At a glance

Apprenticeships are a key part of the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) skills and technical education strategy aimed at increasing productivity, supporting economic growth, giving individuals from all backgrounds opportunities to progress their careers, and helping businesses recruit the right people and develop the skills of their workforce. The Apprenticeship Evaluation survey is the department’s key source of information on the experiences of apprentices and employers. It is a large-scale quantitative survey of 5,000 learners and 4,000 employers each wave. Results are used to assess the impact that apprenticeships are having and to develop improvements to the programme.

About the client

The Department for Education is responsible for children’s services and education, including early years, schools, higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and wider skills in England.

Challenges and objectives

As a key part of the government’s strategy to increase productivity and support growth, and receiving significant public investment, DfE are keen to understand how they are viewed by current and recent apprentices and employers, the quality of the training they experience, and the impact it has. Important issues throughout the research series have been:

  • Why do individuals and employers decide to get in involved apprenticeships?
  • To what extent is apprenticeship training high quality, and does it add to, or merely certify, existing skills and experience?
  • Are there particular types of individual or employer which most benefit, and how could the impact of apprenticeships be improved?
  • Are there particular types of apprenticeship (by level or by subject area) that are particular beneficial and impactful

Partly because of findings of the research series, significant reforms were made to the funding and delivery of apprenticeships in 2017. A key element of the research since these reforms has been to understand the impact of these changes on the experience of employers and apprentices and the quality of training.


IFF has undertaken this project for DfE in five iterations over the past decade (initially in 2011 and most recently in 2021). We worked closely together to balance consistency of approach, particularly with the sampling and questionnaire design, while at the same time incorporating development to meet changing policy needs. This has involved deep understanding of apprenticeship policy and of the research series going back to the initial study in 2011 conducted by IFF.

The 2021 study, for example, incorporated a number of methodological changes including: moving from a quota to a random probability sampling approach, changing how learners were selected if they were both a current apprentice and a recent completer; including learners where they apprenticeship had been paused because of COVID; including recent completers in addition to current apprentices and long-term completers; and undertaking a survey of non-completers to understand what caused this.

Overall for the 2021 study (with fieldwork from May to August), we interviewed 5,122 learners, 541 non-completers and 4,085 employers, achieving response rates of approaching 30%.


Findings from the Apprenticeship Evaluation series have been key to the design of policy seeking to improve the quality of apprenticeships. For example, the research found many apprentices experiencing very short apprenticeships with minimal significant training. This led to significant reforms introduced in 2017 including:

  • A minimum mandatory off-the-job training requirement for an apprenticeship to receive government funding, with this training needing to be about upskilling an individual to reach full occupational competency, not accrediting their existing skills.
  • All apprenticeships in England being required to last at least 12 months.
  • The creation of new apprenticeship standards to replace frameworks, with more rigorous assessment of the occupational skills of apprentices.

The Apprenticeship Evaluation surveys since 2019 have closely monitored the impact of these reforms on the experiences of employers and learners. As the following chart shows, for one headline measure, overall satisfaction among employers, results have been stable over time, though the proportion very satisfied rose in the two surveys conducted following the 2017 reforms.

Changes in overall satisfaction with apprenticeships over time (amongst employers with completer apprentices)