From education to employment

What the latest ESFA updates mean for training providers?

Rupert Crossland

The latest funding changes in the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) have been a welcome step in ensuring apprentices are fully supported to complete their apprenticeships and progress in their industry. Here we examine the key changes and what they mean for employers and apprentices.

Increase in funding for Functional Skills English and maths

Achieving these qualifications is mandatory for apprentices who previously have not gained maths and English GCSEs.

The challenge to providers is how to equip the apprentices with the skills required and the confidence to succeed in subjects that they have previously found challenging. Previous experiences may have caused negative associations with English and maths. Providers need to be ready to explore the reasons why someone may find these subjects difficult and to develop ways to equip their apprentices with the skills and confidence to succeed in them.Fortunately, recent increases in funding for Functional Skills training helps to address some of the challenges in delivering this critical aspect of apprenticeships.

Change in certain end-point assessments

Specifically, the change to assessment of Level 3 Early Years Educator Apprenticeship and the increased funding band for the standard. It was previously assessed by a knowledge test and professional discussion underpinned by a portfolio. That knowledge test will be replaced by an observation with questioning. This allows the apprentice to practically demonstrate not only that they have acquired the knowledge, but that they can apply it in context.

For an apprenticeship that requires strong practical skills, the reasoning behind the change in assessment is clear, and should give apprentices the confidence to showcase their skills.

This new assessment method requires a slightly different approach from providers, who will need to ensure that apprentices are ready for assessment when they complete their practical period of learning. Increased funding will help resource high-quality learning and assessment support to apprentices.

Updated Apprenticeship Funding Rules

Version 2, the latest version of the apprenticeship funding rules, brought key changes, including recognising that 16–18-year-olds starting apprenticeships are unlikely to hold relevant prior learning. Providers must check an individual’s prior learning record and discuss their work history for relevant prior learning. Where there is no relevant prior learning and work experience, providers should document this with the employer and no further action is needed. If there is relevant prior learning and work experience, providers can complete the normal skills scan process to determine whether there should be a reduction in price, content and duration.

Another update to the rules is the employer needs to sign the updated training plan only when there is one of the following changes:

  • New content is added or removed
  • The planned learning end date has changed
  • Any replanned off-the-job training, that was missed previously, that now impacts work hours, where the employer will need to release the apprentice from work duties

Preparing for audit

The ESFA audit working papers for 2023 to 2024 contain changes to wording and emphasis to make the expectations clearer to auditors.  However, these and other changes still require a good working knowledge of the funding rules and how to apply them in context to a range of scenarios. Those of us in the sector know of providers that have suffered very high error rates in ESFA audits, in the worst of cases leading to business failure. At Professional Assessment Ltd our audit services are very effective in detecting errors and supporting providers in implementing controls to prevent recurrence.

While some of these changes may look minimal on the surface, these step changes can both make running apprenticeships easier, or cause pitfalls at audit if ignored. By continuing to provide funding updates and clarifications, the apprenticeship industry in the UK becomes stronger, providing a fantastic pathway for apprentices to develop skills and grow in confidence.

And finally

The ESFA have now published the Financial Handbook for Independent Training Providers. This sets out ESFA expectations of financial management and governance for providers, and takes effect from August 2024.

By Rupert Crossland, Director of Audit and Compliance at Professional Assessment Ltd (PAL)

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