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Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers

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An important step from @EducationGovUK but still far from a fair approach for all #apprentices 

Today’s (24 Apr) government Covid-related financial support package in respect of non-levy apprenticeships and the adult education budget has been welcomed by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers as a positive development from where we were a month ago.

Significant progress has been made in both the area of support and flexibilities being applied to the apprenticeship funding rules in order to respond to the unprecedented challenges which training providers, colleges and awarding organisations are facing.

However AELP has been left with no choice but to take legal advice on the omission of support for apprentices being trained at levy paying employers.   

This is an important step in the right direction but we’re not even halfway there if this is about protecting the livelihoods of existing apprentices and disadvantaged young people on traineeships and study programmes.

Today’s announcement, while welcome, does not offer financial support for independent training providers and colleges training over half of the 628,000 apprentices who were on an apprenticeship programme when the pandemic started.  This is because the Department for Education is claiming that the Cabinet Office supplier relief guidance doesn’t apply in respect of apprentices who are employed by organisations paying the apprenticeship levy. 

Our initial legal advice is that this claim is discriminatory against the apprentices outside the scope of today’s package and there are strong grounds for a challenge, but AELP shouldn’t have to be going down this route. The adversely affected apprentices are innocent parties in all this and it shouldn’t matter where they are doing their training if it means that their programmes can continue uninterrupted.  Similarly, levy paying employers shouldn’t be forced to change their chosen training provider in this critical period if the lack of support means that the provider gets into financial difficulty.

No bailouts required

The DfE should provide across-the-board support for all apprenticeships, traineeships and study programmes and we need to stress again that the department can do this without the need for any bailouts from the Treasury.  This is because the programme budgets for 2020-21 are already sitting in the department’s coffers waiting to be used in accordance with the Cabinet Office guidelines. 

Every apprentice and learner on a government funded education and skills programme should be entitled to the same support however the funding flows.  Therefore ministers should follow up today’s announcement quickly with a further package for levy funded apprenticeships and the other skills programmes.   

Why so long?

The DfE wasted no time in guaranteeing grant funding for further education courses in colleges and so AELP has to ask why it has taken a month for it to announce its intention to comply with the Cabinet Office guidance in respect of non-levy apprenticeships and adult education. 

While we don’t have an issue with the specific quality thresholds included in today’s package, the approach so far has reinforced the suspicions of AELP members that the DfE was originally seeking to use the pandemic as an excuse to reduce through a lack of financial support the number of independent training providers operating in the apprenticeship market.  This belief is related to the well-documented oversubscribed demands on the levy budget.

AELP has pointed out that adopting an approach of the survival of the fittest towards training providers wouldn’t necessarily result in the survival of the highest quality providers and that some important niche providers could also be lost.  We feel that today’s announcement has gone some way to addressing these concerns.

In the absence of any plausible explanation on why it has taken so long for the DfE to come up with a limited package of support after the publication of the Cabinet Office guidance, we hope that the House of Commons Education Committee will explore this in its Covid-19 impact inquiry.  Sadly a certain amount of trust has been lost between providers and the government, and lessons need to be learnt for the future.

AELP is very grateful to its members who wrote to so many MPs in England and in turn we express our thanks to the Parliamentarians of all parties who took up the issue with DfE ministers.

It is important to note that in addition to providing apprenticeships and adult education, independent training providers will be needed to support unemployed people back into work when the pandemic is over.

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers


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