By Daniel Hunter

More people than ever before are taking part in an apprenticeship, according to the provisional figures.

Nearly 860,000 people were on an apprenticeship in 2012/13 with the gold standard of higher and advanced levels attracting record levels of apprentices.

The data also shows that there were over 1.5 million apprenticeship starts since 2010.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: "These figures show that a record 858,900 people participated in apprenticeships last year, which is almost 370,000 more than in 2009/10.

"This is good news for the economy, and good news for those getting the skills they need to prosper. There are now more options than ever before with a focus on the quality and rigour that people and employers want from apprenticeships.

"Our insistence that they must have a minimum duration, involve on-the-job training, and respond to the needs of employers means that it is rapidly becoming the new norm to take an apprenticeship or go to university."

Higher apprenticeships introduced by this government are now at the highest level they have ever been, while the participation in advanced level apprenticeships has increased by more than 50,000.

Participation for under-19s has declined overall as a result of the renewed focus on higher quality. For the first time, all apprenticeships now involve a job and as such some low quality provision was ended. This particularly affected the 16-18 apprenticeships, as programme-led apprenticeships were concentrated in that age range. The data shows that under-19s are also benefitting from the growth in apprenticeships at higher and advanced levels.

All apprenticeships now routinely last a minimum of a year. That means that while more people than ever are in apprenticeships, the number of starts has not grown. However, removing very short six month apprenticeships is a vital part of driving up quality.

To continue the work already being done to focus on the rigour and responsiveness of the apprenticeship system the government will shortly be announcing further reforms to the system. The aim is to produce an apprenticeships model that matches and surpasses the best in the world.

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