Apprenticeship training providers are being forced to either close or mothball their operations, leaving thousands of apprentices across England unable to start or complete their programmes.
Their actions are a direct result of the Department for Education’s refusal to comply with Cabinet Office Covid-19 guidelines which require all government departments and public bodies to pay their contracted suppliers during the crisis.
While the DfE has guaranteed continued funding for further education and grant funded colleges, it has ignored the guidelines in respect of apprenticeships and other vocational skills programmes, leaving training providers on the brink of collapse. Other Whitehall departments, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the mayoral combined authorities have had no difficulty in informing their contract providers that they are complying.
At the request of their local providers, MPs are now writing to DfE ministers asking why they have singled out the government’s flagship skills programme for non-compliance.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) stresses that guaranteeing funding for apprenticeships does not require the DfE to request any new money from the Treasury because the programme budget for 2020-21 has already been allocated.
‘Heartbreaking’ survey results
The DfE announcement on apprenticeship funding last Monday evening after such a long wait meant that providers had to start immediately implementing their emergency contingency plans in an effort to save apprenticeship provision. AELP launched a survey of its members on Tuesday and by Wednesday evening, 279 providers of all types, including 12 concerned colleges, had responded. The results were heart-breaking.
In less than 48 hours, providers were informing us that 49 of them might close altogether; 79 will mothball; and 154 will downsize. Only a few are confident about survival.
52,000 young people and adults will lose their apprenticeship and other learning provision as a result of the closures and another 60,000 learners could be adversely affected by the mothballing.
The survey responses from the providers were accompanied by comments on the impact which have been described as heartbreaking by AELP’s CEO in presenting them to the Apprenticeships Minister Gillian Keegan, a former apprentice herself.
Examples of provider quotes include:
1,500 of our apprentices cannot complete this year as no exams and functional skills provision. Told ESFA territory manager that we will have to hand 500 apprentices over to them at the end of April.
If the revenue is stopped, then we have 6 weeks’ reserve capital. The business loan system requires guarantees and security. Would anyone seriously put their house on the line given the treatment of ITPs?
We announced today the layoff of 52 of our 81 staff.
We can't operate our traineeship or study programmes. They are disadvantaged learners 4 x more likely to be on free school meals. It has proven almost impossible to implement digital learning when they live on the breadline. We are keeping phone contact but they are unable to attend work placements or engage in meaningful learning.
Learners are scared. The employers are scared. Providers are scared. Classrooms won't change this and we will not put staff or learners at risk. Closure is closure.
It has taken five years to build a team of loyal, dedicated, hard-working and qualified people so laying people off would not only throw away those years of investment, but it would make it very difficult to continue after this period. Furlough is an opportunity to retain staff but it won't give us the capacity to continue.
Covid-91 Impact on Provision for Apprentices and Learners: Initial Results from @AELPUK Member Provider Survey (as of 25 March 2020) After the DfE announcement of 23 March on apprenticeships, 279 providers of all types responded to the AELP impact survey… https://t.co/W5QJZ1xkJR pic.twitter.com/OblQo9kHFf— FE News - The #FutureofEducation News Channel (@FENews) April 1, 2020
Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, AELP said:
“These survey results are from last Wednesday and in the absence of any further action from the DfE since then, the situation in terms of mothballing and potential shutdowns has worsened. Action on funding apprenticeships and other important skills programmes is needed right now if the government seriously wants this year’s school-leavers and unemployed adults who need retraining after the crisis to have apprenticeships available to them.”
“The normal protocols on making representations to ministers have had to be suspended and I have asked the current DfE ministers if they want to be the ones remembered for throwing hundreds of training providers, rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, on to the scrapheap. All they have to do is follow the Cabinet Office guidelines and use the money already sitting in the DfE.
"My message to the DfE is simple: Guarantee April’s funding for apprenticeships and other work based programmes to allow time for us all to sort through the details of how a sustainable funding model might work.”
In addition to training providers, many End Point Assessment Organisations are facing a battle for survival.