The industry is looking at widespread shutdowns, and it’s now fair to say that many providers have officially entered panic mode.
There’s a lot of information flying around, and I thought it would be useful to provide a roundup of how this is all effecting FE from a funding perspective.
The Secretary for Education Gavin Williamson has written to providers to thank them for their “expertise and ingenuity” during this time.
Meanwhile, the Department for Education has issued advice to apprenticeship providers on topics including:
- Breaks in learning
- Delays to end-point assessment (EPA)
- Alternative arrangements for EPA and external quality assurance
Sadly, my conversations with clients have indicated that the advice hasn’t done much to assuage the doubts of ITPs. Let’s look at a few of the important points.
Remote learning and assessments
The DfE has encouraged providers “to deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e- learning as far as is practicable”. Solutions such as e-learning are a great idea in theory. However, deploying new systems like this can be a challenge at the best of times, and may require a degree of technical knowledge that some providers just won’t have available. Contractors could help in many cases, but demand for their services is likely to be high at present, and struggling providers may not have budgeted for this additional expense. Furthermore, providers are being forced to furlough staff en masse, meaning the staff may simply not be available to deliver.
Payments to apprenticeship providers, breaks in learning, and apprentice redundancies
The government has promised that “providers will continue to be paid retrospectively for the training they have delivered and can evidence.” As usual, the devil is in the detail: the key point here is that retrospective payments will continue.
In short, if extended breaks in learning occur, providers won’t be paid. Moreover, if apprentices don’t return to complete their apprenticeship following a break, ESFA will claw back payments for any training delivered in March. The ambiguity has led the Association of Employment and Learning Providers to advise providers to avoid using breaks in learning if at all possible. In the case where this is unavoidable, the DfE’s advice provides detailed instructions on how to record breaks.
Where apprentices are permanently laid-off, the DfE has stated its “ambition that they will be supported to find alternative employment, and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible, and within 12 weeks.” However, amid the economic shutdown and a predicted deep recession, in many cases, it will remain just that: an ambition. If training doesn’t resume - a situation which will in many cases be out of the hands of providers - providers won’t get paid.
AEB and Combined Authorities
One of the few pieces of good news in recent days comes for AEB providers. A handful of Combined Authorities have committed to continuing payments to providers, including Liverpool City Region and Tees Valley.
However, others such as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, West Midlands and Greater Manchester are examining their options.
WMCA in particular said: “we will continue to make scheduled AEB payments to all colleges and local authorities funded under a grant agreement” highlighting again the differentiation by funders between colleges and ITP’s.
COVID-19 business support package
Rishi Sunak’s announced package of support for businesses may prove to be a critical lifeline for some providers.
However, providers should be clear that payments will not be made automatically - they must be applied for!
If you’re struggling financially, the sooner the better: the scheme is certain to be overwhelmed, resulting in long wait times.
Insights and advice for providers
Big changes are coming in the skills landscape. The predicted recession is guaranteed to change the skills landscape in the long-term.
Providers who suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic should consider making plans to pivot from in-work skills support to supporting the unemployed and, in particular, their existing apprentices who have been laid-off.
If you want to get paid, you should follow the AELP advice and continue to support furloughed and laid off workers; now is the time to leverage contacts in local industry to try to support your apprentices to find new work.
The industry needs to speak up
While the AELP is lobbying the government for more clarity, providers should also be reaching out to funders, MPs, and more-or-less anyone who will listen!
If the industry is to avert an unprecedented disaster, we have to make ourselves heard.
Push for more clarity on funding arrangements from AEB and apprenticeship funders, and be honest about the likely consequences of interruptions in payments. At this stage, there’s not a lot to lose; funders already have access to your accounts.
Government and combined authorities need to understand how this is affecting the industry. The government and combined authorities will only listen if we speak up.
Providers will play a critical role in helping our country through the coming recession, but you won’t be able to help if the financial situation causes your business to fold.
So, it’s time to make some noise!
Benn Carson, Carson Recruitment
Are you struggling as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic? Don’t know what to do? As always, I’m available for consultancy and advice about how you can weather the coming storm; just give me a call!