From education to employment

A Winter’s Tale for Training Providers?

Steve Lawrence, MD of EEVT Ltd

So, what is the main idea behind the story a Winter’s Tale?

It’s all about loyalty, fidelity, and honesty, crucial to the play’s main plot.

Camillo’s exile from and return to Sicilia, for example, are based on his presumed disloyalty and actual loyalty to his King Leontes.

Just like in our industry we are driven by Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty; but I ask, is this how it works with people we contract with in the world of Education?

Yes, we know it’s been hard for everyone over the last 22 Months due to Covid. However, these changes that we are going through are not out of loyalty for ITPs; it’s just “We are going to do this and that”.  

All the time the DfE and ESFA keep changing all aspects of our Training landscape.

When we need more support, it appears only last-minute items get done in respect of the ITP’s, mainly when it is pointed out they have not included this part of the education landscape.   

We know that the cost of living is going up. The DfE gives lots of extra funds like pensions and wage increases but not any form of cash extra to providers. I ask is this right?

The cost of providing training for the Independent Training Provider has not gone down, compliance measures are more rigorous as well as an increase in other external costs like rent and safety measures.

We know we have to protect Government Funds and they want to do away with risk. Yet the DfE lost £12.6 million helping two national colleges find a new building and merger partner respectively last year; new DfE accounts show these funds have now been written off.

Just one of many items which we all can note and say they should have done better. However, all the problems and situations are dealt with one by one and there is no real power from the industry.

Training and Development bodies like the AELP and Awarding Organisations, may send a letter and get PR but the providers have no real say.

People like Education Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon does a great job, with campaigns that highlight items such as the under-funding of colleges; sadly, there is little mention of funds for private providers and presenting the case for much-needed investment.

What they need to do is get in small niche providers and talk to them? Many of these SME and CIC tackle the very hard to reach. No, they talk to the big providers, Awarding Bodies, ESFA and Colleges.

Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

I have a lot of respect for the Minister for Education, The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP, following the work he did at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

However, I ask three questions, and for the thoughts of both you the reader, and also of Nadhim Zahawi MP:

1. When will ITP staff get a funding increase?

College staff can go or threaten to go on strike, then they get more wages.  This is not going to happen with ITP staff. 

So, is this fair on the ITP; same money month after month year after year: when will they get an increase?

2. Why do DfE take so long to communicate changes?

Next is around the barrage of emails from the ESFA and DfE. One of 15 received the other day was 32 pages long around Information: Financial Assurance: Monitoring post-16 funding for 2021 to 2022.  Now the first question is why after four and a half months they decide to tell contract holders we are changing the rules and adding bits on?

Would this happen in the commercial world?  Also why take so long to let people know? Is it because they are short staffed?  Could it be they do not actually understand what they put in procurement?

3. Do ESFA need better training to do their job?

Next on my list is yes, we do have some training providers that need to do better and improve.  However, it appears the ESFA account managers do not support or even understand half the requirements from feedback I have had. Now, maybe there are not enough of them. 

So, my question is do they need training about their job?  Please let me know if I am right or wrong.

At this stage you are reading and thinking this person just moans. Not so. I love the industry and have been in it for some forty-eight years. I only want it to be good for learners and employers and the staff that work with them. 

You appear to think I am just on the side of the ITP, well yes but large colleges and large ITPs also get hit by things; for instance, they must now have externally audited sub-contractors, again more costs for the Primes.

20% off the job training

We also see crazy situations in Health and Social Care. This has been so important, but is seen as low value, yet digital is higher priced.  Delivery costs and problems with doing items like 20% off the job training in Apprentices is the same. 

Also, many say it is very hard to get buy-in from employers once the training starts but go below by two hours and the ESFA will jump all over you. 

New Flexi Apprenticeships

Then we look at the New Pilot for Flexi Apprentices.  Great idea and much needed but will you get any additional funds to do say three lots of paperwork and employer engagement?  The answer is No.

The ESFA also say “We will expect successful providers to engage with the ESFA during and at the end of the Pilot to provide feedback for evaluation. This may take the form of working groups, surveys or questionnaire or submitting short reports”.

However, more time and work but no more funds.

Why do ESFA look down on ITPs, when they deliver two thirds of apprenticeships?

The ESFA say they do not like consultants to be used but employ them within the DFE.  How can it be “Don’t do as I do but as I say”?

They look down on ITPs, and want less ITPs, yet look at the figures. How many Apprenticeships and short courses do ITPs deliver?

Colleges accounted for just 18.5% of apprenticeship starts so out of the 321,400 starts in 2020/21, private providers had 64.4 per cent of the market.

Other public funded provider such as local authorities and higher education institutions accounted for 16.3 per cent, while schools, sixth form colleges and special colleges made up 0.8 per cent.

Over the years I undertook many different qualifications at college and had to pay and attend at night for many of those. However, whilst colleges do a great job for some forms of learning they are not right for every learner or indeed many employers.

Jonathan Slater’s quarter £million pay out

Permanent Secretary Jonathan Slater

Then I look at the costs. The Department for Education handed former permanent secretary Jonathan Slater a £277,780 pay out to leave last summer – just eight months before his term was due to end.

His wage was around £165,000 a year, yet an MD of a company is lucky to get £50,000 a year, and they are responsible for Health and Safety of staff, learners and Safeguarding plus National Insurance and Tax and too many other items to mention.  

So, my question is, were Government Funds involved?  My answer is Yes. He was involved in the exams situation, the rules we in the industry had to work with, yet we have no real say at the table, not to say what is the answer but point out the front-line logistics. Also, what learners, media and parents will say.

Protect Student Choice

Pearson #ProtectStudentChoice 3 months in article button

I could go on with twenty other items which are not right to my mind, but what I would say is we have a situation where we as an industry must deal with the cards we are dealt.

