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Parents still prefer traditional degrees to apprenticeships, poll finds

Parents are more likely to advise their child to go to university than take a degree-level apprenticeship, with middle-class parents more likely than poorer parents to offer this advice, according to new research.

Of 1,017 parents of children aged 5 to 16 who were asked in a poll commissioned by the Sutton Trust how likely they would be to advise their child to go to university or do a degree-level apprenticeship, slightly more (31 per cent) chose university over an apprenticeship (27 per cent), while another quarter (23 per cent) said they thought the two options were equal.

However, upper middle class parents were less likely than poorer parents to advise their child to take an apprenticeship. 42 per cent of professional parents said they were more likely to advise their child to go to university than undertake an apprenticeship, compared to a quarter (23 per cent) of working-class parents.

For the parents who were more likely to advise their child to take a degree rather than an apprenticeship, most (68 per cent) felt that university offered better career prospects, while 29 per cent felt they lacked knowledge about apprenticeships. One in five parents felt that the quality of some apprenticeships is poor.

The polling also highlights a lack of confidence among parents when it comes to giving advice on apprenticeships. Over a quarter (28 per cent) said they would not feel confident advising their child to take an apprenticeship, compared to 18 per cent who were not confident about giving advice on university.

Sutton Trust polling has previously shown a lack of willingness from teachers to encourage apprenticeships. Almost two thirds (64 per cent) said they would rarely or never advise a high performing student to opt for an apprenticeship. Many teachers (37 per cent) cited a lack of information as a reason for this.

Previous research by the Sutton Trust has also found that the best apprentices – those with a level 5 qualification or higher – will earn £50,000 more in their lifetime than someone with an undergraduate degree from a university outside of the Russell Group. However, the latest Government figures show that there were just 10,808 degree-level apprenticeship starts so far in 2018/19. In 2017/18 there were 10,846 in total. This compares to over 330,000 school leavers undertaking degrees each year.

The poll findings were published ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, a government-led event designed to raise awareness of the opportunities that apprenticeships can offer to young people and employers.

The Sutton Trust is running a campaign to make sure there are good-quality apprenticeships available for young people of all backgrounds. As part of this they want every child to have access to careers advice that considers the benefits of apprenticeships as a route to career and educational progression. To increase the prestige of apprenticeships – like in the German or Swiss systems – it is vital that young people and their parents have access to a comprehensive and easily accessible information and applications portal, like UCAS for university, the charity said.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said:

“The best apprenticeships offer young people outstanding career prospects and financial rewards. So it is good to see that many parents see them as a genuine alternative to A-levels and degrees. However it’s clear that many parents just don’t know enough about apprenticeships to feel confident advising their child along that route.

“Initiatives like National Apprenticeships Week are welcome and can do much to raise awareness of and dispel myths about apprenticeships but we need to do much more.  Most importantly we need to increase the prestige of apprenticeships as is the case in Switzerland and Germany.  This includes dispelling the view that apprenticeships are not of high quality and giving parents and teachers access to the information they need.”

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