Is the government’s 67% achievement rate target feasible?


In 2022, the government set a stretching ambition to reach a 67% achievement rate on apprenticeship standards by 2025.

Is the government’s 67% achievement rate target feasible?

The latest apprenticeship data shows that the national apprenticeship achievement rate has risen to 54.6%, compared to 51.4% last year. Achievement volumes for standards and frameworks are up by 18.3%.

It’s positive to see the upward trajectory, but current figures are still a long way off the government’s self-imposed target for the end of 2024/25.

We look at some of the reforms to apprenticeships over the last decade as well as ongoing areas of improvement, and ask: can the 67% target be achieved?

Significant apprenticeship reforms

In a recent letter, Robert Halfon MP, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, highlighted “significant reforms to apprenticeships since 2015, which have focused on raising quality, providing sustainable long-term funding, and putting employers at the heart of the system”.

He spotlighted the following changes in particular:

  • Reducing regulation, so that providers can focus on delivering rigorous, high-quality provision and employers can focus on providing a high-quality experience
  • Increasing the apprenticeship funding rate for English and maths by 54% from January 2024
  • Making sure apprentices can access support at key points during the programme, and providing specific support to apprentices with disabilities
  • Working in partnership with UCAS and regional partners to support more young people into apprenticeships 
  • Providing targeted support and advice to employers, including webinars and events on promoting quality outcomes
  • Working with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to make sure apprenticeship content is up to date and fairly funded, and is employer and demand led
  • Improving the quality of teaching and learning delivered by providers, by allocating £7.5m towards high-quality continuous professional development

Further improvements on the agenda 

In the same letter, the minister recognised that withdrawals are sometimes “beyond our control” but that those in the apprenticeship space “now need to go further together”. He lists the following areas of improvement needed to make long-term increases to achievement rates:

  • Improving or removing apprenticeship standards that aren’t producing good outcomes for employers or the economy, particularly where they’re underused or too many learners drop out
  • Improving quality of training. With the apprenticeship accountability framework now “well understood”, the government plans to “robustly challenge providers showing insufficient improvement”. This includes using contractual measures (such as potential limitations on growth or removal from the market) to protect apprentices and employers
  • Giving employers better access to information and data to help manage their own apprenticeship programme and benchmark against others 
  • Reviewing end-point assessment to make sure it is proportionate, supports achievement and is fit for the future
  • Developing a one-step approval for SMEs engaging with apprenticeships for the first time

Why the target is “completely unfeasible”

Looking forward, there are a number of positives in the apprenticeships space. The latest updates to funding rules will help to reduce providers’ administrative burden and remove some of the barriers for funding claims. There are also promising artificial intelligence pilots in motion, which have the potential to deliver rapid improvements to training delivery at scale.

However, Brad Tombling, COO at Bud, believes that existing government reforms “aren’t turning the dial quickly enough” to close the gap towards the 67% target. He described the regulator’s ways of evaluating success as “outdated”, and explained that the target isn’t feasible when you drill down into the details.

“It’s completely unfeasible when you consider the start numbers in specific sectors. Health, public services and care had accounted for 99k of the total 337k starts in the 22/23 assessment year. Retail and commercial enterprise were the fourth highest subject area and added a further 31k starts,” he said.

“Combined, these two subject areas include provisions for care and hospitality, which we know are challenging areas for retention.” 

Brad points to competitive pay in particular sectors as the main barrier to achieving the target: learners will get promoted or move to another employer for a higher salary during their apprenticeship. The other critical barrier is employer perception of the time commitment for 20% off-the-job (OTJ) hours.

Repositioning OTJ training and funding uplifts

So what support would help providers and move towards the achievement rate target?

“Firstly, address the semantics of OTJ training and reposition it as “professional development” time, so employers don’t see it as much of a barrier. There’s a funding uplift needed to hire and retain talented trainers, as well as increased apprenticeship pay to keep apprentices motivated,” Brad said. 

“Finally, reduced regulation around functional skills, and/or the ability to apply recognition of prior learning in the way this is done with the apprenticeship standard KSBs.”

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