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  • Author or Editor: Lorna Unwin x
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In many countries throughout the world, apprenticeship is still regarded as the exemplary model for formation training. In the UK, a layperson’s understanding of apprenticeship, probably based on somewhat hazy recollections of the experiences of a male member of their family in the 1950s or 1960s, would probably cohere with the following definition:

[A]pprenticeship is a method of employment and on-the-job [usually complemented by off-the-job] training which involves a set of reciprocal rights and duties between an employer and trainee. (Gospel, 1995, p 32)

This definition would probably include the belief that apprenticeship takes place over a substantial time period (at least three years); that it leads to recognised qualifications (typically awarded by a body such as City and Guilds); and is predominantly available to young males located in craft, technical and industrial settings. Unlike many other European countries, apprenticeship in the UK still operates at a distance from the national education system. Yet since 1994, successive governments have sought to raise its profile through their funding of the Modern Apprenticeship (MA) programme. This chapter explores the extent to which contemporary apprenticeships retain any semblance to their historical predecessors and whether, as a model for formation training, apprenticeship still has relevance for young people and employers today.

This chapter is organised in four sections. Section One provides a brief historical overview of apprenticeship in the UK. Section Two focuses on aspects of contemporary participation to indicate how the current picture differs from the past in terms of apprentice characteristics and the sectors in which apprenticeship is available.

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This chapter analyses spending, outputs and outcomes in relation to further education and skills in England between 2007/8 and 2014/5, as well as policies and trends relating to access to higher education. Expenditure on further education and adult skills training was heavily cut by the Coalition government, after expansion under Labour. Numbers of learners fell and there was no progress in closing socio-economic gaps. Controversial measures to treble university tuition fees did not result in a fall in the proportions of young people going to university or to widening socio-economic gaps, although part time and mature student participation suffered ‘precipitous falls’. The chapter concludes that despite modest progress towards increasing quality and employer engagement, there remain substantial concerns about the post-16 learning and skills system in England and its capacity either to promote increased productivity or greater social justice.

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