Apprenticeships in England by industry characteristics: methodology


About these statistics

This statistical release provides information on the industry characteristics of apprenticeship starts and achievements in England. 

These experimental statistics have been produced using Individualised Learner Record (ILR) and Apprenticeship Service Account (ASA) data matched to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) data, to enable apprenticeships to be linked to information about their employers (such as industry sector, size band and legal status). 

The statistics are experimental as the underlying matched data source is new and the methodology to create it may be improved.

We would welcome feedback on any aspect of these statistics - including how they are used. If you'd like to get in touch, please use the contact details available on the publication page.

Background and key policy changes

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are paid jobs that incorporate on-the-job and off-the-job training leading to nationally recognised qualifications. As an employee, apprentices earn as they learn and gain practical skills in the workplace. 

There are currently two types of apprenticeships: ‘frameworks’ and ‘standards’. An apprenticeship ‘framework’ typically contains the following separately certified elements: 

• A knowledge-based element (the theoretical knowledge underpinning a job in a certain occupation and industry, typically certified via a technical certificate). 

• A competence-based element (the ability to discharge the functions of a certain occupation, typically certified via work-based assessed national vocational qualifications (NVQs)). 

• Transferable skills (English and maths) – key skills / functional skills. 

• A module on employment rights and responsibilities. 

• Personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS): independent enquiry, creative thinking, reflective learning, team working, self-management, effective participation. 

Following a review and consultation of apprenticeships in England during 2012 and 2013, the government announced reforms to apprenticeships: 

As part of these reforms, new employer-led apprenticeship ‘standards’ were introduced in 2014, and were initially known as ‘trailblazers’. 

Apprenticeship standards are designed with employers to help ensure apprentices have the skills businesses need, and outline the skills, knowledge and behaviours (KSBs) required to carry out a certain job role. All apprentices must take an independent assessment at the end of their training to demonstrate the KSBs set out in the occupational standard. 

New standards continue to be made available and have been replacing the older apprenticeship frameworks in recent years. All new apprenticeship starts will be on standards by the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year. 

Apprenticeships are available at intermediate, advanced and higher levels – see Table 1 below for examples of equivalent qualifications. Higher apprenticeships are those at level 4 and above. Higher level apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7 may include a degree as a component qualification. Level 4 apprenticeships were introduced in 2006/07; level 5 apprenticeships were introduced in 2011/12; level 6 apprenticeships were introduced in 2013/14 and level 7 apprenticeships were introduced in 2014/15. 

Table 1: Apprenticeship levels 

NameLevelEquivalent educational level examples
Intermediate25 GCSE passes at grade A*- C or 9 - 4

2 A level passes

Level 3 Diploma

International Baccalaureate

Higher4, 5, 6 and 7Examples of equivalent level 4 and 5 apprenticeships would be HNCs and foundation degrees, respectively. Apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7 are equivalent in level to a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, and can include a degree as a component qualification within the apprenticeship programme, which may or may not be mandatory

For further information on apprenticeships please see here:


Apprenticeship Levy 

Since May 2017, funding arrangements for apprenticeships changed to give employers greater control over funding for apprenticeship training. The UK wide apprenticeship levy came into force on 6 April 2017 and required all UK public and private sector employers with an annual pay bill of £3 million or more to invest in apprenticeship training. The Apprenticeship Levy is a levy on UK employers to fund new apprenticeships and is charged at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s pay bill. 

More information on paying the apprenticeship levy can be found at this link:  

Apprenticeship Service 

The Apprenticeship Service was introduced in England as an online service to allow levy-paying employers to choose and pay for apprenticeship training more easily. They are able to access their levy funds to spend on apprenticeships, manage apprentices, pay training providers and stop/pause payments to training providers.  Apprenticeships are a devolved policy, meaning that authorities in each of the UK nations manage their own apprenticeship programmes, including how funding is spent on apprenticeship training. 

Employers register for an Apprenticeship Service Account (ASA) and the amount of funds available in each ASA will depend on how many of their employees live in England and the proportion of their pay bill paid to these employees.

Funds in ASAs can only be used to pay for apprenticeship training and assessment, and not other costs associated with apprentices, such as wages, statutory licenses to practise, travel and subsidiary costs, work placement programmes or the setting up of an apprenticeship programme).

