Why the low numbers in take up for RN Apprenticeships

Sally Garbett outlines some of the challenges that need to be addressed

You will have seen the press about the low take up of the RN Apprenticeship – the hoped for partial solution to RN shortages and a way to widen participation in nursing

There were only 30 starts up to the end of January this year which is in sharp contrast to Public Health England’s hoped for target of 2400.

This was discussed at the Commons education committee and reassuringly the discussions focussed on the practicalities and financial challenges – the quality of the programme and philosophy at the heart of it is not in question. Here are some of the challenges that need to be addressed:

  1. Cost: The RN Apprentice is governed by NMC regulation and is therefore supernumerary. It is the only supernumerary Degree level Apprenticeship – not just in health, but across all Apprenticeships. The problems with this include:
  • employers pay the levy or contribute 10 % toward the cost of the Degree: this cost is new the Degree used to be funded through the Govt Bursary.
  • employers now pay a salary to the RN Apprentice: Student Nurses previously had no salary. Possible solution – let us use the levy to pay the salary – the supernumerary nature of this Apprentice is unique, so let’s have a similarly unique approach to solving problems of cost.
  • mentorship/supervision/assessment: this was always a cost but the “on programme” aspect of Apprenticeships increases the proportion of experiential, work based learning which is academically sound, but costly for the employer. The funding models of the mentors role have changed too – are you asking your HEI for payment for the assessment and experiential learning you deliver? ESFA funding rules permit this (with conditions)
  1. HEIs readiness to deliver: Many HEIs are now on board but their normal focus is for starts in September – starts in January were never going to be huge. Development of the HEI Apprenticeship approaches and the flexibility required – for example offering part time Degrees takes a while.
  2. The preference for the Nursing Associate Apprenticeship: This is big business and may be seen as a starting point for progression to the RN or may simply be the beginning of a change to our staffing structures. Do organisations want to see this Band 4 role increase and will that reduce the number of Band 5 RNs organisations require? I wonder if a huge factor in this is the fact that NA Apprentices are not yet NMC regulated and therefore not yet supernumerary – they count in the staffing numbers apart from when they are on their 20% off job training, be that experiential or theory based. There is a rush to start NAs – the discussions suggest NMC are likely to make this Apprenticeship supernumerary once regulated: starting NAs before this regulation starts means this is avoided. Maybe many of these NA Apprentices are the future RN Apprentices and accessing the RN by doing the NA first is a way of reducing the supernumerary challenge.

The levy is currently costing the NHS £200 million a year – surely it is not rocket science to see the impact this new expense combined with the need to pay Apprentice RNs a salary would have on the uptake of RN Apprenticeships. It will be interesting to watch this evolve.


Written by

Sally Garbett


16, June 2018


About the Author

Sally Garbett

Sally Garbett

Education and Apprenticeship associate, St Christopher's Hospice

Sally Garbett is the Apprenticeship lead and Vocational Programmes Manager at St Christopher’s where her role is to manage and develop apprenticeships and the vocational education and qualifications offered to external and internal staff. Sally has been involved in Apprenticeships since 1995 and most recently in the development of the healthcare standards, including the Nursing Associate role. Prior to working for St Christopher’s Sally was a freelance consultant and has over twenty five years' experience in qualification development, regulatory activities and delivery. She is also a licensed and qualified user of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to develop teams and individuals.

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