Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

The National Audit Office (NAO) is right to identify the long-term financial sustainability of the apprenticeship programme as a key issue that the government must address.

The highlighting in its latest report that intermediate (starter level) apprenticeships have more than halved since the levy was introduced is also a very important finding.

According to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), whose independent training provider members train 75% of apprentices (and not the referenced 60% which takes no account of subcontracted delivery), there is an urgent need to respond to unmet demand from SMEs for apprenticeships which has resulted from the government’s mistakes set out in the NAO report.

AELP calls for the government to restore the £1bn a year budget which was available to SMEs before the apprenticeship levy started in April 2017. 

Even with a significant underspend, the DfE have failed to adequately fund non-levy provision.  While a separate funding pot was set aside this year for SMEs, none is currently planned for after April 2020 and the projected use of the levy by the large employers in future years means that there will be no money remaining for smaller businesses to use for apprenticeships unless the government acts. 

In fact since the NAO undertook its work, the Institute for Apprenticeships (or IfATE) has confirmed that there is likely to be a £500m overspend on the £2.2bn levy proceeds for 2018-19 and the deficit is projected to rise to £1.5bn during 2021-22.

The NAO reports that the government has recognised that there are ways in which it could seek control on levy spending and AELP has already said that a review of how much government funding is available for each level of apprenticeship is needed because the cost of higher level apprenticeships has turned out to be much higher than officials forecast.  A rebalancing of the funding system should help to rectify the disastrous fall in level 2 apprenticeships which has undermined the government’s own social mobility agenda.

Although the anecdotal evidence is strong, AELP agrees with the NAO that a more substantive rationale is required to show how apprenticeships make a positive impact on workforce productivity and it is happy to work with the DfE to come up with a credible means of calculation.

The disappointing aspect of today’s helpful report is that AELP was predicting two years ago that higher level apprenticeships offered by the levy payers would consume the levy to a much greater degree than the government anticipated but no notice was taken. 

The DfE has finally recognised that changes are needed as part of the Chancellor’s ordered review of the levy and the NAO’s overspend figures confirm why a separate budget is needed for SMEs’ apprenticeships.  SMEs are desperate for more apprenticeships and we need to stop the fall in intermediate apprenticeships, so ministers must act quickly.

Assessment inconsistency must be sorted out

AELP agrees with the NAO that the IfA’s priorities on approving standards and assessment arrangements have not produced best value.  The NAO’s concerns about the lack of consistency in the assessing of apprentices’ progress under the new standards are especially well founded and in AELP’s view, Ofqual should be given sole oversight for providing quality assurance over assessment.

AELP takes slight issue with NAO over how the report uses Ofsted data to arrive at conclusions on the quality of training providers, because the numbers on their own don’t tell the whole story.  The truth is that after the reforms were introduced in 2017, Ofsted took a risk-based approach to the providers it inspected first and the fact is that Ofsted’s latest annual report finds that 4 out of 5 training providers are still good or outstanding.   In addition the government has allowed many new providers into the market and to start delivering without appropriate quality checks and monitoring.

It’s learning ON the job that counts

Regarding the NAO’s comments on off-the-job training (OTJT), it‘s not easy to measure the quality of OTJT within an apprenticeship and Ofsted agrees with AELP that just counting the hours provides no indication of quality.  

The preoccupation with this issue reveals a fundamental misunderstanding amongst many about the value of a work based learning apprenticeship and why apprenticeships are so popular with employers.  We should instead be celebrating how much apprentices learn ON the job and in the meantime, the government should accept the Commons Education Committee’s recommendation of a more flexible approach to off-the-job training according to the business sector and level of apprenticeship. 

We now have it in black and white that the DfE did not project that the number of apprenticeship starts would fall after April 2017 and yet the monthly falls were catastrophic. 

There are nonetheless good aspects of the apprenticeship reforms that we can all build on and the government and its agencies must be more willing to engage with the frontline deliverers to secure the necessary improvements and more starts.

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity…

Ways to Become Qualified in Education & Training, Assessor and/ or IQA Qualifications. - Axiom Dynamics

Every day at the Axiom Dynamics Training Academy, we receive enquiries about the various online formats for our delivery of Education & Training (AET), Assessor…

Axiom Dynamics has liked Axiom Dynamics's Profile 24 minutes ago

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page