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English Apprenticeship Standards: getting it right

The Government has simplified the legal position on engaging apprentices with the aim of encouraging their popularity with employers in a bid to increase their numbers.


In the run-up to the General Election, the Conservatives made much of their commitment to delivering more apprenticeships in the UK, promising to create three million more over the next five years. This was followed by further announcements in the budget about funding for these apprenticeships.

The problem with apprentices

Prior to the introduction of legislation by the Labour government in 2009, the law governing apprentices dated back centuries and focused on the master/servant relationship. This meant that apprentices were virtually impossible to dismiss safely in all but the worst cases of gross misconduct or closure of a workplace, and the potential costs of doing so were significant.

In 2009, changes were introduced with apprentices classed as “employees” with the same rights as other employees, making it much easier to terminate their employment. This move was to assist businesses and to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

In order for these apprenticeship agreements to comply with the new legislation, they needed to be in a very prescriptive format.

Cutting the red tape

A review of apprentices was carried out in 2012 and one of its conclusions was that these rules were too prescriptive and a more flexible approach was planned.

The Government has now introduced a number of approved English apprenticeship standards that apply to apprentices taken on in England after 26 May 2015.

For those apprentices engaged before 26 May 2015, or after that date but where an approved apprenticeship standard is not yet in existence, or for those apprentices working in Wales, the old regime applies and apprentices can continue to be trained under qualifying apprenticeship frameworks.

What does this mean for me?

Employers who engage apprentices need to ensure that they are providing the correct contractual documentation. Any failure to do so may result in apprentices having more rights than they would have otherwise and may make dismissing them much more difficult and potentially costly.

What should I do now?

For apprentices who commenced their apprenticeship prior to 26 May 2015 and are engaged under apprenticeship agreements that refer to the relevant qualifying apprenticeship framework, there is no need to make any changes to the current contractual documentation. However, if such an agreement is extended and an approved apprenticeship standard has been introduced in the meantime, then individuals should be issued with a new style approved English apprenticeship agreement.

For apprentices who commenced their apprenticeship from 26 May 2015 onwards, you should check whether or not there is a relevant approved standard in place. A list of approved standards can be found on the Skills Funding Agency website. Where such a standard exists then the apprentice should be trained in accordance with that standard and provided with documentation referring to this. Where there is no applicable standard in existence then employers should continue to refer to the relevant framework.

For those employers in Wales there is no need to make any changes.

How can I find out more?

For more information and advice on apprenticeships, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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