Please see here for more information on the Apprenticeship Service:    


In April 2018 it became possible for levy-paying organisations to transfer up to 10 per cent of the annual value of funds entering their apprenticeship service account to other organisations on the apprenticeship service. From April 2019, this increased to 25 per cent. 

Employers who do not pay the levy can access apprenticeship training via their selected training provider who is given an allocation of funds for apprenticeship training from the ESFA. The provider claims for these funds against their allocation using the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) as was the case before the introduction of the levy. 

More information on transfers can be found here:  

Non-levy payers 

From 09 January 2020 the apprenticeship service was extended for all non-levy paying employers to register and use. Employers who do not pay the apprenticeship levy are able to make a funding ‘reservation’ (or have a funding ‘reservation’ made on their behalf) with respect to an apprenticeship planned to start in the following 3 months. This will allow non-levy paying employers to access the benefits of the system and reserve funds to support their training.

Until autumn 2020 employers who do not pay the apprenticeship levy were able to access apprenticeship training either through a provider with an existing Government contract or via the apprenticeship service. From April 2021, all new apprenticeship starts are managed through the apprenticeship service.

Data sources

There are four key administrative data sources used in the production of these statistics. These are:

  1. The Individualised Learner Record (ILR): an administrative data collection system designed primarily for operational use in order to fund training providers for learners in FE and on apprenticeship programmes. It is run by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), and is based on data returns from FE education colleges and training providers, about learners in the system and the learning undertaken by each of them. More background information on the ILR is available in the User Guide to Further Education statistics.
  2. Apprenticeship Service account (ASA) data: provides information on levy-paying and non-levy organisations on e.g. registrations, commitments, transfers etc (see ‘Apprenticeship Service’ in the ‘Funding’ section above for more information). In this publication it is used to identify apprenticeship starts supported by funds from a levy-paying AS account.
  3. The Employer Data Service (EDS): a database sourced from Blue Sheep (a specialist data company) that provides information on the characteristics of UK businesses (or their local sites) where apprenticeships are based. It is used by training providers to identify employers in their ILR returns to the ESFA.
  4. The Office for National Statistics Inter-departmental Business Register (ONS IDBR): the comprehensive list of UK businesses that is used by Government for statistical purposes and provides the main sampling frame for surveys of businesses carried out by the Office for National Statistics and other Government departments. It is also a key data source for analyses of business activity. The IDBR covers around 2.7 million businesses in all sectors of the UK economy, other than some very small businesses (those without employees, and with turnover below the relevant tax threshold) and some non-profit making organisations. More information on the IDBR is available here.

Data matching and match rates

Matching approach

The Department for Education’s Individualised Learner Record (ILR) and the Office for National Statistics Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) have been matched together to allow information about apprentices to be linked to business information relating to the apprentice’s employer.

To do this, information on employers from the Employer Data Service (i.e. the name, address and company registration number) is used to link to enterprises (or local units) on the ONS IDBR through a series of direct and fuzzy matching stages.

Apprenticeship starts for each full academic year (taken from finalised ILR data for the year) are linked to a snapshot of the IDBR taken in the December following the academic year end - for instance, data for the 2020/21 academic year is linked to the IDBR extract taken in December 2021. 

The matching approach may be divided in three different macro stages:

  • Stage 1 - using Company Registration Number. Around 6% of employers in the ILR with an apprenticeship start achieve a match at this stage.
  • Stage 2 - using company/trading name and postcode.  This stage consists of several steps and is undertaken after standardising company names in both datasets. Almost two thirds of employers achieve a match at this stage.
  • Stage 3 - 18 separate fuzzy matching stages using characteristics from the EDS including different combinations of company name/address/Standard Industrial Code/legal status. Around a third of employers achieve a match at this stage.

The remaining approximately 10% of employers which appear in the ILR with an apprenticeship start cannot be matched to the IDBR. 

This matching strategy has been developed by the Department for Education, building upon the on the approach used in BIS Research Report No. 177, where pages 7 to 15 provide further information on the datasets, matching process and quality assurance.

Match rates

The table below reports on the success of the matching approach for total apprenticeship starts to the ONS IDBR in each academic year in the series. 

