Saturday, 10 December 2016

'16-17' year olds not 16-18 year olds

By Mark Corney

Treating ’16-18’ year olds as a single group is resulting in weak analysis and poorly framed recommendations.  The cause is the inclusion of 18 year olds. 16-17 year olds is the key group to consider, and the raising of the participation age to 18 and the apprenticeship levy are the policies to assess together.

The DfE is concerned about a dramatic fall in apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds in the aftermath of the apprenticeship levy, the transition from lower funded frameworks to higher funded standards, and long-term changes to the disadvantage and area cost uplifts. The reason is the department would face a massive ‘additional’ FE bill.

Suppose the number of 16-18 year olds on apprenticeships fell from 133,400 to zero. Assume that this group stay-on in full-time education at schools and colleges. At a funding rate of around £4,000, the DfE would have to find an extra £535m, as levy funds are spent solely on 19+ apprentices.

The key point, however, is that DfE is under no obligation to ensure that every 18 year old is in ‘relevant’ education or training. The duty to participate only applies to the 18th birthday. DfE can take some comfort that apprenticeship participation peaks at 18 (61,700) rather than 17 (47,100) or 16 (24,600).

Separate data on the proportion of 16-17 year olds meeting the duty to participate shows 6.3% - some 74,000 - are doing so through apprenticeships. The cost of providing full-time FE places to 16-17 year olds no longer on apprenticeships would be about £300m - much less than when 18 year olds are included - although the Treasury would have to find extra funding for child benefit and child tax credits.

FE Week has recently reported that the share of 16-18 apprenticeship funding for colleges is down from 38% to 35%. Part of the explanation might be that colleges know ‘something in reserve’ is needed for 16-17 year olds if apprenticeship numbers fall dramatically for this age group such as full-time technical education, traineeships or pre-apprenticeships.

Last month the DfE published the Equality Analysis of the apprenticeship funding reforms starting in May 2017. It states that 33% of apprentices are aged 16-18.  But this is not a particularly helpful metric.

A measure of apprentices as a proportion of the age cohort at age 16, 17 and 18 is needed, and so too is an assessment about whether under the levy the number of apprenticeships for 16-17 year olds would fall whilst the number for 18 year olds might even increase, as this is the age cohort employers currently prefer.

Employer demand for 16-17 apprentices is currently low. An employer-led levy system could depress employer demand yet further.

Data for 2013/14 shows that age 18 is the peak year for apprenticeship starts at Level 2/3 combined, more than 17 year olds and 16 year olds, and more than 19 year olds and 20 year olds. Interestingly, more 18 year olds start Level 2 apprenticeships than 16 or 17 year olds, as well as 19 or 20 year olds.

"In its paper Earning & Learning: Making the Apprenticeship Work for 16-18 year olds, the IPPR call for the removal of Level 2 apprenticeship for the 16-18 age group and replacing with pre-apprenticeships and technical education,  which is also hinted at by the Social Mobility Commission in its 'State of the Nation Report 2016'. But from the perspective of education policy and public spending, the proposal should only be assessed in terms of 16 and 17 year olds.

 In any event, it will be levy-paying employers who will decide the age of apprentices and the level of apprenticeships they fund, including 16 and 17 year olds on Level 2 apprenticeships in general and in construction and hairdressing in particular.

The most prudent action is to ensure there is a wide–range of ‘alternative’ provision to meet any shortfall in employer demand for 16-17 apprentices.

Mark Corney is a Policy Consultant – 28th November 2016

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