of age since August 2012, unless prior learning or attainment has been recorded. There is more flexibility for older apprentices as they have typically acquired more skills prior to the apprenticeship. The minimum duration has been decided upon to ensure high quality training and increase labour market confidence in apprenticeship training. The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) have reviewed the quality of apprenticeships and the NAS quality action plan was introduced in April 2012.

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