The government’s eight week delay in their latest announcements about the apprenticeship levy, funding rates and standards leaves raises as many questions as it answered. This is not surprising when government is sailing in uncharted waters without a pilot and had to change ship in the process.
One of the surprises was the decision to withhold 20% of the funding to the end of the apprenticeship to fund the end point assessment. Is this a silent admission of what the end point assessment is going to cost? 20% of a standard funded at £5,000 is £1,000, compared to the £100 we currently pay awarding bodies for all tests, assessment and certification for a total hospitality apprenticeship. Currently hospitality apprentices in our sector on frameworks are continuously assessed for competence by their training provider’s trainer-assessor who works with the learner throughout their journey and records their progress and competence scrupulously to Awarding Body and Ofqual criteria. This is replaced on the standards by a one off one hour observation by a stranger, sorry independent external assessor, who knows nothing of the learner’s personal journey, starting point, progress and competence until this short meeting. Again on frameworks, the apprentice has regular meetings, professional discussions, mentoring and one-to-one input in person or on-line with their trainer-assessor. The end point assessment requires a 40 minute three way professional discussion between the apprentice, their line manager and the same stranger. On-line multiple choice tests and assignments and projects are similar expect for the new standards, where they have to be undertaken at the end, not when the apprentice is deemed ready. Framework assessments are funded as part of the providers’ fee for delivery. Hospitability standard end point assessments have under two hours external assessor time but will cost the taxpayer up to one hundred times as much and this is called a reform. No pilots of end testing have occurred to see if end testing is an improvement on continuous assessment and worth 100 time more.
The government has announced the maximum funding bands from next April, but has not yet set a minimum band. Concerns have been raised that a rush to the lowest price will reduce quality, by which I suppose they mean more learners will fail. There was a time government voted funding for apprenticeships and a team of civil servants calculated the exact delivery costs which was then passed on in full to the providers. Today, with market forces prevailing, we have to hope employers high satisfaction rates remain above 80% and both apprentices and employers see the value of the new apprenticeships. Of course the new Institute for Apprenticeships will be monitoring the quality, albeit with Ofsted doing the legwork. Now that pricing negotiation has become part of the apprenticeship scenario, Ofsted inspections need to take this into account when grading providers. After all a provider funded at the band maximum would be expected to achieve much higher completion rates than one accepting half or less, or is that not how quality is to be evaluated in future?
There is a contradiction the latest release of information from SFA. While encouraging employers to participate in the new standards, any employing starting before April 2017 will be penalised by having to pay one third of the costs, compared to just 10% or a levy payment. They cannot even transfer payments to the new system from next April. Effectively this means all employers, whether levy payers or not will delay starting new apprentices onto the new standards until next April. It could be possible to introduce the 10% rate today otherwise the 3 million starts target will not be reached with nine month reduction in starts and could financially destabilize the provider network over the next ten months if they cannot recruit sufficient apprentices to survive.
Jill Whittaker, Managing Director, HIT Training
The DfE have provided a response to Jill’s article. To read this, please click here