Free school meals students across every region of England are less likely to access apprenticeship schemes than their wealthier peers, research from Teach First has found.
The education charity is calling for apprenticeships to be made more inclusive, after finding that young people from sufficiently low income backgrounds to qualify for free schools meals are less likely to go on to become apprentices.
Teach First’s study revealed that financial barriers, combined with a lack of information, could continue to put off those from low income backgrounds – despite the government’s pledge to create 3m more apprenticeships by 2020.
The conclusions are based on Department for Education (DfE) data and make up part of a report due to be published next month with PA Consulting Group, which looks at the options available to young people after they leave school.
The final “Progression Report” will recommend the government builds on its “Find an Apprenticeship” website by developing a nationwide, UCAS-style service for young people.
This should make choices clearer by outlining all the available apprenticeship opportunities and linking them directly to the employer’s application process.
The report will also call on the Low Pay Commission to invest in researching whether perceptions of low pay and a lack of additional financial support are putting disadvantaged young people off applying for apprenticeships.
Apprentices are currently not eligible for the financial support available to those in full time education or training, through the DfE’s 16 to 19 bursary for transport, food and equipment. This can be up to £1,200.
Meanwhile, parents are able to claim child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds who continue in full-time education or vocational training, but not for those who take up apprenticeships.
In addition, the apprenticeship minimum wage of just £3.30 an hour may be discouraging some youngsters who see the training as a low-wage option.
In reality, the average salary is closer to £6 an hour with salary progression after three or six months as skills develop.
Commenting on the findings, James Westhead, executive director of external relations at Teach First, said: “Apprenticeships can offer an important route for young people to get into careers and industries with strong earning potential — but a combination of poor attitudes, low awareness and lack of financial support means disadvantaged young people are losing out across the country.
“Whilst the government’s commitment to the agenda is clear, we need to remove the perceived barriers of low pay and benefits facing disadvantaged youngsters who wish to undertake an apprenticeship.”
He added: “We need a clear and simple UCAS-style application system to ensure disadvantage does not determine destiny for young people.”
A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: ‘When the government consulted on the idea of maintenance loans for Further Education earlier this year, it excluded apprenticeships from its scope which we felt was wrong, so we are glad that Teach First has highlighted financial barriers as an issue.”