While it might be a little frustrating for good, well-established providers already on it, the recently launched ‘refresh’ of the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) shouldn’t be dismissed as a bureaucratic exercise.
In fact, it’s a vitally important ingredient to getting the apprenticeship reforms back on track and key to the programme really being driven by employer demand and choice.
Non Levy Transition to DAS
It’s happening as we are about to enter the transition period when the smaller non-levy paying employers join the levy payers on the digital apprenticeship service.
The outcome of the refresh must be a list of approved providers whom we can place in front of all employers to enable them to be very confident in their choice of training supplier.
Due to previous misguided dogmatism about populating the market with lots of new entrants, a staggering third of the register of 1,800 providers in 2017 was made up of organisations that had never directly delivered a single apprenticeship between them and the position has not changed much since then.
Ofsted’s monitoring visits of new providers have also presented a mixed picture on the quality of the training being delivered.
So unless employers conduct other forms of due diligence, the register itself does not necessarily offer a kitemark of quality assurance that businesses might reasonably expect.
At the same time, the setting up of RoATP in conjunction with the botched procurement for non-levy contracts resulted in some high quality providers not being listed.
All of this has to be put right in the refresh if employers are to rely on the register as the official indicator of an approved provider.
AELP has therefore proposed that the refresh should
Thoroughly test the competency and capacity of new providers, including those providers on the register, but have not delivered any provision and therefore have not been in scope for either inspection or assurance visits
Take into account appropriate previous track-record and readiness to deliver
Take into account external verification of expertise and quality of provision delivered, e.g. formal reports from Ofsted, Ofqual, QAA and other similar bodies
Ensure robust financial health and adequate financial trading history for all categories of providers and
Encourage and incentivise new providers to consider utilising the ‘supporting provider route’ to enable them to work in collaboration with an established provider to capacity build and to support long-term sustainable high quality provision.
12 Month Trading History
The ESFA announcement before Christmas was encouraging in that new providers will need to demonstrate a 12-month trading history as a business as part of testing the readiness to deliver and equally important their capacity to do so.
In responding to the bureaucracy concerns, the agency has said that Ofsted grade 1 and 2 providers will be exempt from part of the refresh process.
Uncertainty has also been removed by the decision to make the register always open for applications and anyone can apply up to twice a year.
Unlike before, as this is not part of a tender process, if a piece of information is missing, a provider will be asked to clarify or provide it rather than being automatically rejected. This in itself provides reassurance.
Minimum £100k Threshold Removed
The ESFA’s overriding principle is that if you deliver a whole apprenticeship or part of one, you have to be on the register. This has resulted in the removal of the minimum £100k threshold of contracted business before a provider has to apply; now all must apply.
It means that more employers involved in programme delivery are going to have to apply and they should look to their providers to help them to get through the process.
AELP is playing its part in supporting employers and providers by organising workshops and webinars
We have also asked the ESFA to work with AELP to offer clearer guidance with examples on what constitutes subcontracting as opposed to a contract for services which shouldn’t be within RoATP’s scope.
Mindful perhaps of the strictures issued by MPs on the Education select committee, another significant change is that the total amount of subcontracting that any one provider can do can no longer exceed £500k in value.
This will only affect a small number of providers and in reality, they have until August to build capacity to be able to deliver directly as a ‘main provider’ – something which in theory shouldn’t be too much of a challenge with infrastructure already in place.
Overall the government appears to have listened to sector concerns about RoATP and taken some positive steps to make it fit for purpose.
However with non-levy employers expected to join the apprenticeship service from August, it is critical for the programme’s reputation that the providers on the register at that time can and do actually train apprentices and train them well.
Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)