Middle classes dominate in top apprenticeships, report says

A new report for the Sutton Trust suggests top apprenticeships are more elitist than other options


People from middle class backgrounds are dominating in top apprenticeships, a new report says, The Times reports.

Poorer school-leavers are particularly under-represented in higher-level apprenticeships, which are on a par with an undergraduate or Master’s degree, the research for the Sutton Trust found.

The trust’s founder Peter Lampl said the application process for these schemes was “hard to navigate”, opportunities were advertised at different times and they weren’t posted in a central, easy-to-access place.

Young people from better-off homes also tended to have more support from their families, he said.

Prestigious apprenticeships at firms such as PwC or Jaguar Land Rover have proved a popular alternative among independent school leavers, despite many having thousands of applicants each year.

The Sutton Trust said that only 5 per cent of those starting a degree apprenticeship in 2020-21 were from lower income homes, compared with 6.7 per cent of those going to university. It said this suggested that higher-level apprenticeships were less accessible than the university route for those from disadvantaged families.

The share of apprenticeships of all levels, in the most deprived areas of the country, decreased from 26 per cent to 20 per cent between 2015 and 2020, compared with an increase in affluent areas from 14 per cent to 18 per cent.

“More prosperous areas have benefited disproportionately from the expansion of degree apprenticeships,” the report said. “Strikingly, higher and degree apprenticeships are not more common among disadvantaged individuals than a university degree. From this perspective, it is hard to see higher and degree apprenticeships as a route to widen opportunities for individuals from poorer backgrounds.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “There are so few degree apprenticeships available that competition is inevitably fierce — and the sharp-elbowed middle classes have the edge when it comes to supporting their kids in that contest.

“The application process is hard to navigate. Opportunities are advertised at different times and they aren’t posted in a central, easy-to-access place. Young people from better-off homes tend to have more support from their families and so can be better placed to know when and where to find apprenticeships, as well as how to deliver a polished performance at interview.

“But the bigger issue is how few apprenticeships are going to under-25s. Many big employers use their apprenticeship levy budget to fund apprenticeships for their senior staff. If the government wants to deliver on its skills agenda, the levy has to be reformed to ensure these opportunities go to those who would benefit most.”