In 2020/21, there were 321,400 apprenticeship starts in England, of which 94% (303,730) were matched to an employer enterprise in the ONS IDBR. These matched apprenticeship starts took place within 68,2700 employer enterprises in England. The match rate has steadily increased since 2012/13.

The figures for matched apprenticeship starts provided below are the basis for all statistics included in 'Apprenticeships in England by industry characteristics'.

Academic yearTotal official published apprenticeship startsMatched apprenticeship startsMatch rate

Forthcoming changes to matching approach

The next update to these experimental statistics will be based on a slightly different matching approach, which is being driven by two developments. Firstly, the Employer Data Service business information which is crucial to carry out the linking is no longer available to us. Secondly, the ONS IDBR data is being linked in to the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which will enable us to report on the industry characteristics of everyone with an HMRC earnings record. We are planning to provide details of the impact of the change in methodology and a new time-series based on the revised methodology in the next publication. Please contact us if you have any questions.


Apprenticeship starts

This is the count of apprenticeship programmes that begin in an academic year, showing the take-up of programmes. An apprentice is counted for each apprenticeship they start at a provider.

This counts starts on each apprenticeship programme and is not a count of unique learners. If a learner changes their programme, level or pathway, they will be treated as a new start. This measure is consistent with how we fund the system and all data will aggregate appropriately whether looking at provider level, subject or learner characteristics within the cohort for that year.

As it is a count of programmes in a given academic year, care should be taken in interpreting change in apprenticeship numbers over years as an apprentice will be counted again where starting a new apprenticeship. For the measure to be consistent with other educational measures, each year is treated as a different cohort so, where learners go on extended breaks and return to the programme they will also be counted again in a different academic year.

Over the period affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been disruption to learning, leading to extended breaks in the 2019/20 academic year. We have changed how we identify new starts in 2020/21 to treat learners as continuing if and when they return in 2020/21. We will monitor this method as the 2021 year progresses to ensure the comparability of the starts measures is not affected by any continued disruption.

Apprenticeship achievements

Apprenticeship achievements are recorded when a learner reaches an end point of assessment and not at the end of learning. Apprenticeships generally take over a year or more to complete.

Industry characteristics

The employer enterprise size, legal status and industry sector information in this publication are sourced from the ONS IDBR. The enterprise size and industry sector information in the IDBR are populated by administrative sources (such as HMRC Pay As You Earn, Value Added Tax and Companies House data) and supplemented by survey information (e.g. Business Register and Employment Survey) collected by the ONS. More information on ONS IDBR sources, structure and updating can be found here.

The use of the term ‘enterprise’ in this publication refers to an enterprise as defined in the ONS IDBR as ‘a business under autonomous and single control, usually producing a single set of accounts’. The enterprise size, however, refers to either the number of employees in the enterprise, or in the enterprise group to which the enterprise belongs - where applicable (an enterprise group consists of several enterprises under common ownership). All other characteristics are those belonging to the enterprise wherever possible. The geographical information refers to the workplace of the apprenticeship except for Ministry of Defence apprenticeships, where the training provider’s location is used. 

Index of Multiple Deprivation

The learner's home postcode has been linked to the Index of Multiple Deprivation to identify learners living in relatively deprived areas (i.e. the 20% most deprived areas in England). Apprenticeship starts between 2012/13 to 2014/15 are linked to the 2010 IMD rankings, starts between 2015/16 to 2018/19 are linked to the 2015 IMD rankings and 2019/20 to 2020/21 starts are linked to the 2019 IMD rank.

Apprenticeship starts per 1,000 employees

The release presents a graph containing the number of apprenticeship starts per 1,000 employees in England, by industry sector. This is calculated by dividing matched apprenticeship starts in each industry sector by total employees in each industry sector in England, multiplied by 1,000 and rounded to the nearest whole number. The number of employees in England by industry sector data is taken from the Office for National Statistics Business Register and Employment Survey on NOMIS. 

Enterprises with apprenticeship starts per 1,000 enterprises

The release also presents a graph containing the number of enterprises with apprenticeship starts per 1,000 enterprises in England, by industry sector. This is calculated by dividing the number of unique enterprises with apprenticeship starts in each industry sector by the total number of enterprises in each industry sector in England, multiplied by 1,000 and rounded to the nearest whole number. The number of enterprises in England by industry sector is taken from the Office for National Statistics publication UK Business: Activity, Size and Location.

