10 Mar 2024

Further Education & Apprenticeships Monthly News Round-Up: February 2024

Welcome to Bridgehead Education's second monthly news roundup of 2024, that explores and analyses trends in the coverage of "further education" and "apprenticeship(s)" in the UK media landscape throughout February.


In February, there were 1,784 mentions of either "further education" or "apprenticeship(s)" in the UK media, a 12 per cent increase on mentions in the month of January, an increase likely reflective of increased discussion relating to apprenticeship reform given the proximity of the Spring budget, the stipulations of which will be revealed on 6 March. 

Last month's figures are also a 16 per cent increase on mentions in February of 2023. 

The chart below plots the mentions of "further education" and "apprenticeship(s)" in the media over the last twelve months.

Apprenticeship Reform

February proved to be a month where much news coverage once again centred on apprenticeship reform, across a number of the branches of further education. Jonathan Gullis MP contributed an opinion piece to FE Week calling on a reform of the functional skills requirements assessment for certain apprentices, where an inability to produce academic records is forcing older employees “onto expensive courses when they clearly don’t need to be there”. Removing functional skills assessments for those who have a university degree would boost the number of apprentices in the workforce, Gullis argues.

In the Financial Times, Alison Wolf proposed several ‘straightforward changes’ to the apprenticeship system that she perceived as a potential ‘vote-winner’. Changes for consideration include: a smaller levy paid by more companies, less support for older adult apprentices, and a cull of expensive apprenticeships in oversupplied occupations.

Debate continued also as to the future of the levy transfer programme between businesses, with the Federation of Small Businesses calling for a removal of the cap to “get more money flowing” between apprentice-employing businesses. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers, on the other hand, believed that by scrapping the 5 per cent co-investment requirement placed upon SMEs, the levy transfer scheme could be made redundant in its entirety.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, argued that the government’s introduction of specific conditions for additional college funding, which would require colleges to deliver at least 100 hours of English and 140 hours of maths per student on top of their courses, were ‘unecessary, unhelpful, and unworkable conditions’, and should immediately be withdrawn.

Attempting to address some of these calls, FE Week sat down with Robert Halfon MP, the Minister for Skills, Further Education and Higher Education, to ask his thoughts on potential for reform in the sector. The Minister said he was “very proud” of the £2.7 billion allocated to apprenticeships for 2024/25, but refused to be drawn on changes to co-investment requirements or functional skills assessments.

Apprenticeship Starts and Initiatives

In February, apprenticeship starts data for November 2023 was released, which revealed a fall of more than 15,000 on October’s statistics and a 12 per cent decline compared to November 2022. FE Week attributed the decline to scheduled changes in funding rates for apprenticeships, which came into force in January.

Apprenticeship starts themselves have declined significantly over the last few years, falling from more than 390,000 in 2018/19 to less than 340,000 in 2022/23.

This decline is particularly apparent in the South West, with an article in BristolWorld reported that apprenticeship starts in Bristol had fallen by more than one-fifth in the last decade.

Apprenticeships in certain sectors have, however, experienced some growth. Solicitor apprenticeships, introduced in 2016, for example, now employ more than 1,600 apprentices, according to an article by the Law Gazette.

FE Week reported on the government's announcement of the launch of the ‘long-awaited’ teacher degree apprenticeships, which will be piloted with ‘up to’ 150 trainee maths teachers from September 2025. Apprentices will spend 40 per cent of their time studying, and the remainder in the classroom. The Department for Education claimed that the programme would introduce a  “high-quality, alternative route for people to become qualified teachers”. There remains some hesitancy as to the new schemes capacity to tackle the recruitment emergency in the education sector, however.

FE News also reported on the recent launch of the Natspec (National Association for Specialist Colleges) manifesto, ‘Unlocking Potential’, where Labour’s shadow ministerial team for both Children and Early Years and for Skills attended to assure students and college leaders that a Labour government would enact a ‘joined up’ approach to the sector.

Top Stories

Below are our top 5 FE and skills news stories of February.

FE Week - The Road to a Rolls-Royce Apprenticeship System - FE WEEK

'The old view that to be an apprentice means being a teenager at the start of your career is shifting too. Tens of thousands of older workers are now being supported to upskill and reskill through apprenticeships. While it’s right we recognise this impressive record, for the apprenticeship system to be a genuine Rolls Royce operation, we need to constantly improve.'


'The Shadow Minister for Skills, Seema Malhotra MP, has pledged that an incoming Labour government will work with local authorities to take a more ‘joined up’ approach to specialist further education (FE) to prevent young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) from “falling through the cracks” of the education system.'


'As FE Week’s tenth annual apprenticeship conference draws to a close, deputy editor Billy Camden quizzes skills minister Robert Halfon on some of the big issues facing apprenticeships.'


'These straightforward changes would transform the system at no additional cost to the Treasury. Voters would like it and the economy would benefit. Policy slam dunks like this rarely present themselves. The next government would be mad not to take advantage of it.'


'The government will launch a long-awaited school teacher degree apprenticeship for non-graduates next year, it has been announced. The four-year course, which would see apprentices achieve a degree and qualified teacher status, will be piloted with “up to” 150 trainee maths teachers from September 2025.'

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