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Public sector targets for apprenticeships

Blog posted by: Michael Lemin, Thursday, 16 February 2017.

The government’s target for public sector bodies to employ an average of 2.3% of their workforce as apprentices may affect more schools than initially thought. But will the target have a positive or negative effect, and is there an incentive for schools to achieve it?

In January, the government confirmed that public sector bodies will be expected to employ an average of 2.3% of their workforce as apprentices. This will apply to organisations with a headcount of above 250 from April 2017 to 2020/21. Crucially, this target also applies to schools.

It looks like more schools will be affected than initial calculations may suggest. Many schools may assume that they’re outside of the remit as they have less than 250 employees; this may not be the case if they’re part of a large multi-academy trust, or even hosted by a local authority.

The intention is clear; the government wants the public sector to set a good example in terms of providing apprenticeship opportunities. The problem with such an arbitrary target is that it doesn’t consider whether an apprenticeship model suits each institution, or whether it’s appropriate. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has been scathing about the target in its recently published Green Budget:

“This potentially costly policy is largely designed to hit the government’s target for 3 million new apprentices, not as a way to increase the quality of public services. It should be removed.”

It seems unlikely that the government will remove the target, particularly in the short term. However, there is no incentive for schools to achieve the target, and no punishment for those that fail to meet the target. Therefore, I’d expect many public sector organisations, and many schools, to simply ignore the target.

If this is the case, the government will have a clear choice; remove the target, or introduce financial incentives or punitive measures. Doing neither will render the target toothless. 


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