Starts supported by Apprenticeship Service Account (ASA) levy funds 

The method for identifying an apprenticeship start as ‘levy supported' is aligned with the approach used in the DfE Apprenticeships and Traineeships National Statistics publication and detailed in their User Guide.

For levy funded starts in academic years 2017/18 and 2018/19, we published the number of levy supported starts based on a match between ILR starts to information in an organisation’s ASA – this is known as the ‘data lock’, and is essential for payment of levy funds.

For data relating to 2019/20, we identify an individual as being ‘levy funded’ if they have been recorded as funded by the levy in either the ILR or the Apprenticeship Service system, or if the employer has paid levy at some point during the academic year. The reason for the changed in methodology for 2019/20 is because since January 2020 non levy payers have been using the Apprenticeship Service, meaning the methodology used for data relating to 2017/18 and 2018/19  could no longer be applied to derive a consistent time series of only those apprenticeships using £1 or more of levy funds the ASA draws down against their levy payments.

Essentially if an employer has paid the levy at some point during the year any associated apprenticeship start in the year will be classed as a ‘levy start’, even though the apprentice could have been funded by the employer or could have been ESFA funded. This potentially incorporates around 20,000 ‘levy starts’ based on the ‘levy firm’ status, which may not have actually been funded directly by ASA levy funds.

For data relating to 2020/21 onwards, a further minor change methodology change was implemented for how we count starts supported by ASA levy funds as a new ILR field that records contract type now includes both ‘levied’ and ‘non-levied’ starts. To improve the accuracy of the count we now include other ‘markers’ in the apprenticeship service to arrive at a better estimate now that we can no longer use the old method reliably. Using this method improves the accuracy of our overall estimate of ‘levied’ starts figure, but it does potentially include small numbers of ‘non-levied’ starts.

The change to the approach in counting makes a minor difference to the actual numbers, but should be taken into account when making comparisons between 2020/21 and previous years.  

Please note: the apprenticeship programme is largely funded by the apprenticeship levy, although an organisation can choose to fund apprenticeships themselves.

Data coverage and quality

The data in this publication relate to all-age (16+) apprenticeship starts in England, as reported on the ILR. Apprenticeship starts have been matched to the ONS IDBR annually, since the 2012/13 academic year.

As outlined above, the apprenticeship starts data are matched to the IDBR. Linking between these datasets goes through thorough quality assurance and is believed to be of high quality, particularly for stages 1 and 2, however, it is accepted that a small proportion of incorrect matches may have been made and that some genuine matches will have been missed, particularly in stage 3.

Disclosure control

The Code of Practice for Statistics ( requires us to take reasonable steps to ensure that our published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality. Where appropriate we apply disclosure control to protect confidentiality.

Pre-release access

Pre-release access is the process by which Ministers and officials have access to official statistics 24 hours before their publication in accordance with the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008. 

It is only given to enable the making of a public response at or shortly after the time of publication of statistics, or to enable the taking of action at that time. The number of people granted pre-release access is kept to a minimum. 

A list of officials who have received pre-release access to our Statistical Releases up to 24 hours in advance of publication is available on our release pages.

There are several other related publications that provide context to the ‘Apprenticeships in England by industry characteristics’ experimental statistics.

Department for Education's ‘Apprenticeships and Traineeships’ National Statistics provide the official figures on apprenticeship starts in England. The number of apprenticeship starts reported in ‘Apprenticeships in England by industry characteristics’ will be lower than the official estimates, as only approximately 94% of starts in 2020/21 have been matched to an enterprise.

Office for National Statistics ‘UK Business: Activity, Size and Location’ National Statistics provide the number of enterprises and local units produced from a snapshot of the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) taken in March 2021. The publication contains tables on local units and enterprises by geography, industry, legal status and employment size band. Additional tables at enterprise level provide information by turnover size band.

Office for National Statistics ‘Employees in the UK’ provide the number of employees in the UK, full-time and part-time, by sector, industry, country and English region, from the ONS Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES).


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