Cash boost on out-of-favour qualifications

Funding for a host of politically unpopular workplace qualifications is set to rise, with payments for one course rocketing 508 per cent. Click here for the list.

Payments for more than 1,100 workplace qualifications (formerly known as Train to Gain) will rise this month as the Skills Funding Agency aims to simplify an “overly complicated” funding system.

The average increase in provider funding for the courses, which include diplomas in professional cookery and domestic plumbing and heating, is 39 per cent, to £2,380.

However, some courses such as diplomas in vehicle accident repair body competence and work-based land-based engineering operations have had much bigger increases at 508 per cent, to £8,861, and 363 per cent, to £5,968, respectively.

The cost of these changes will be based on the choices learners and employers make throughout this year in deciding which skills offer is right for them and will not, therefore, be known until the end of this academic year.”

An agency spokesperson declined to say whether it had carried out projections for the cost of the latest changes, which will be backdated to August.

She said: “The agency is creating for the first time a clear and transparent approach to funding rates as part of its work to simplify a system that has, in recent years, been overly complicated with different rates applying to different programmes delivered by different types of providers.

“The creation of a flexible single Adult Skills Budget has enabled all providers to deliver the full range of qualifications and delivery models.that started in 2011/12.”

She added: “The cost of these changes will be based on the choices learners and employers make throughout this year in deciding which skills offer is right for them and will not, therefore, be known until the end of this academic year.”

The increases come seven months after the agency increased funding for 750 other workplace qualifications, despite the number of learners falling every year from 906,100 in 2008/09 to a provisional 323,900 for 2011/12.

Train to Gain has long proved less popular than apprenticeships with the government as a means of workplace learning. It came under heavy criticism from former FE Minister John Hayes when he was Shadow Minister.

In November 2009 he said: “The service has a massive deadweight cost. The scheme accredits existing skills that are on offer and assesses rather than trains. It doesn’t focus on higher-level skills.”

The funding boost for providers is the latest payout from the agency following a relaxation in the rules governing how much cash colleges pay back where they fail to hit delivery targets.

In May, FE Week revealed the agency had allocated an extra £240m since the start of the academic year. An updated spreadsheet for 2011/12, published by the SFA, showed allocations had risen to more than £4bn. The extra funding was distributed mostly through the Adult Skills Budget, which rose 7 per cent to £2,604,934,311.

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Editors comment 

Providers delivering standalone NVQs in the workplace are being given another funding rate boost.

The extra cash in their November payment will be for funding instalments since August 2012 (thus applied to carry-in as well as new starts), as well as future payments.

This will come as a welcome Christmas bonus, but to my knowledge no-one was calling for the change and the Skills Funding Agency simply justifies it on the basis of ‘alignment’ with classroom funding, in advance of a ‘streamlined’ future.

In my view this is an indefensible waste of public money.

Sure, don’t give the cash back to the Treasury, but what about reversing the cuts to ESOL and other worthy adult courses?

What at about using hundreds of millions in under-delivery to avoid introducing new, complicated and costly loans for level three learners aged 25 and over?

It is also worrying that it remains unclear whether the agency has even come up with the projected cost of these increases.

“We can only tell you what it will cost at the end of the year,” it says.

Well, yes, that is obviously the case, but surely you’ve worked out if it is affordable — haven’t you?

What would be worse, an agency withholding its projections from public gaze or an agency that hasn’t done any projection whatsoever for its spending of taxpayers’ money?

Hopefully neither is the case.

Nick Linford, editor