• Fraser Harper

A question of completing apprenticeships

At every stage of education, students may drop out for a raft of reasons.  In our current work, Blue Mirror Insights (BMI) is looking for patterns in dropout rates in England for A levels, degrees and apprenticeships.

At A level the dropout is relatively small.  Across all subjects we see an average dropout rate of only 4%, although this does climb to 12% for technical A level subjects.  We also see higher dropout rates (8-9%) for specific types of schools, such as Studio Schools and Free Schools.

So far, so unsurprising.  We would expect relatively high retention rates in English schools, given the legal requirement for students in England to remain in education until they are 18[1].

English universities have higher dropout rates – around 1 in 10.  London Metropolitan University, which has the highest dropout rate in England, only retains 74.7% of its first-year students.  Of the first-years who drop out from Metropolitan, around a quarter transfer to other programmes, while the rest leave higher education altogether.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), two particular demographic groups seem to have higher university drop out rates – firstly, students coming from more deprived backgrounds (POLAR 1 and 2) and secondly, mature students aged 21 or older[2].

Turning now to apprenticeships, overall the non-completion rate in England runs at 32%[3].  This appears high, particularly when compared with countries like Germany, which has a dropout rate of only 13%[4].

Why do so many apprentices drop out?  A recent survey of apprentices who did not complete their full period of their apprenticeship found that 29% had issues with the apprenticeship, while 28% had personal or domestic problems and 14% left for employment or other training[5].

We also must consider the system they operate within.  For example, 27% of apprenticeship education and training providers have been deemed to require an intervention because of their low achievement rates.  We also have in excess of 16,000 employers who are registered to manage their ‘apprenticeship account’[6].  With the running of apprenticeships across so many locations there is a major challenge around maintaining quality.

Based on this evidence, we would make the key recommendation that – like secondary schools and universities already are – providers of apprenticeship programmes should be required to declare where their apprentices end up.

Further, we note a concerning lack of data on apprenticeship programmes, such as:

  1. Competition for places;

  2. Pre-qualifications of the students;

  3. Where competition is fierce, do successful entrants complete their programmes?

  4. Do high-grade apprenticeship programmes with prestigious employers have higher completion rates?[7]

There is much to work on here.

Further reading

Warwick Institute for Employment Research (2010) Maximising apprenticeship completion rates. Bulletin Number 96. 4 pages

House of Commons, Committee of Public Accounts (2019) The apprenticeships programme: progress review. HC 1749. 26 pages

House of Commons, Library (2019) Apprenticeships and skills policy in England. Briefing Paper Number CBP03052. 32 pages

All Party Parliamentary Group (2019) Apprenticeships 2018-2019 Report. 24 pages

Greig, M. (2019) “Factors affecting modern apprenticeship completion in Scotland”, International Journal of Training and Development, 23 (1), 27-50

Coe, P.J. (2013) “Apprenticeship program requirements and apprenticeship completion rates in Canada”, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 65 (4), 575-605

Laporte, C. and Mueller, R.E. (2013) “The completion behaviour of registered apprentices: who continues, who quits, and who completes programs?”, Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, 5 (1), 1-30


[1] Source: Department for Education quarterly apprenticeship returns

[2] Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

[3] National Audit Office (2019) The Apprenticeship Programme. HC 1987. 50 pages

[4] See our previous post: How many apprenticeship entry occupations are there?

[5] Department for Education (2019) Department for Education Learners and Apprentices Study: Reasons for Non-Completion. Qualitative Research Report. Report by Kantar Public. 69 pages

[6] See NAO [6] above

[7] Higher and Degree Vacancy Listing for 2020 Recruitment. Fire it up Apprenticeships. (2019) https://www.apprenticeships.gov.uk This document lists 120 vacancies with companies like Atkins Global (27), Airbus (6), BAE Systems (10), Unilever (11) – there are 30 corporations with vacancies listed.

You put ‘(with 7% transferring to other degree programmes and 18.3% leaving higher education.)’ which I found a bit confusing.  Did I interpret this correctly?

#Educationcompletion #Educationdropoutrates

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