Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

Hot on the heels of Augar, Ofsted’s updated common inspection framework (CIF) and the long awaited 2019/20 Apprenticeship funding rules the All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships (APPG) 2018/19 has published its latest review and recommendations (as have the AELP) and the ESFA has updated its Apprenticeship Service ‘roadmap’

So no-one should be short of summer reading material.

But how well do these documents align?

Are there any areas of consensus on Apprenticeship policy emerging as we enter the final 12 months of the current reform programme?

Let’s have a look at the top 5 hot topics:

1. Diversity – Are more part-time Apprentices the answer?

The % of Apprentices that identify as BAME has crept up to 12% and the % of females remains just over 50%.

Beyond those encouraging macro indicators lies a more complex picture with male apprentices still taking the majority of well-paid positions.

Thus the APPG has called for the creation of more part-time apprenticeships – presumably to widen access and particularly to encourage more women into Apprenticeships.

Obviously no one would argue with this ambition; however I don’t think that there actually are any statistics about the number of Apprentices who are part-time already.

The APPG are calling for ‘more’ but I am not sure they know how many there actually are now and if it that number is increasing or decreasing anyway.

I did notice that in the new Funding rules that the 16 hour Apprenticeship minimum (weekly working hours) seems to have disappeared. Although you do now need to quite rigidly extend durations based on the % of 30 hours that someone works (how many people actually work 30 hours a week anyway??).

Of course part-time apprentices need to be allowed time to complete but by removing any element of flex you stop employers from having a mix of workers / contract types within fixed term cohorts and ignore the fact that part-time employee might be able to study for more (or less) than 20% of their working time.

Surely as long as the whole Apprenticeship is covered then it should be up to the employer and employee to agree how.

APPG also suggest raising the minimum Apprenticeship wage, this is in tension with the 20% requirement. Why would you pay 100% for someone working 80% of the time?

Traditional Apprenticeships for young people were an alternative to FE courses, and lower rates of pay have traditionally encouraged employers to see Apprentices as trainees as well as employees.

Aligning with the ‘normal’ minimum wage may well mean that a greater number of older workers (inc women) can afford to become Apprentices but it does also quite possibly mean that employers would be even less likely to hire younger workers.

2. Future of funding

No government departments have budgets beyond April 2020.

Whilst true, this is not quite as dramatic as it sounds and quite normal when you are changing the Government’s ‘top team’. The new PM and Chancellor will want the space to decide what their priorities are.

So far the mood music is good for ‘FE & Skills’ but let’s see what happens in November when the cheques are posted…

The major planned change to funding is the end of non-levy Apprenticeship allocations – to be replaced by direct employer access to a central pot of funding.

This will be a major change, potentially radically impacting the pattern of Apprenticeship delivery.

No one has said what happens if the new non levy pot runs dry, but by this point the levy will be returning £100m of unused funding to HMRC each month and so there should be no shortage of funds.

In addition there will also be no more starts on Frameworks from the end of July 2020 – (Frameworks are still currently 40% of all starts)

And although they have had their funding rates slashed, doing away with Frameworks altogether will save lots of money - as well as massively reducing opportunity and social mobility.

Another perhaps unplanned fallout from this change will be the impact on the 25% transfer – if SMEs will be able get all the funding they need in 8 months time - why bother setting up regional or individual levy transfer schemes?

3. English & Maths ‘integrated but separate’

The AELP have been consistent in their calls for fair Functional skills funding (the same amounts for Apprentices as for other FE learners).

And Ofsted have recently reiterated how important it is to integrate Functional Skills into Apprenticeships.

CIF (p200): "Apprentices develop the skills and behaviours, including English, mathematics and digital skills, that enable them to meet expectations, contribute to their workplace and fulfil their career aims"

Yet the funding rules (p54) ask you to keep them separate and not include them in the 20% off the job, making it difficult to follow Ofsted best practise guidance around integration.

Again this is an area where more research is required and information is scarce:

  • What correlation is there between poor Functional skills and the persistently high dropout rates of Apprentices?
  • Do graduates who have lost GCSE Certificates really benefit from taking level 2 English tests?

4. End Point Assessment

The admission that EPAs are not yet flowing well enough to produce reliable success rate figures is a concern but also an admission of reality.

The EFSA meanwhile are pressing ahead (below) with plans to separate funding for Training delivery with funding for End Point Assessment.

I assume this is again for transparency and to more easily see what is being paid when, where and by whom. It will be interesting to see how this works with the 20% completion payments which are usually larger than EPA fees, and if monies will go directly to EPAs or still go through providers.

No Apprentice employer that I have spoken to has asked to take on the administration of EPA payments and the reality is that providers are usually best placed to organise the EPA as a part of the whole programme, not least due to the need to agree practicalities of learner / assessor system and record alignment.

5. Plenty to do for the new CEO at IfATE

So just a few things to sort in the ‘in tray’ of Jennifer Coupland the new CEO at the IfATE then!

The good news is that they have appointed someone with experience and expertise, and someone who knows where the bodies [of Apprenticeship funding policy] are buried.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Partnership Director, Kaplan Financial

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