However, it would be a great idea if they let us see that the deck of cards is fresh and not tainted by personal ideas.

An example is T Levels; it appears they have a thought process whereby they will throw lots of funds at it, we have no idea if it will work but we will make it work anyway.

Alternatives are removed or changed, so we have little option other than to do it.

So, as I end this winter tale, I have four final questions:

  1. What is wrong from your perspective?
  2. What are you going to do?
  3. How do we get the powers to be to listen?
  4. What do they need to do to make things better for the industry, the learners and organisations who do delivery?

I wish you and all your staff a great 2022, doing what we do best improve people’s lives, work opportunities and social mobility.

I know what I am doing I will be writing to all that I can, my efforts will mean very little, however if four thousand letters arrive at the DFE and Downing Street maybe, just maybe they will give a little thought to how they continue to work with this great industry, and that is what it is.

Steve Lawrence, MD of EEVT Ltd

Steve works with national providers from Leeds to Kent. He sends out weekly free newsletter on information and bids, grants and funds available to some 3,000 plus people in Business, Providers and individuals. Steve is a Judge on the London Signature awards, Committee Member on the Confederation of Education Consultants and Ambassador for the BAME Apprenticeship Awards.

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  1. I have had quite a lot of feedback and this one was very interesting Just read your Winter’s Tale article – it’s all so depressingly true. And the fact is that the DfE attitude towards ITPs is indicative of a Civil Service looks down on all of the private sector – and small businesses in particular.

    Our experience, working as a Kickstart Gateway, has really highlighted this. If you think the DfE / ESFA is bad, you should try working with the DWP! They think all small business owners are charlatans and fraudsters and know nothing about employing young people! I could go on at length about some of the things we’ve seen and heard, but here’s my suggestion of a solution. It’s rather long term I’m afraid as it involves Civil Service reform!

    Those of us outside of the Civil Service know that the problem is that there is not enough experience of ‘The Real World’. Inclusion and diversity campaigns are all over these departments (which is great) but no-one ever talks about diversity of work experience or the inclusion of people who, for whatever reason, haven’t gone down the degree route (>50% of the population) and have proved their competence through work experience. (Ironically, the DWP – tasked with helping people into work – is stuffed with people who have never worked, and have no idea of life, outside of the public sector – to get promotion you have to have worked in the DWP for at least 2 years – by which time they’ve worn you down!)

    I think it would be possible to generate some interest in a campaign that said it should become illegal to require someone to have a degree to apply for a job (in the same way that it’s illegal to specify age or gender).

    An acceptable requirement would be ‘A Degree or At least 3 years relevant work experience’.

    For anyone taking up a position in the Civil Service there should be an additional requirement that they MUST have at least 1 years work experience which MUST be in the private sector.

    For those people who really can’t face the prospect of getting their hands dirty, there would be an option to take a 1 year’s MA type placement which would be structured to make sure it included at the very minimum:

    A Recruitment process – from advertising to appointment
    A Disciplinary process
    A Budgeting exercise
    An Application for a Government Grant or Government procurement exercise – from start to finish.
    This placement would be fully funded for the employer – so that ITPs could apply to take on someone and show them life in the real world!

    I can’t think of any reasonable argument against this idea. Possibly in some departments, Civil Servants don’t have any involvement with businesses – but even so, if, as the Government keeps telling us:

    Cabinet Office Minister, Lord Agnew, said (May 2021):

    Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, fuelling economic growth and providing employment for almost 17 million people.

    That is why we are determined to make sure the power of government spending supports this vital sector and helps bring forward the delivery of top class public services.

    It is important that all Civil Servants understand the workings of this sector.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts

  2. Some more feedback I read your article this morning actually. You raise some very accurate and valid points, particularly related to ITP,s.
    Unfortunately we have always been Cinderella against the colleges but we never end up at the ball…… As you highlight our profile needs raising further along with the good work that goes on. However, with comments like the one you received about streamlining the amount of ITP,s I fear if we do not have the support of our peers/colleagues we do not stand a chance. Best wishes Sue
    Also Hi Steve, Merry Christmas! What an excellent article. Once again, it highlights some relevant and essential questions that decision-makers often ignore. ITPs are always at the bottom of the list when it comes to supporting unless you are one of the BIG six. Many smaller ITPs often are the ones who work with the Hard to Reach (like you said), they are front line workers/supporters but do not get the recognition nor the opportunity to expand due to the contracts award process.
    A Fantastic article again, Steve! Have a lovely time seeing in the New Year. We appreciate your relentless work, including the Newsletters.
    Best wishes C

  3. Ok I have had some feedback, but as always people do not like to say to much in case it puts them in a bad situation.
    So John says spot on it is very clear detail on the Landscape.
    Gordon says that it will not change until there are less providers then the funding will change.
    Tom says yes we are the poor side of training and items like Inductions should be funded, time for two people and one Admin person not looked at as being part of the funding until training starts yet training with IAG and other items like safeguarding, Health and Safety are just a few are not seen as training.
    Also feedbck from Stephen Great article thanks for sharing and highlighting inequality of the system.
    Recieved from Von Hi Steve

    I think you have very eloquently covered what is an emotive subject at the best of times.

    So much money from the public purse is wasted but ITPs get very little of the money.

    Your article should prompt debate although unfortunately you and I know it won’t bring the changes the industry needs by itself but it is a great awareness raising point.

    If colleges were held to account as stringently as ITPs it would level the playing field slightly.

    Those who hold the purse strings need to be challenged before they waste money on things that won’t benefit the learners, employers or the staff working hard to give their learners the best chance to succeed
    So thanks for your feedback