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Ofsted’s annual report: what did they say about apprenticeships?

The sector is always poised to hear what Ofsted has to say about apprenticeships.

Ofsted’s annual report: what did they say about apprenticeships?

People in a classroom working together

The apprenticeship sector is always a rollercoaster ride. Even in one year, new initiatives are launched, funding rules are changed, and new regulations are announced, so people across the sector are always poised to hear what Ofsted has to say about apprenticeships in their annual report.

Here’s an overview of their findings:


Since the apprenticeship funding reforms were introduced in April 2017, the number of apprenticeship training providers has increased by 143% – from almost 500 to nearly 1,200. To deal with this increase, Ofsted has upped its inspection regime and introduced monitoring visits to all new and directly funded providers.

We’ve heard a lot about new providers being rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘insufficient progress’ in their monitoring visit, but this report isn't quite as negative. Out of 334 monitoring visits conducted last year, 78% of providers were ‘making at least reasonable progress across all areas.’

In the 73 providers that had at least one insufficient progress judgement, inspectors found that:

  • Staff didn’t use the results of the initial assessment to plan apprentices’ learning
  • Apprentices didn’t complete their 20% off-the-job training
  • Leaders and managers didn’t have an accurate view of their apprentices’ progression which meant they couldn’t intervene quickly with improvement measures
  • Governance was either ineffective or didn’t exist

When it comes to full Ofsted inspections, the story changes. Out of 152 apprenticeship providers, only 2% were judged outstanding, 53% good, 38% requires improvement and 10% inadequate. When you look at Ofsted’s inspection findings, two themes stand out – initial assessment and curriculum planning.

In a sample of 45 providers graded ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, inspectors found that:

  • The results of the initial assessments were not being used, and apprentices weren’t learning substantial new knowledge or skills
  • The standard of training was poor in providers that had not used the apprentices’ existing knowledge to personalise the curriculum

And in a sample of 45 providers that had ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ ratings, inspectors found that:

  • Employers played a pivotal role in co-designing the curriculum to meet the specific needs of the apprentice and the business
  • On- and off-the-job curriculums were well aligned so that classroom learning could quickly be applied in the workplace
  • Tutors set challenging activities that motivated and inspired apprentices to produce high-quality work

From Ofsted’s findings, the trends show that providers are underestimating the importance of recognising prior learning in the initial assessment, and are not using the results to influence curriculum delivery. But the providers that are doing this and are working well with the employer throughout the process are really excelling.


In 2018/19, 15% of apprenticeship starts were health apprenticeships and 12% were business management – but only 6% were construction, 5% were ICT and 5% engineering. Ofsted said, ‘this does not appear to align well with our grand challenges as a country,’ and more needs to be done to target levy money at skills shortages.


Over the past three years, there appears to have been a shift away from apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 (GCSE and A level equivalents) towards levels 4 to 7 (degree and higher degree equivalents)’. Level 2 starts in 2018/19 were down 45% from the year before, while the number of apprenticeships at level 4 to 7 has increased 105%.

The number of learners at higher levels are still low compared to levels 2 and 3, but this trend is expected to continue. The increase in higher apprenticeships been attributed to the apprenticeship levy – large employers investing their levy to upskill existing employees to management level rather than recruit lower-level staff.

Frameworks vs standards

Apprenticeship frameworks are currently being phased out, and from 1st August 2020, all new apprenticeships started will be standards. Despite this, 145,000 apprentices were enrolled on frameworks last year. Ofsted said, ‘it’s surprising that providers are still enrolling learners on apprenticeship frameworks’, especially when so many occupational standards exist.

In summary, Ofsted found that the initial assessment was being underused. Providers weren’t recognising prior learning and tailoring their learning programme to the individual, and employers were using apprenticeships to accredit skills that employees already had – which are both issues that could have been avoided if the initial assessment was completed properly.

They also found that while employers and providers are embracing the higher and degree apprenticeship standards, lower-level frameworks are still being used. Providers need to make sure they’re really familiar with how the new standards work as the frameworks will be completely phased out in 7 months.


At OneFile, we provide Ofsted support as part of our Premier Services packages. Find out more here 

This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.