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Apprenticeships: subcontracting

ESFA today (8 Aug) published their guidance for using subcontractors in the delivery of apprenticeships, with some illustrative examples. 


Using subcontractors in the delivery of apprenticeships

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This publication provides policy context, clarification of key terminology and some illustrative examples around the use of subcontractors in the delivery of apprenticeships. You should read this guidance alongside the apprenticeship funding and performance management rules 2017 to 2018.

Published 10 April 2018 
Last updated 8 August 2018 + show all updates

  1.  Updated to reflect relevant amendments made in version 1 of the 2018 to 2019 apprenticeship funding rules.
  2.  First published.

The publication provides policy context, clarification of key terminology and some illustrative examples around the use of subcontractors in the delivery of apprenticeships. It has been developed with input and advice from the ESFA’s Provider Reference Group. You should read this guidance alongside the apprenticeship funding and performance management rules 2017 to 2018.

The publication also explains that ESFA will review some of the apprenticeship subcontracting funding rules before August 2018.

This guidance is for:

  • providers that wish to ensure that they are subcontracting in accordance with the apprenticeship funding rules and policy intent
  • employers that wish to understand how subcontracting can support quality apprenticeship training
  • subcontractors that wish to understand more about how they can contribute to the delivery of apprenticeships

Policy background

Government’s apprenticeship reforms are designed to put control back into the hands of employers so they will gain the skilled workforce they need to compete globally. As part of this, ESFA want to make sure that employers can choose how they work with providers and their subcontractors to deliver high quality training that meets their needs. Subcontracting has always been present in apprenticeships to some extent.

It has tended to take one of two forms:

  • a provider engages one or more subcontractors to co-deliver an employer’s apprenticeship programme
  • a provider engages one or more subcontractors; the provider and the subcontractors work with different employers

The rules for subcontracting are designed to increase the quality of subcontracted provision and to ensure that employers have a direct relationship with their main provider. ESFA believe it is important that government funds are not diverted away from training and assessment in the form of fees and other charges, and so the intent of the rules is to make sure that the main and subcontracted providers both add value to the employer’s apprenticeship programme.

The main provider has full responsibility for the quality of all aspects of every apprenticeship delivered for the employer, and is required to carry out formal assessments of their subcontractors’ provision. The main provider is also required to deliver some of the employer’s apprenticeship programme’s training and/or on programme assessment.

ESFA will work with employers and providers to make sure subcontracting practices are proportionate, deliver good value for taxpayers and good outcomes for employers and apprentices. ESFA will continue to look closely at subcontracting practices, and will consider making further changes over time if necessary.


Employers want flexibility in the arrangements they make for the delivery of their apprentices’ training.

They want the choice to be able to:

  • work only with one provider and expect that provider to deliver all of their apprentices’ training
  • work only with one provider, with the expectation that the provider will manage a network of subcontractors
  • work directly with a number of providers

To enable them to meet these diverse employer needs, providers would like to understand more about the policy intent and flexibility of two of the apprenticeship subcontracting rules.

These two rules are:

1. At the outset of each apprenticeship, a main provider and employer will agree a plan for its delivery.

You must directly deliver some of the apprenticeship training and/or on- programme assessment associated with each employer’s apprenticeship programme. By apprenticeship programme ESFA mean the apprentices that are being trained for the employer that has chosen you.

The volume of training and/or on-programme assessment that you directly deliver for each employer must have some substance and must not be a token amount to satisfy this rule.

It must not be limited to a brief input at the start of each employer’s programme or involve delivery to just a few of a large number of apprentices.

2. You can use delivery subcontractors to complement your own delivery if requested by an employer and agreed at the start of an apprenticeship.

Delivery subcontractors can deliver full or part-apprenticeship frameworks and standards.

In their document, ESFA have answered the questions that providers have most commonly asked about these rules. The answers aim to provide more guidance on the policy intent of the rules and their flexibility; they are designed to complement the rules, not to change or replace them.

Future review

ESFA will keep this under review through testing the value it is adding in supporting employers and providers in delivering quality apprenticeships.  

In the coming months, ESFA will be reviewing at least two other aspects of the subcontracting funding rules:

The first is subcontracting fees and charges; to be assured that funding is being used for recognised costs. The second is the evidence requirements associated with the subcontracting funding rules.

Any subsequent changes to rules would come into force from August 2018.

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