Academies struggling with apprentice hiring target

Just 7 per cent of academy trusts and large academies met a new apprenticeship recruitment target in the first year of its existence, new figures have revealed.

The public sector apprenticeship target came into force for schools last March, requiring all individual institutions and trusts with more than 250 employees to recruit 2.3 per cent of their workforce as apprentices every year.

Academies managed an average score of 0.9 per cent in the 2018-19 financial year, according to new data published by the government today.

However, they won’t yet be held to account for their performance against the target. The government amended its policy last year, and will now judge organisations on their hiring record over the four years to March 31 2021.

Today’s figures follow warnings from school leaders that the sector would struggle to cope with the target, especially given the lack of apprenticeship routes available for teaching staff.

For example, an academy trust with 400 staff across its schools would have to hire nine apprentices every financial year to meet the target.

Of the 271 schools and academy trusts included in the data, just 18 hired more than 2.3 per cent of their employees as apprentices during the year. In fact, 37 schools or trusts did not have a single employee whose apprenticeship agreement began in that period.

The best-performing organisation was the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, where 4.5 per cent of the workforce started an apprenticeship over the course of the year.

However, the data shows a limited picture of the response of the schools community to the target.

Because employees of local authority-maintained schools are factored in as part of councils’ overall workforces, a breakdown for those schools is not available.

The public sector apprenticeship target is one of two government apprenticeship policies that affect schools.

The second is the apprenticeship levy, a 0.5 per cent charge on school payroll bills of over £3 million a year.

As with the target, the lack of teaching-specific apprenticeship programmes has hindered schools, which have struggled to find ways to use money paid into the levy.

Schools Week revealed earlier this year how the Treasury had clawed back £300 million from the Department for Education’s budget after money paid into the apprenticeship levy went unspent. As of April, schools were thought to have paid more than £225 million into the levy since its launch in 2017.