From education to employment

Sturgeon’s criticism of external #RoATP bid writers is wide of the mark

Jim Carley, Managing Director, Carley Consult Ltd

At last week’s AELP National Conference, Sheila Sturgeon, a Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Education, warned providers against using external bid writers to apply for a place on RoATP.

Now I am an external bid writer, so you may well consider that my opinion lacks impartiality, but this advice is, quite frankly, non-sensical.

Sturgeon is reported to have said that, in her opinion, an application was more likely to fail if it was not written internally and an outside bid writer was brought in to write it.

I’d like to see the actual statistics that sit behind that claim! Without wishing to self-publicise, almost all the RoATP applications which my business has supported have been successful.

I am similarly sure that other quality bid writing firms in the sector have achieved successful RoATP results in most cases.

Many providers don’t employ bid writers and have limited in-house competency in this area.

So, the choice for them is to allocate the task to a potentially less experienced employee, who may have written few, if any, similar applications, or to engage an external writer who is familiar with the process and may already have several successful RoATP applications under their belt.

Surely, when we are not sure how to do something well ourselves, and we can’t afford to get it wrong, the best advice is to turn to a professional?

We wouldn’t give this a second thought if we needed to hire a solicitor, or a car mechanic, or an electrician. So why should it be any different if we need to hire a bid writer? 

One of Sturgeon’s main concerns seems to relate to instances of RoATP applicants “not having a particular policy, nicking one from somewhere else and forgetting to change the provider name”.

ESFA 550x420 An ESFA Spokesperson said:
The ESFA does not have a policy for or against using bid writers and welcomes bids from external writers provided they have sufficient knowledge about the business and how the organisation puts their policies into action – as is required in the application process.

There are, in fact, two concerns here, so let’s address the easy one first:

1. Making crude cut and paste errors such as using the wrong name.

This is an obvious mistake at any level. It is, however, a mistake that I would argue is more likely to be made by an inexperienced practitioner who does not routinely write bids more so than a skilled bid writer who is proficient in quality assuring their work.

2. Lack of established policies

The bigger issue is the criticism that some applicants may not initially have a policy required by the RoATP process. When you think about it, this is not really all that surprising.

Some of the enclosures required for a RoATP application, such as a Commitment Statement, English & Maths Delivery Process and Apprenticeship Training Continuity Plan, are specific to the delivery of apprenticeships.

If you are a market entrant seeking to deliver for the first time these will, by definition, be new documents which you may not yet have put in place.

It is perfectly logical in this case to source best practice examples as a start point, and many other providers readily and openly publish these for all to see. You can be crude and call this “nicking one”, but so what?

Commit to applying the standard as it is written

I always say to providers that you can put whatever you want in a policy document, but once you adopt it, then commissioners will expect you to live by the measures you have committed to.

In other words, there is nothing wrong with adopting wording from an externally sourced policy, so long as you are committed to applying the standard as it is written. And the reality is that all provider’s RoATP policies and procedures should be materially the same, as they should all be designed to show compliance with the specifics of the ESFA’s Apprenticeship Funding Rules.

More often than not the Rules require specific, standard assurance measures. It would surely be of greater concern if everyone’s policies and procedures were materially different?

I accept that scoring similar policies may not always be too much fun and may get a bit samey for ESFA RoATP evaluators. I would, however, say that it should be more reassuring to the ESFA to have providers adopting similar high-quality procedures.

And just because the wording is similar, it doesn’t mean that the different providers who table them are any less committed to what is written down.

Furthermore, if a provider chooses to adopt a policy from elsewhere, then this could just as easily occur if they are writing the application in house as much as it could if using an external writer.

Putting the focus on the documents themselves, rather than the organisational practices

The underlying problem here is perhaps within RoATP itself. We are effectively saying that, to be judged as being suitable to deliver apprenticeships, the essential competency is to hold various policies and procedures.

This inevitably puts the focus on the documents themselves, perhaps more so than the organisational practices which they aspire to capture.

There is no easy fix, as a registration process inevitably requires documents to be submitted. But, in asking providers to submit policies which they may not yet have, you can’t then criticise them for aspiring to adopt the best policy that they can.

Of course, I’m not going to suggest that every external writer is perfect (no more so than every solicitor, car mechanic, or an electrician).

Whether a provider is thinking of employing a bid writer or engaging one externally, it’s down to them to do their due diligence.

Doing it yourself may well be the right choice, but lots of good providers frequently turn to external writers, and there are many good reasons why!

Jim Carley, Managing Director, Carley Consult Ltd

Interesting article in this week’s @FENews warning against using bid writers to write RoATP applications. Absolutely agree. Always use a hamster instead.

— Community Heroes (@Andy23Fish) June 28, 2019

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