From education to employment

Snake oil and scaremongers – Reality versus hysteria on new ESFA rules

Simon Ashworth is chief policy officer of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers has had a stream of providers get in touch over the last couple of weeks extremely worried about some of the interpretations being placed on ESFA funding rules for recognising prior learning and off-the-job training.

Many want advice on whether they need to revisit the position of all their apprentices who have started programmes since May 2017 and make a raft of retrospective adjustments to things such as previously agreed programme pricing.

Recognition of prior learning (RPL)

One provider I spoke to told me that they felt so concerned that by “not being seen” to negotiate down the price, they were thinking of revisiting previously agreed prices for apprentices who received high quality training, passed their end point assessment and left the programme several months ago. The plan was to retrospectively reduce the price and then somehow rebate to the satisfied employer some of their co-investment.

Just to be clear, examples of panic which we have seen don’t actually involve cases of where recognition of prior learning (RPL) has been missed!

The proposed remedial action is totally unnecessary and providers should stand their ground when challenged on issues such as negotiated pricing if they have a clear rationale for the cost of their delivery to present to any external auditor.

Providers should primarily focus on looking forward and not backwards, because the bedding-in period of the levy reforms is coming to an end.

Including planned off-the-job hours in ILR returns

Firstly from August, the ESFA will require all providers to include planned off-the-job hours for each new apprentice in their monthly ILR returns.

There are various reasons behind this, including giving the ESFA greater oversight of off-the-job hours after the agency was criticised on the matter by the National Audit Office.

When combined with the other captured data, such as RPL, the negotiated price and the programme duration for each individual apprentice will give the agency much more granular data on how each provider is operating.

Triangulated it will be easy for the ESFA to check which providers are offering a personalised and bespoke programme and which providers only have a generic, one-size-fits-all offer that may not be within the rules.

So our advice is for providers to be ready to comply for 2019-20 and not worry about retrospective re-pricing.

Planned completions

Secondly at the end of June, the ESFA made a key announcement under the heading of developing a new transparency table for apprenticeship standards qualification achievement rates (QARs).

As some providers and end point assessment organisations did not see this, it is worth a mention.

The ESFA deserves credit for listening to calls from AELP to avoid what we had called an ‘end point assessment (EPA) car crash’ with the rush to get the growing volumes of apprentices on standards through their full end point assessment by the end of July to ensure they counted in the success rate and QAR measures which providers live and die by.

In essence the announcement details how apprentices planned to complete between May and July 2019 will still count in FY18-19 overall success rates as long as they have fully completed their end point assessment by the October ILR data return.

New flexibility

We were heading down a river without a paddle where apprenticeship starts are down and the cost of standards according to the National Audit Office are double what were expected.

By making no allowance for the complexities of end point assessment, the overall success rate of the reformed programme would have been considerably lower than the previous year’s national achievement rate.

Now it would have been tough for anyone called up before the Public Accounts Committee to justify a drop in participation, an increased cost per head and a fall in achievement.

The fact that this new flexibility also allows for apprentices to undertake their final end point assessment in a less rushed and supported way must also not be forgotten.

They are the very reason we are all here in the first place.

Simon Ashworth is chief policy officer of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers

I am presenting a webinar for AELP on Monday, 15 July which will take providers through all the key changes in the ESFA funding rules for 2019-20. The principal message will be “Don’t panic, Mr Mannering”!

AELP Webinar 15 Jul 19
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