Tony Allen, CEO AAS Ltd.

Last month in FE News I wrote about RoATP and what I thought might happen re it reopening to new applicants.

In that article, "RoATP - Where are we going?" I thought that we might not see a full re-opening of the register for a year, namely until the current refresh process is completed.

Well now we know at least what is happening during that year.

In simple terms, that other than as an Levy paying Employer Provider, getting onto the RoATP is going to be pretty much impossible for the vast majority of applicants.

The ESFA told us on the 9th August that the Critical Worker exemption linked to Covid was to end on the 15th August, and that from the 16th a new process for applications would be set out.

These would need to be linked to ‘unmet employer demand’ We now know what that means in detail.

In practical terms the new process will be a version of the Critical Worker exemption. In order for a new provider to attempt to join the register they must first recognise that this new process is employer led, and not initiated by them.

So they will need to:

  1. Find an employer who wishes them to deliver their apprenticeship training.
  2. Ask the employer to log their training need on the ‘find an apprenticeship’ website
  3. Wait for 42 working days (over 8 weeks) for existing training providers to respond.
  4. If an existing provider responds, then the employer will be expected to use that provider, or come up with a very good reason why not.
  5. Only if there is no response from an existing RoATP provider (ie there is no training available, or there is training available, but no registered provider is able to deliver it) can the employer then nominate a preferred training provider to join the register.

They must then contact the ESFA, and they (still the employer!) will be asked to complete a business case detailing the gap in provision and the name of their preferred training provider. If the ESFA are happy with the business case (and they may refuse it) the preferred training provider will be contacted with details of how to make an application to the register within 30 days.

So, we now have an employer driven approach, dependent upon there being no existing provider who is able to deliver the training, or at least for the employer to say why any existing provider is not able to deliver the training to them.

There is an alternative route available for Levy paying Employer Providers, who have to submit their own business case (without trying to find someone else or waiting 42 working days). The case is reviewed and if successful, they will be allowed to apply. In other words a simpler system than for an independent training provider with aspirations to joint the register.

So what is actually going on here?

Last month, I said that that the ESFA had four objectives in mind with the RoATP refresh process, and the now heavily restricted application process.

These are:

  1. Reduce the number of providers on the register
  2. Improve the quality of provision
  3. Improve sector knowledge and experience.
  4. Remove dormant providers

To this list, I will now add a fifth objective: Not allow those on where there is existing provision.

I have no doubt that this format for entry to RoATP will be in place until at least next summer, ie until the refresh process currently underway is complete, and we know the size and make up of the new RoATP

The implications of this for the next year are now clear:

  • There will be a negative impact on Employer choice, with increasingly fewer providers, as the rate leaving RoATP is significantly greater than the very few joining.
  • There will be fewer Independent Training Providers. Colleges will be exempt from any radical action, however poor their quality. They will be allowed to remain on RoATP. Therefore we will in reality. see a cull of the private sector.
  • More Employer Providers. Levy Paying Employers who are not currently a provider are clearly being encouraged to deliver their own training. This is part of the DfE strategy. Their route in should not be that difficult. Their business case can be personalised to really make it look important to the needs of the business. Any half-decent consultant could pull together a convincing case for them!

In two years time, we will have:

  • A smaller register with, I believe, significantly fewer ITPs as the refresh process removes more than most people think!
  • More employer providers
  • Same number of colleges
  • Fewer sub-contractors, as current policy towards subcontracting takes effect and the ability that existing subcontractors have at refresh to apply as a main provider (many will do this at their peril, and find themselves off the register!)

Do the ESFA have the balance right?

Let’s see what happens in 2022. An expected upturn in apprenticeships this autumn, could just collide head on with a significant reduction in the number of providers on RoATP. Watch out next year for complaints from employers re a lack of choice / quality!

Tony Allen, CEO, AAS Ltd

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