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Apprenticeships are a devolved area and this Briefing Paper focusses on apprenticeships in England, though some policies also applied to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

History of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships in England can be traced back to the medieval craft guilds in the Middle Ages, and the first national apprenticeship system of training was introduced by The 1563 Statute of Artificers. That system continued until 1814 when the 1563 Act was repealed after the general popularity of apprenticeships waned.

Apprenticeships did, however, remain popular and spread to the newer industries of engineering, shipbuilding, plumbing and electrical work in the early 1900s. Growth continued and by the mid-1960s, around a third of boys leaving school aged 15-17 entered apprenticeships. After peaking in the 1960s apprenticeships entered a slow decline, with half as many apprentices in employment in 1995 as there were in 1979.

Modern Apprenticeships

“Modern Apprenticeships” were announced in 1993 and rolled out over the following two years. Modern Apprentices would count as employees and be paid a wage, with a written agreement between employers and apprentices. Modern apprentices were required to work towards an NVQ level 3 qualification, equivalent to A-levels today.

Shortly afterwards National Traineeships were introduced at level 2, equivalent to GCSEs. These were intended as “a progression route into apprenticeships for those young people who were not ready to enter a level three programme.”

Policy under Labour Government 1997-2010

By the end of 1998 almost a quarter of a million people in England and Wales had started a Modern Apprenticeship. The most popular sectors were business administration, engineering and retailing. The majority of employers were small firms and there were very few employers with more than five apprentices.

The Modern Apprenticeship system continued to evolve with National Traineeships becoming Foundation Modern Apprenticeships and “Modern Apprenticeships” becoming “Advanced Modern Apprenticeships.” In the early 2000s national frameworks were introduced defining the minimum standards required for each apprenticeship.

In 2004, Advanced Modern Apprenticeships become “Advanced Apprenticeships” and Foundation Modern Apprenticeships become simply “Apprenticeships” (these would later be rebranded again as “Intermediate Apprenticeships”). At the same time the upper age limit of 25 was removed and pre-apprenticeships were introduced for people not ready to enter a full apprenticeship. Young apprenticeships were also introduced for 14-16 year olds still in school.

The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 introduced the apprenticeship offer: a duty to provide an apprenticeship place to all qualified 16 to 19 year olds who did not have one and wanted one.

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