Apprenticeships were originally a specific type of contract under which the apprentice learned a skilled trade. These 'traditional' apprenticeship contracts had distinct features including a fixed term duration and restrictions on dismissal by the employer.

Since 1994 the form of apprenticeships has changed and recent legislation puts most apprenticeship agreements on the basis of a normal contract of employment, although probably still of fixed duration, which is linked to a qualifying apprenticeship framework.

Traditional apprenticeships

The 'traditional' apprenticeship takes the form of a contract which is primarily for training, although it will require the apprentice to work to get experience and build their skills. The main effect of the traditional apprenticeship contract is that it is for a fixed term and so the employer's right to dismiss is more restricted than normal:

[Flett v Matheson (2006) EWCA Civ 53]

In general traditional apprenticeships have been replaced by apprenticeship agreements although it is still possible to create such a traditional apprenticeship where the parties contract (written or verbal) is to that effect.

Apprenticeship agreements

The legal requirements related to apprenticeships are now set out in the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 which applies from 6 April 2011. Where the requirements for an apprenticeship agreement are met then it cannot be treated as a traditional contract of apprenticeship:

[section 35 Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009]


This Act requires that an apprenticeship agreement is in a standard form and includes:

  • an agreement by the apprentice to work for the employer
  • a statement it is covered by the law of England and Wales
  • a statement that it is entered into in connection with a 'qualifying apprenticeship framework' (see below)

[section 32(2)(b) Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 ]


Further regulations set out that otherwise the form of the agreement need only comply with the statement of employment particulars under section 1 Employment Rights Act 1996 or a contract of employment which includes this information.


These regulations also require the agreement to state the skill, trade or occupation the apprentice is being trained for under the relevant framework.


[regulation 2 Apprenticeships (Form of Apprenticeship Agreement) Regulation 2012]


The form of the agreement may vary slightly where the apprenticeship involves employment by the Crown, Parliament or the armed forces.

Qualifying apprenticeship frameworks

The apprenticeship framework is an industry standard that specifies what the apprentice is to learn to meet the qualification standard. The standard varies depending on the level of the apprenticeship (intermediate, advanced or higher).

Details of the frameworks can be found at Apprenticeship frameworks online:

Legal rights of apprentices

Because apprenticeship agreements are now on the same footing as an employment contract the statutory rights of apprentices are the same as other employees and include:

  • unfair dismissal
  • discrimination
  • redundancy
  • holidays and holiday pay
  • maternity and family leave

However there are a few specific provisions that do alter their position:

National Minimum Wage - apprentices in their first year or under 19 are only entitled to a lower rate of NMW (£2.73 from 1 October 2014);

Fixed Term Employees - apprentices are excluded from protection under the Fixed Term Employee (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002;

Unfair dismissal - apprentices will usually be on fixed term contracts and whilst their rights to claim unfair dismissal will be the same as all employees there may be an argument that the effect on the apprentices training and qualification may make dismissal unreasonable in some circumstances and thus give slightly better protection

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