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The government is being urged to set out how it will use the increase in apprenticeship numbers to deliver improvement in productivity.

The National Audit Office said the government’s plans for three million new apprenticeships in England by 2020 should reflect how valuable they are to each sector.

The report by the NAO said the Department for Education (DfE) has not yet defined how the success of apprenticeships will be measured in terms of how beneficial it is to the economy.

Although research shows that different apprenticeships offer significantly different benefits, the DfE is not clear about how it plans to use this evidence to maximise the value and productivity of apprenticeships in the UK.

The report said the DfE needs to develop a more robust way of managing behavioural risks and “should set out the planned overall impact on productivity and growth, along with short-term key performance indicators to measure the programme’s success”.

The annual public funding of apprenticeships has grown over time and amounted to just under £1.2 billion in 2010-11. By 2015-16 the figure had risen to around £1.5 billion.

Since 2013, there has been a process to develop new, employer-led, apprenticeship ‘standards’, which will eventually replace the previous frameworks.

Many of the employers and training providers involved in designing and delivering apprenticeships support the principles behind reformed programme, but the NAO said more work is needed to raise awareness of them.

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office said: “The Department for Education needs to chart and follow a course from having a lot of apprenticeships to having the right apprenticeships in order to help improve the UK’s productivity, and achieve value for money, in return for the costs of the programme”.

Employers involved in developing the new standards are concerned about the time they have to invest at their own expense, as at April 2016, only around 2,600 people had started an apprenticeship under the new standards.

Industry representative groups are also concerned that the approach is leading to a large number of narrow and overlapping standards, which may restrict the extent to which apprentices gain transferable skills.

The report argues that "without strategic underpinning, there is a clear risk that the drive to deliver greater numbers is delivered at the expense of delivering maximum value".