Is an apprenticeship classed as further education?

An apprenticeship is a job with training that allows you to “earn while you learn”. In the UK, there are over 1,500 different types of apprenticeship open to applicants aged 16 or over.


Some apprenticeships are classed as further education, and some are higher education courses. In this blog, we distinguish between the two.


What counts as ‘further education’ and ‘higher education’?

Further education is any type of study that is undertaken after secondary school (i.e. post-16) that is not part of higher education (i.e. not part of undergraduate or graduate study. Further education courses are provided by further education (FE) colleges, and other recognised FE training providers.


You typically enter further education after your GCSE’s. Most people will complete an FE course and go straight into HE as an undergraduate or trainee.


Higher education is ‘third tier’ education undertaken after the appropriate level of further education has been completed. Higher education courses are provided by higher education (HE) establishments such as HE colleges, university colleges, universities, and private colleges.


Further education is open to anyone over the age of 18 who has fulfilled the necessary requirements for their chosen course or education programme.


Is an apprenticeship further education?

Depending on the level of apprenticeship you want to complete, it may or may not be classed as further education.


There are four levels of apprenticeship:


Name Level Equivalent Educational Level
Intermediate 2 5 GCSE passes at grades A*-C, or 9-4
Advanced 3 2 A-Level passes; an International Baccalaureate; or, a Level 3 Diploma
Higher 4-7 Foundation degree and above; including Bachelor’s degree level education and a Certificate of Higher education (CertHe)
Degree 6 & 7 Bachelor’s or master’s degree


Level 3 apprenticeships are classed as further education, as you must have completed relevant intermediate qualifications in order to be eligible for these courses.


Level 4 apprenticeships and above are classed as higher education. Sometimes, your Level 3 apprenticeship provider will also be registered as a HE education provider. This could mean you are able to progress to a Level 4 Apprenticeship and beyond without switching providers.


How to do an apprenticeship as a young learner

If you are aged 16-19, you are eligible to apply for an apprenticeship which will be completed as part of your mandatory further education. Depending on the industry, you may have to start with a Level 2 qualification to give you the skills and practical experience necessary to move on to a Level 3 qualification.


Level 3 apprenticeships are best suited to young people who want to learn as they work, earn while they learn, and take steps towards a career in a specific industry or sector.


How to do an apprenticeship as an adult

Apprenticeships are not only limited to school leavers. If you are looking to start afresh and develop skills in a particular sector while you learn, you may wish to apply for an apprenticeship as an adult. There is no age limit!


For some adults, relevant qualifications/experience have already been amassed allowing them to progress into higher level apprenticeships straight away. For example, if you have practical marketing experience but no degree, you may find you are eligible for a Level 4 apprenticeship even though you haven’t completed a Level 3.


Apprenticeships are jobs, so you will need to apply as you would for any other role. You’ll need to be prepared for liaising with training providers and potential employers and being prepared for interviews.


If you are planning on leaving your current job to start an apprenticeship, or if you are currently unemployed, take careful note of the wages apprentices are paid. Although employers can choose to pay more, most apprentices are paid the minimum wage for their age, unless they are in their first year.


In your first year of an apprenticeship, you will typically be paid the current apprentice minimum wage rate, regardless of your age. After 12 months, this wage will increase to the minimum per hour for your age bracket.


Year Age 25+ Age 21-24 Age 18-20 Under 18 1st Year Apprentice
April 2019 onwards £8.21 (NLW) £7.70 £6.15 £4.35 £3.90


How to do an apprenticeship if you’re already employed

If you are already employed and you are looking to do an apprenticeship, you may be looking to leave your current job, or improve your qualifications whilst remaining in your role.


If you want to leave your job and do an apprenticeship elsewhere, we recommend that you take note of the advice offered in the section above.


If you want to undertake an apprenticeship but you also want to stay in your current role, you will need to speak to your employer. This is because an apprenticeship will take time out of your current role – for most apprenticeships, you must prove that 20% of your time has been spent doing on the job training.


However, an apprenticeship can be a great way for your employer to improve your skills and increase your value as an employee within the company. If you’ve already completed a higher level apprenticeship or you have a bachelor’s degree, for example, you may be able to attain qualifications equivalent to an additional degree such as a master’s through an apprenticeship.


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