The government’s decision over funding allocations for apprenticeship provision for non-levy-paying employers has been paused, to allow it more time to review this policy area. Anne-marie Morris explains why she thinks this was a good move.

The pause in the non-levy ITT will bring some much needed stability to a sector that is currently in a state of confusion.

While I support the reform in principle, in practice it has been rushed, in particular for non-levy-paying employers. The Education and Skills Funding Agency now has the time to review the process fully and make sure it is implemented properly.

The stance the ESFA has taken is a brave one, and I appreciate the difficulties it has caused for many. However the very fact it has taken this step demonstrates that it has listened to these concerns, and agrees that more consideration is required.

It should be remembered that even for those providers that made it onto the RoATP, there was never any guarantee of contracts for non-levy employers, meaning there was always going to be disappointment for the majority of providers.

The RoATP process has had its difficulties, and there is still doubt over whether it was needed at all, as its aims could have been achieved through the current ROTO system. The ESFA already holds a wealth of information on primes and subcontractors that it could have used to make informed decisions about providers – more time should have been spent on this.

Ofsted results should have been considered more during the RoATP process. Not utilising their findings was a mistake

Ofsted results should have been considered more during the RoATP process and not utilising their findings in a more considered way was a mistake.
Equally, for subcontractors, the prime provider’s grade would have given the ESFA information on those who work with them, which would surely offer more reassurance of quality than three ambiguous questions.

This approach could have stopped the list filling up with insolvent providers, shell companies and those with grade fours or notices of concern.

I recognise the ESFA wanted to attract more providers to the market, and some existing subcontractors should certainly be prime providers, but not at the price of proven experience.

The government has set a challenging target to hit three million apprenticeships, but surely taxpayers want them to be good? Over the years the ESFA has lost touch with its provider base, and the RoATP process clearly demonstrated its lack of knowledge on what is actually happening on the ground.
I believe the government has put pressure on the ESFA, and I would hope that this pause also demonstrates that it also sees the need to slow down and review what apprentices and employers need.

The RoATP process clearly demonstrated a lack of knowledge

With Brexit, there has never been a more important time to ensure that we are developing an effective workforce for the long term, rather than as a three-year business plan between general elections.

The ESFA needs more time to listen to the many issues and to work in partnership with sector experts to ensure the process is robust, and that providers’ rigorous checks are meaningful.

Employers and apprentices should not have to worry that a provider they choose from the RoATP has no experience, is financially unstable, under notice of serious breach, or has a poor Ofsted grade.

The very purpose of the RoATP was to give employers confidence that providers would be able to deliver the quality needed for their apprenticeships; the pause will enable ESFA to ensure this now happens.

I admire the ESFA for taking this difficult but fundamentally sensible decision to pause the process – let’s hope it continues to apply good sense, and allows us all to get back to the important business of supporting our employers and apprentices.

 

Anne-marie Morris is an assessor at Acacia Training