Media Release

Hartlepool is ‘apprenticeship capital of England’ – by-election study

Hartlepool has more school-leavers who go on to advanced apprenticeships and other “higher technical” qualifications than anywhere else in England, a think-tank reveals today.

The Social Market Foundation said next month’s by-election in Hartlepool should drive politicians of all parties to pay more attention to Further Education (FE) colleges and other providers of technical education.

The SMF, a cross-party think-tank, calculated that 17% of school-leavers in Hartlepool who have A-levels or BTECs go on to Level 4 or 5 courses –  technical and vocational courses below degree level. The average across England is just 3%. (See Notes)

Ministers have said they want more students to take higher technical qualifications, which include Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas, as well as higher apprenticeships.

However, funding for FE has been falling and FE colleges have experienced a 12% drop in per student funding in real terms from 2010/11 to 2019/20, more than any other education sector. (See Notes)

The SMF said that places like Hartlepool are a rarity and unless FE is properly funded, many places in need of ‘levelling up’ will struggle to match its successes in technical and vocational education.

The analysis comes as part of a new SMF briefing analysing a range of data about economic and social conditions in Hartlepool, which show the scale of the policy challenge facing the Government’s regional growth agenda.

Key findings include:


  • Hartlepool’s COVID-19 age-standardised death rate has been 27% higher than the rest of England.
  • Life expectancy at birth is below both the UK and North East average for Hartlepool. Average life expectancy for men in Hartlepool is 76.8 (79.3 UK average) and 81.3 for women (82.9 UK average).
  • Out of 151 areas, Hartlepool ranks 2nd for the share of adults classified as overweight or obese; 5th for share of adults that are current smokers; and 13th for alcohol-specific deaths per 100,000 people.

Economy and living standards

  • Average earnings in Hartlepool are 7% below the national average.
  • Hartlepool’s employment rate is 74%, below both the North East (76%) and GB (79%) rate.
  • 26% of Hartlepool’s labour market is economically inactive, with 38% of this group unable to work due to long-term sickness, compared with 29% in the North East, and 24% in GB.
  • Child poverty in Hartlepool is above the GB rate and has been rising for half a decade; 22% of under 16s live in relative low-income households (2018/19).


  • Hartlepool is an early-years “hotspot” according to the Social Mobility Commission and the percentage of pupils in primary schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ is 91% vs. 86% English average.
  • But Hartlepool has much poorer secondary education, with only 43% of pupils attending ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools; the English average is 76%.
  • Hartlepool has the highest share of students going onto higher technical qualifications in all of England (17%). 32% go on to study at university, compared to the English average of 42%.

The SMF said these local data outline the magnitude of the Government’s levelling up challenge and demonstrate the need for a comprehensive policy agenda beyond, for example, a focus on physical infrastructure and transport.

Politicians of all parties should be concerned with finding ways to address regional inequality and improve living standards, health and education outcomes.

Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation, said;

“Hartlepool stands out from the rest of the country in lots of ways, good and bad, which highlight the policy challenges facing the Government. It could claim to be the technical education capital of England, but its success is rarely recognised by politicians who talk much more about universities than about Further Education.

“That neglect has been accompanied by damaging cuts in FE funding. Those cuts will make it harder for other places to emulate Hartlepool’s successes in skills and training, and make it harder to ‘level up’ the country.

“Politicians fighting for votes in Hartlepool and places like it should pay more attention to what FE does for those communities, and provide it with the investment and support it deserves.

“At the same time, Hartlepool’s high level of COVID deaths – reflecting poor public health outcomes going into the crisis – as well as its stagnant wages, rising child poverty, and frayed social fabric throw the challenges of the ‘levelling up’ agenda into sharp relief.”

Darren Hankey, Principal and Chief Executive of Hartlepool College of Further Education, said:

“It’s pleasing to see the town leading the way in terms of higher technical education, this is something Hartlepool College of FE has prioritised for many years. It’s also pleasing to see this data as the college, and FE sector as a whole, has not been immune from the impact of austerity which preceded the Coronavirus pandemic.  Other data clearly show the need for the ‘levelling up’ rhetoric to be backed up with effective policies and the relevant investment. 

“Recent warm words about the importance of Further Education by the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education have then been followed up with decisions that have been perceived as harsh – for example, the clawback of 2020/21 adult education funds. In many respects, this highlights the challenge presented to policymakers, but it is a challenge that needs to be tackled if places such as Hartlepool are to thrive.”


  1. SMF calculations are based on government progression to higher education or training statistics by local authority for 2016/17 cohort – the most recent data available. See
  2. See
  3. The briefing, So now you give a monkey’s?, is today at


  • For media enquiries, please contact Linus Pardoe, SMF Impact Officer – – 07402 576995


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